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Cuba’s International Literary Campaign For Human Liberation

by Isabella Cenatiempo

The Cuban educator, Griselda Aguilera Cabrera, has dedicated her life and career to help those who cannot read and write. On Jan. 31 in the Constitution Room at Memorial Hall, Cabrera came to Central Connecticut State University and shared her story as an educator.

Cabrera explained how she grew this passion that helped change many people’s lives.

“I taught literacy to a 58-year-old man, Carlos Perez Isla, who was a street cleaner and totally illiterate. This experience was seared into me with such force that it defined my future. From that moment on, I decided to dedicate my life to teaching,” Cabrera said.

Most literary teachers in Cuba were young women in 1961; they were transformed by their experiences featured in the renowned documentary “Maestra.” At the event, “Maestra” was shown.

The documentary was made by Catherine Murphy. Murphy lived in Cuba in the 1990s and earned a master’s degree at the University of Havana.

“She [Catherine Murphey] is the founder and director of a multimedia project known as the Literacy Project, which focuses on gathering oral histories of volunteer teachers from the literacy campaign,” according to NACLA. “Documentary footage shows the energy and enthusiasm of the young women who traveled on trains into the small towns and countryside of Cuba to live among the people and teach them how to read and write. But the challenges they faced were extreme.”

In the documentary, we are reminded of the major milestone that Cuba achieved in such a short time.

Cabrera was the youngest of these teachers. At age 7, Cabrera volunteered to help make literacy universal in Cuba. That was 50 years ago. The Cuban literacy campaign mobilized more than one million Cubans as teachers or students.

“The literacy campaign is vitally important to revisit today, given the global challenges of illiteracy. We often think of illiteracy, particularly in Western nations, as a problem eradicated year ago, along with smallpox. But according to UNESCO, about a billion people, or 26 percent of the world’s adult population, remain non-literate,” according to NACLA. “While developing countries have the highest rates of illiteracy, Western developed nations also have surprisingly high rates. A study carried out in 1998 by the National Institute for Literacy estimated that 47 percent of adults in Detroit and 36 percent in New York City were Level 1 readers and writers.”

Now, Cabrera is retired from her career as an educator. Cabrera works with the Cuban Psychology Society Working Group on identity and diversity in activities to combat homophobia, racial discrimination and prejudice against people with HIV or AIDS, as well as violence against women and girls.

The event was put on by the CCSU Administrative Affairs Office; the Office of Diversity and Equity; the Modern Language Department; the Confucius Institute; the EOP Program; the Center of Africana Studies; the Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Center; and the Center for Public Policy and Social Research.