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Monday, July 17, 2006

Let's go to Cuba 

Fatwalker links to a Front Page Magazine article:

A children's school book titled Let's Go to Cuba depicts Castro's fiefdom as a combination Emerald City and Willi Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Some American parents of Cuban heritage noticed it and filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade school board, who voted to remove the book from the public school library. The ACLU claims to be scandalized and filed suit to retain the book....

According to the [American Library Association], over the past two decades, every single year sees between 400 and 600 such schoolbook protests in the U.S., much of it over material considered "racially insensitive," as when The Adventure's of Huckleberry Finn was yanked from an Illinois school library. In brief, attempted "book bannings'" identical to the one in Miami-Dade have occurred at a rate of over one a day for the last two and half decades from sea to shining sea. In most of these, the ACLU and the mainstream Media have been conspicuously mum.

But just let those insufferable Cuban-Americans try it and then the ACLU promptly blasts its bugles; their media cronies affect grave frowns; the teachers unions get on their high horse and cries of "censorship!" and "book-banning!" flood the airwaves and headlines. "Miami-Dade School Board Bans Cuba Book" read a headline in the New York Times on June 15th.

As a brief aside, it should be noted that the ACLU will defend any right to free speech, as The Onion noted:

At a press conference Monday, American Civil Liberties Union officials announced that the organization will go to court to defend a neo-Nazi group's right to burn down ACLU headquarters...."While the ACLU vehemently disagrees with the idea of Nazis torching this building, the principle of freedom of expression must be supported in all cases. If we take away these Nazis' right to burn down our headquarters, we take away everyone's right to burn down our headquarters."

This, of course, was a parody of the ACLU's defense of the Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois.

But back to the Cuba book. There is one set of librarians that is outraged over the ban:

Outraged over the School Board's vote to pull the children's book Vamos a Cuba out of school libraries because of what critics call its distorted portrayal of life on the communist island, the Association of Cuban Librarians and the José Martí National Library in Havana have launched a protest.

If you would like to express your opinion to the association, go here.

So what terrible things does the book actually say? I read J. Joens' review:

This is a book that would likely receive little notice except for the controversy it has caused in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where the book has been removed from public school libraries, pending a court challenge from the ACLU....

The books are pretty much what they claim to be - simple readers whose purpose is to teach children that there are kids all over the world, and that while they may be different in detail they are basically the same.

The knock against this particular book is that it does not discuss the flaws in present day Cuba - that the country is ruled by a brutal dictator, that there are often shortages of food and other essential items, and that political repression remains the norm in the country. All true enough - equally true that these are all irrelevant for this particular book series. Discussion of these topics is no more appropriate than discussion of the millions of children who live in poverty or under physically dangerous conditions in the United States - equally true facts that would not belong in a book in this series.

In brief, then, this book does pretty much what it is intended to do, and at a child appropriate level. It is a shame that a few extremists in the Miami community have turned this into a cause celebre.

Cuban American Pundits actually translated the book. Here are some of the more controversial passages:

People in Cuba eat, work and go to school like you do. Life in Cuba is also unique....

The capital of Cuba is Havana. The capitol building in Havana looks like the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC....

Most Cubans live in cities. The cities are crowded, so many people live in apartment buildings. There are some beautiful old buildings. There are new buildings too....

There are not many cars in Cuba. In the cities, some people drive old cars from the United States. Most Cubans travel by bus....

From the excerpts above, as well as the other translated material, the book doesn't appear to be a whitewash. I'll grant that the book doesn't delve into WHY there is a scarcity of cars, for example, but then again does the book on the United States explain why some things happen here?

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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