I do not have green eggs and ham (Val Prieto)
Imagine, if you will, that you have a child in your local city or county’s public school system and your government pays all of the costs associated with your child’s education. Let’s say your child is your typical third grader and does relatively well in his standard academic courses – reading and writing, arithmetic, science. He’s consistently brought home A’s with a rare B every once in a while and you are quite proud of him.
But then the day comes when he is to enter the fourth grade and you get a letter from your local school that your son will be transferred to a different school. A school much farther away from home and one that specializes in “at risk” children.
“At risk children?” you ask your self, knowing full-well that your son is the exceptional student. Smart. Honest. Well behaved. Always does his homework. Never missed a day of school.
So you go to your local school and ask to meet with his administrator.
“Surely there must be some mistake” you say to the administrator. “My son is a great student. Straight A’s. Never sent to the principal’s office. Never absent.”
The school administrator looks at you straight in the eyes with a serious frown. He pulls out a thick file, tosses it atop his desk and opens it.
He begins sifting through pages and you notice that he is going through your sons school file. The file seems pretty thick for a third grader.
“It must be a mistake,” you repeat to the administrator. “These things happen sometimes. My son is…”
“It is not a mistake,” the school administrator interrupts. “Your son has been found to be a troublemaker.” He is quite stern in his response.
“My son is nothing of the sort,” your voice raises a decibel or two. “He is the epitome of a great son.”
“Perhaps then,” the administrator says with a slight smirk on his face. “The trouble makers are his parents.” He then begins to read off the file on his desk, your son’s school file.
Why did you not vote in the last election?
Why are you not a member of the Party?
Why have you had more than family members in your home?
Why have you been seen in public talking to certain individuals?
Why were you not in attendance at the last event at the Square?
Did your brother not leave the country illegally?
And on and on. Every single aspect of your life, how many hours you’ve worked, who you have met with, what you have in your refrigerator, where you have visited, what you have bought, what you have eaten, everything, is recorded in your son’s school file. Every step you take is directly related to your child’s – and your family’s – ability to progress.
You are a parent of a Cuban child in Cuba.
I relate this short story just to give you a little background on how things actually work in Cuba. It will help you understand just why the issue of “Vamos a Cuba”, the controversial children’s book currently being debated in Florida, is so important to the South Florida Cuban-American community.
The book, found some weeks ago in the reference section of an elementary school library in Dade county, is part of a series of books by publisher Heinemann/Raintree, and is intended to be a non-fiction book about school children in Cuba. Yet it ignores the one vital aspect of school life in Cuba described by the story above. It offers a rather peripheral view of Cuba without a true glimpse of the reality that Cuban school children and their families face daily.
For example, there’s also nary a word in the book about las safras and las cosechas, where children are bused to the countryside to do their compulsory work on the fields, cutting cane or tobacco or whatever the crop du jour may be. They spend weeks away from their families, living in the countryside in makeshift dilapidated structures with little or no amenities. And every child must meet his daily quota for the harvest.
The debate over said book has garnered plenty of media coverage, and valid arguments can and have been made by both sides. Solutions from the outright removal of said book from all County School Libraries to companion literature being attached to the stamping of a book plate on the book stating that it includes false and inaccurate information have been made. The committee set up to review the book meets once again on Monday, June 5th, where a compromise is hoped for.
I happen to agree with Matthew Pinzur, who has been covering this controversy for the Miami Herald, when he states “This issue is not going away.”
Just read the story at the beginning of this post once again, and then put yourselves in a Cuban-American parent’s shoes. It is those same vocal parents that have lived through childhood in Cuba. It is those same vocal parents that know just how flawed Vamos a Cuba is. It is those same vocal parents who are exercising a right denied them in Cuba and protesting. And chances are, it is those same parents who will have to live with the committee’s decision, most assuredly much to their chagrin. Ultimately and by proxy, Fidel Castro will have had a say in their children’s education, if the local library organizations leadership is anything like that of the American Library Association.
Personally, I’m not at all comfortable with the banning of books or their removal from libraries. And there’s really no need to deface the book with a warning label or force kids to check out another book or two to accompany Vamos a Cuba. I’ve got a simple solution. One which should make all parties involved happy:
Put the book where it belongs, in the FICTION section. Right there next to Nancy Drew and Charlotte’s Web, a few bookshelves away from Green Eggs and Ham.
Val Prieto is the son of refugees who escaped from Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro came to power. He lives in Miami and blogs at Babalú.