Ban That Book, It Just Ain’t Right! Vamos A Cuba and the First Amendment

Book banning, or the attempts to remove controversial books from libraries and schools is nothing new. Various groups have attempted at different times to remove famous titles such as Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn. Reasons given have been obscenity, racist language, or acceptability of situations deemed immoral.

A current controversy in Dade County Florida involves two books for elementary school children about life in Cuba today. Vamos a Cuba is for primary grades, written in simple sentences, and features photographs of Cuba and its people. It shows a pretty nice, simple picture of Cuban life. Cuban Kids is for grades 3-5, and is a photo essay about the life and culture of Cuban children, while also showing effects of the Communist system and the long standing embargo.

The sentence that many people find objectionable in Vamos a Cuba is the one that says that children in Cuba “eat, work, and study like you”.

According to the book’s detractors, the sentence is inaccurate. Many Cuban Americans and Cuban exiles have alluded to their own experiences in Cuba with food rationing, forced labor, and political indoctrination in school. Vamos a Cuba is written for younger readers, so detailed explanations of the complicated events since 1959 really don’t fit. For those who are reading this book, the accounts of life in Cuba they hear from their families just don’t agree with the account in this book.

Cuban Kids is for older elementary school students. Its detractors argue that by showing ill effects of the embargo, the book is blaming Cuba’s problems on the United States, not on Fidel Castro, and thus is inaccurate.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that books may not be banned from school libraries because they are politically incorrect or present an unpopular point of view. The opinion actually states that students do not check their right to freedom of speech and information at the schoolhouse door. But can a book be banned for being inaccurate, especially when the assessment of that accuracy is politically charged?

The children of Cuba eat. They work. They study. That is true.
They don’t do it like us. That is also true.

But if they ate, worked, and studied like we do, we wouldn’t need a book to tell children about them.

If the Dade County School board removes these books from their school library shelves, what else will be removed? Books that are inaccurate because they are outdated, or books that are inaccurate according to someone’s point of view?

I guess the librarians at the 330 Dade County public school libraries will be cleaning house this summer.