- Children of the Revolution:A Literary Case Study
Along with political change, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 brought profound social changes as well. In an effort to create a national consciousness, the revolutionary leadership set about the task of reorganizing cultural and educational institutions to reflect the ideals of socialist man. The transition from pre- to post-revolutionary Cuba was a difficult one that demanded of its leaders strong direction and good organizational skills.
One group of historical importance for the Revolution was the youth of Cuba. It was to this group in particular that the leadership directed its efforts, ensuring the creation and promotion of a literature designed specifically for children, adolescents, and young adults. This interest in children's literature did not simply grow out of the Revolution but goes back to the efforts of Jose Martí, a revolutionary leader of the Spanish War for independence (1895-1898) and a writer and poet, to instill in young Cubans a particular philosophy of life. From exile in New York, he published several issues (July-October 1889) of a magazine for children called "La Edad de Oro" ("The Golden Age"), publication of which was later resumed in Cuba (1904-?) after Martí's death. The kind of moral didacticism practiced by Martí was to become a model for future writers and directors of activities for children.
The Cuban Revolution was openly opposed to capitalist values and tried to replace a largely American popular culture with a distinctly revolutionary one. For example, cards featuring American baseball players which had been popular with young Cubans were exchanged for postcards ("postalitas") of revolutionary heroes, and the Christmas celebrations, coming as they did at the peak of the sugar cane harvest, were replaced by the Day of the Child, observed on the third Sunday in July at the end of the school year. These actions correspond to different stages in the creation in Cuba of a socialist state. First, a highly successful campaign against illiteracy was organized. In addition to initiating changes in the educational system, the revolutionary leadership set about organizing [End Page 100] activities aimed at the youth of Cuba. Also, governmental bodies were established to integrate Cuban youth into the ranks of the Revolution. Organizations such as the young pioneers ("Organización de Pioneros José Martí," 1961) and the young communists ("Union de Jovenes Comunistas," 1962) were established.
Hand in hand with the establishment of a whole political machinery came intellectual initiatives designed to stimulate activity, particularly among children. The National Library set up a Department of Children's Literature ("Departmento de Literatura y Narraciones Infantiles") which organized, among other activities, achildren's hour ("La Hora del Niño"). This was to lead to the discovery of new talent. Well-known and established writers provided texts for children's readings. For example, the novelist Eliseo Diego translated into Spanish tales by Hans Christian Andersen, the brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Madame Leprince de Beaumont. He also wrote poems and short stories for second, third, and fourth grade readers. Other pedagogical activities included the writing of basic readers for grammar school students. For its historical importance we reproduce the following passage:
Ya los campesinos sondueños de la tierra.Los campesinos cultivansu tierra.La tierra cubana es rica.
Now the peasants are ownersof the land.Peasants cultivate the land.Cuban soil is rich.]
The efforts of the Cuban government to promote reading and education were effective. By 1966 the first fruits of its labor were already visible. In that year, a monthly review ("El Caimán Barbudo") was founded. It was published as a supplement to the daily "Rebellious Youth" ("Juventud Rebelde") and was addressed to a young audience. In addition, workshops ("talleres") were organized by the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) to help young writers develop their talent under the guidance of already established literary figures. Prizes were created by the UNEAC and by the worker's brigades ("brigadas") to encourage budding artists in the field of prose, poetry, and theatre. Cuba also began to host meetings [End Page 101] on children's literature and the...