I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba on July 5th for an 11 day trip centered around criminal justice organizing on the ground. The trip was organized by Soffiyah Elijah from Alliance of Families for Justice. As a Cuban-American from an anti-Castro, anti-revolution household, I knew this trip would be intense. Over the years, it took a lot of hard work to move past my family's biases and try to understand the material conditions that existed on the island which resulted in calls for revolution. It was especially difficult because of how deeply polarizing Cuba is. Cuba is either demonized or romanticized. I decided to walk into the experience with an open heart and mind to learn everything that I could. Writing about every learning would take a century, so instead I am focusing on my key take aways from our time there.
One of the most successful outcomes that people learn about the revolution was it's campaign to eradicate illiteracy. The island was able to take a country that was 80% illiterate and turn it to a 99% literate rate. My biggest shock was to learn that the effort was lead by over 200,000 teachers that mobilized throughout the island from it's most rural areas to it's densest cities. The majority of those 200,000 people were youth ages 18 and younger. The youngest teacher that was a part of the literacy campaign was 8 years old! All of that information lead me to think about two things: what it means to lead a movement that was so deeply responsive to what people needed that they were able to mobilize that many people and what it really means to say that our movements are being led by youth. I started to think about the ways we think about youth and what the youngest among us are capable of if they were given the right amount of support and guidance instead of being told what and how things should be done. It made me think about how I interact with children and what expectations I hold of them (or don't) because of how often we are fed by society that children don't have the capacity to do high level things without an adult taking control. It was a beautiful process of envisioning what the US could look like, and be, if we all moved aside and allowed our own children to not just envision a different world but really run and lead the movement to make it a reality. Learning about the literacy campaign, it's difficulties and the danger posed to these children, left me with a commitment to challenge the spaces we are creating here and in who's name we are creating them.
On a personal note, the greatest take away for me after spending almost two weeks in Cuba was how close I felt to my mother. Throughout the entire trip I couldn't help but think about what it might be like to experience her country with her. We are politically distant when it comes to Cuba, but there was something about returning to her homeland that made me miss her presence. In turn, that longing made me realize that our mother's are our first homes, and there is an undeniable connection between motherhood and motherlands. There was something about experiencing the land that my mother once walked through that inevitably made me feel more connected to her than I have ever been. Being able to come "home" (and understanding the privilege of being able to come back to my roots) affirmed my love of land and it's role and importance in our humanity in a way that I was not expecting coming into this experience.
I am eternally grateful for the chance to have been on this trip. There are so many things left to process, think through collectively and debate. What I am 100% sure of is that another world is possible, even though Cuba may not have all the answers or be the answer. I am more sure today of what our lived experience and humanity could be, whether I see it in my lifetime or not, and I can't wait.