An education in Cuba

Today we had the great pleasure of learning about the educational system from the director of the Center for Martí Studies, Dr. Ana Sanchez.  While the presentation seemed to be very party-positive and not talking through many of the problems that must have occurred with the vast amount of educational changes, starting with the literacy campaign of 1961, I was really impressed with the passion that she had for teaching as a profession, the depth of information on educational structures/systems/exams/objectives, and her use of the poetry and writings of José Martí as a frame for her dynamic presentation.  She also started the presentation by gathering questions from the group, which greatly shifted the emphasis of her talk.  I almost wish we had just been guided by her presentation the whole time and asked questions throughout for clarification purposes.  
One of the things that especially stood out for me from the presentation was around how a philosophy of education inspires those who go into education here.  It seems that the call, particularly after the revolution, was for all who know to become teachers.  10,000 unemployed teachers before the revolution immediately had jobs. Right now, there is a teacher shortage in the country.  What inspires teachers to enter the field and what sustains them?  I think this is a site of research and perhaps a future book project, actually, particularly looking at teachers and the call to teach, in some of the countries where I have had the honor to learn about the educational systems.  Should I ever receive a sabbatical, I might have my project in that.  
After the presentation, we all went to the Jazz Café by the Malecón for lunch.  José and David, two members of the group, brought up the word, inquietud, which was used by Ana during her presentation.  Disquiet is what it translates to, but we were confused as to the sense of the word.  Did she use it to imply a deep criticality that arises from the emotional/essential core of a person, causing them to experience discomfort with the way things currently are?  This could lead to critical thinking and problem solving located within this context or problem solving that leads an individual to reach or move elsewhere.  Or did she mean that the passionate and core engagement with issues (particularly those related to social justice), combined with an academic frame and investment in inquiry leads to change, which would be similar to the praxis or the development of a critical consciousness as described by Paolo Freire?  It’s something that I want to ask about later.  
At the Jazz Café, separate from our discussion of the lecture, I also noticed the distinctive discourse practices in which my mother and I engage, which are different than those around me.  We tell stories, stories that do not reveal our academic disciplines and lenses; rather, they are ways of connecting with others on a personal level.  They are stories of family, home places, travel, transformation.  They are stories that call for a reciprocal telling of such stories.  With those who engage in such patterns, I tend to feel more of a kinship.  I am still learning to read those who do not, but this is something that I consider even in my practice with my teaching candidates, making them aware of the different discursive styles of communication so that they might be more cognizant of the opportunities to connect with students and families when they arise.  
After the the Jazz Café, we headed to the Literacy Museum, where we learned about the year long Literacy Campaign of 1961.  I had no idea that this campaign was led by primarily by children, aged 9-19 years old.  42 of this children were killed or died while trying to support the development of literacy among those in the country.  After about a year of effort, the illiteracy rate went from approximately 25% of the population (as I remember the lecture) to less than 3%, which is an amazing feet.  The program used has been adapted over time and used in many other countries.  This is definitely something that I want to learn more about.  
While at the Literacy Museum, I met Luisa Campos, the director of the museum, who had just returned from a US university tour (12 states and 19 cities).  I gave her my card in the hope that she might consider a visit to California in the future.  She mentioned a colleague of hers, Catharine Murphy, who recently did a documentary on the literacy campaign.  She might be a great contact for a SMC visit that might connect the Reading Recovery program, the Justice Community and Leadership program, the Modern Languages program, and others on campus, particularly with a viewing of the film.  
Another thing that stood out to me at the Literacy Museum was the power of children in affecting change, the possibilities of transformative through collective and national action, and how the young even taught the elders to read.  On the last note, there was even a picture of a 102 year old woman who had learned to read.  This was a woman who would have either experienced slavery herself or had personal or familial memories of slavery.  
After the museum, we were dropped off at our respective homes.  Mami and I went to do some email at the Riviera Hotel on the Malecón.  Great wi-fi there.  After about an hour of sweating in the hot lobby, cooled only by the escaping air from a nearby air-conditioned room, we headed back to the house for a short rest.  We saw Silva and Sofia (her two-year-old daughter) on the way in and had a chat.  
At 6:30, we met José for dinner.  It was nice to be in a smaller group.  The larger group can be a bit demanding for me for long periods of time.  At lunch, I shared with José and David that I need some reflective time in the day.  My mom challenged that with how packed my schedule generally is.  It’s true, but I am at my best when, even if it’s for 15 minutes, I have a little quiet time.  I recognize that I am an extrovert and an introvert.  I have to honor both parts of myself.  Spending some time with José and Mami, exchanging gossip and story over a phenomenal meal (at La Catedral, a paladar near the Centro de Estudios Martianos CEM), I felt myself settle.  
(Pictures from the walk to the Malecón)

After a phenomenal dinner (I had the “bunny” as José likes to say), we went for a walk to the Malecón.  The sun was just about to set, so we watched it.  The dark waves; the fishermen with their lines held by empty, green glass bottles; the lovers; the student with his bike on the stone and his feverish drawing in a small notebook; the passing musicians who asked if we would have music; the runners; the iyabós; the snorkeling man launching himself upon the stone, fresh from the sea.  It was all there, alive, and majestic.  

At the Literacy Museum, Luisa said that to be Cuban, you have to live in Cuba.  I immediately thought of José, a Cuban American, who has returned to the land left by his parents right after the revolution.  They never returned.  His sisters have never been.  As a Puerto Rican woman, I have only ever felt myself less able to identify with that island when confronted by other Puerto Ricans.  As someone who is Black AND Puerto Rican, I have always been identified as half, rather than a whole person, and less Puerto Rican, less privileged to identify with that land because of this.  Still, my grandparents had a choice to leave Puerto Rico and stay in the United States, and my father to stay in the United States.  I don’t know what that must have been to feel like you had lost everything, to be rootless, to have to start again, and never return to the place you grew up, where you married, where you first child was born … or for a child from this reality to hear, “To be Cuban, you have to live in Cuba” and be, through words, stripped of connection in Cuban soil.  There is a picture I took of José, his face is backlit by the sun and so is dark.  His expression is mostly hidden.  It was a happy moment that I took, playful with a friend.  I have been telling him to write it all down.  When we get back, I’ll give him the pictures I’ve taken of him.  Maybe it will inspire still more.  
After the walk on the boardwalk, we headed back.  José wanted to go out dancing, but he was really up for anything.  Since my mom was sick yesterday, I figured that I wouldn’t push it.  We went back and watched TV in the air-conditioning.  José walked home alone.  
For a moment, I thought of all of the things that people are doing, going this where and that … but then I thought about the time that I am spending with my mother, how priceless that is.  We are experiencing an international trip together.  We haven’t done this since I took her to Italy and Greece.  It was her first time out of North America.  I was 22, and she had just turned 50.  It’s been 13 years since then.  We are going to Kenya in January.  She has shared a few times in the trip that she wants to travel more but with her health, she can’t do it alone anymore … and I think what it is to spend that time with my mom.  She doesn’t have to travel alone and neither do I.  We can see together and be informed by one another’s ways of thinking.  

Tomorrow, we learn about race in Cuba, and we have an afternoon African dance class, which I am very excited about.  

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