Vamos a Cuba Again (Or Political Correctness for Primary Grades)

An advisory panel to the Miami Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew recommended that the controversial children’s book, Vamos a Cuba, remain on school library bookshelves for now. After seven hours of discussion spread over two difficult meetings, the panel found that while the book appears to be lacking in content, there is no sufficient reason to remove it.

The decision of the panel is a non binding recommendation to the superintendent, who has 5 days to decide if the book stays or goes. He has already stated that he has no intention of removing the book. He had been looking to the panel for suggestions of a compromise, such as a label, or a bookplate with suggestions for further reading, but the panel did not advise such actions. Juan Amador Rodriguez, the parent who made the initial complaint, has said that he will bring the matter to the school board, where there will certainly be politically charged fallout.

Board member Frank Bolanos is expected to resign this summer to run for state senate. He commented on the difficulty he anticipates the board will face on this issue. ”They will have a choice to either define themselves on the side of truth and with the Cuban community or on the side of lies and against the Cuban community”.

Those who object to the book, which is written for students in grades K-2, claim that the picture of current life in Cuba is way too rosy and optimistic. For example, the sentence that the children of Cuba “eat, work and study just like you” is considered false information, since the children of Cuba live under a dictatorship. In another example, Morro Castle is described as a 400 year old fortress built to protect the island from pirates. Those who want the book removed object that the book does not mention that the castle is also the place where Fidel Castro has imprisoned political prisoners.

Hmmmm…since when are the words “political prisoner” part of a first grade reader’s vocabulary?

But then, since when did book banning encourage accountability and accuracy? In fact, if we truly censored everything on library shelves for accuracy, we’d probably have a lot more room on the shelves. Take a look at what the Miami Herald’s reporter Matthew Pinzur has to say about Vamos a Cuba and other books he found at school libraries.

The publisher, Heinemann Library, describes the book on their website:

How do some people in Cuba get from place to place? What kinds of fruits grow in Cuba? Which spiky plant do some Cubans eat as a vegetable? Learn the answers to these questions and more when you read ‘A Visit to: Cuba.’ See the famous sites. Travel over the land. Join in the celebrations. Find out what Cuban children learn in school and what they might do when they are older. See if they play the same sports as you or wear the same kind of clothes. Learn some words in Spanish!

Well, OK, they leave a lot to the imagination. But here’s a thought – open discussion! Wow, what a concept! Parents and teachers can TALK to children about what is missing from the book. Maybe, just maybe, the pictures and descriptions will intrigue children to find out more about Cuba.

Back in the day before the information age exploded all over the place, my mom taught me two valuable lessons:
1. Don’t believe everything you see on TV just because it is on TV.
2. Don’t believe everything you read just because it is in print. Find out more.

Children and adults have a whole world of information at their fingertips today. I really doubt that reading Vamos a Cuba is going to stifle young minds, or prevent them from finding out more about a very interesting place. Banning the book, however, might just have that effect.

I grew up in Miami. Summer is hot enough there without literal or figurative book burning, or the scorching debate such action provokes.