Maestra and the Cuban Literacy Campaign
Last night, I screened a moving documentary, Maestra, a film about the 1961 Cuban literacy campaign. Cuba made ambitious, aggressive efforts in 1961 to eliminate illiteracy. I say ambitious because the goal was to eradicate illiteracy within one year. Esteemed author and poet, Alice Walker, was the film’s narrator.
Maestra features interviews with several young women, including Norma Guillard, one of the first Cuban feminists. Also of note is an interview with Diana Balboa, one of the first open members of Cuba’s LGBT community and advocate for gay and lesbian rights. Both young women were 15 years old. The Cuban government recruited more than 250,000 volunteers to teach reading and writing in rural communities.
The project wasn’t as successful as everyone had hoped. The greatest challenge was the widespread unrest throughout Cuba, most of which was due to the prevalence of terrorism. A challenge secondary to that was the fact that the textbooks allegedly were nothing more than Cuban propaganda and not objective forms of academic resources that textbooks ought to be. The books had strong political messages, which impeded the learning process.
This documentary present these and many other eye-opening facts about Cuba and the history of its government. This is especially relevant given the renewed efforts to more peacefully connect Cuba with the United States. It debuted in 2011 and was part of many film festivals, including the Indie Fest Film Festival.
If you should ever get a chance to view it, don’t hesitate. If you’re a K-12 teacher, you can get a viewing copy for your classroom for about $90. It is distributed by the Women Makes Moves organization, “a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women.” See the trailer below.