Tuesday July 25, 2006

. . . and just like that, Vamos a Cuba is back in the schools for good. Damn, that was fast. (via hiddencity) Update: SDoF has a great quote from the judge: the School Board “abused its discretion in a manner that violated the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.’’ Also, a link to the full ruling [PDF]. Update: Oh yeah, they can appeal. Miami Gradebook explains what’s doing with each of the individual members and concludes they probably won’t.



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  1. Rick    Tue Jul 25, 04:40 PM #  

    Well, not exactly. The school board can still appeal. Channel 10 quoted Bolanos as saying that he would fight it all the way to the Supreme Court. Where they will lose, of course, but the point is that the curtain has not come down on this circus.

    And remember, there still is the Cuban Kids book.


  2. mkh    Tue Jul 25, 06:44 PM #  

    I still think the issue will die by the elections. It’s never been about Cuba, it’s been about Cuban voters in Bolanos’ district.

  3. Rick    Tue Jul 25, 09:12 PM #  

    I agree, mkh.


  4. David L Rosenthal    Mon Aug 21, 07:18 PM #  

    I am not Cuban. I have read and analyzed the book in question. It is a propaganda tool for the Castro regime. I oppose it and will continue to do so. So you can see it is not merely an issue for the Cuna exiles, despite your achingly acute bigots desire to have it seems so.

  5. alesh    Mon Aug 21, 07:58 PM #  

    Hi David! Thanks for your perspective. What are some examples of things in the book that are most obviously propaganda for the Castro regime?

  6. mkh    Mon Aug 21, 11:37 PM #  

    Mr Rosenthal, Matthew Pinzur of the Herald refers to you as an “activist,” without being more specific. As a free-speech and civil rights activist myself, I’m curious as to your specific areas of interest. Does your interest go further than your anti-Castro blog, on which—by your own stated policy—you do not tolerate dissenting views?

    I, too, have read and analyzed Vamos, although coming to the opposite conclusion. As a matter of fact, I reviewed it with ardent anti-Castro Cuban-Americans, one of whom admitted to being somewhat embarassed at how inoffensive the title turned out to be. Was there some particular literary analysis to which you subjected the title to reach your conclusion? Can you provide expert opinion on the propagandistic nature of the book, perhaps through comparative study of similar works in the modern era? Do you have any sort of credentials beyond your own anger and bravado to back up your claims?

    Sir, you might do well to understand that not everyone with whom you disagree is automatically a bigot. Some are simply right.

  7. Ziva    Mon Aug 21, 11:57 PM #  

    Would you approve of a book that paints a rosy picture of life under Hitler? Or how about life as a happy child of slaves? This book, if nothing else is offensive to a large portion of the community in the school district in question. It should never have been put on the shelves. School personnel make decisions all the time regarding which books to use or reject, that is not censorship; it is doing their job.

  8. J-J    Tue Aug 22, 12:27 AM #  

    How about “Ya No Vamos A Cuba”(Now we dont go to Cuba” or “Vamoas a cuba….to take reclaim that house that my aunt spoke so much about” My favorite is “Vamos a Ban all Books that disagree with Us” :)

  9. mkh    Tue Aug 22, 08:03 AM #  

    Ziva, your two examples are specious as they refer to events in the past, and are transparent attempts to reframe the discussion without context.

    Have you even read the book? If you have, and somehow you think telling American first grade students that in Cuba (a) kids have to work in factories, (b) the few cars in use are from the 1950s, (c) a big meal is rice on a stamped metal plate, and (d) for fun you can swim (without a video game in sight), then you have the most peculiar definition of “rosy picture” I have seen in quite a while. Perhaps I am wrong, but I imagine that even in your neighborhood most kids would call that hell, not heaven.

    While I readily accept that a great many people are (perhaps irrationally) offended by this book, it would have remained a non-issue were it not for the manipulations of Bolaños’ handler, David Rivera, and the desire of the Republican machine to exact retribution on one of their own for doing exactly what you are holding as an ideal. Villalobos voted against the party and in line with his constituency when he killed Jeb’s continued educational deconstruction. That’s a legislator’s job. If Frankie wanted to make his voice heard, he could have let it drop. Now he’s taking books and money away from other MDSB programs solely to fuel his political ambitions, and that makes him a cheap, opportunistic hack.

  10. ziva    Tue Aug 22, 12:43 PM #  

    MKH, Yes I read the book and I found it offensive. One should always tell the children the truth. The book does not talk about food rationing, or forced indoctrination, it doesn’t mention that in Cuba people are only allowed to read and see what the government wants them to see. Sorry, my examples are appropriate; the fact that I refer to past events is irrelevant. Cuba is on the list of countries at Genocide watch, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders. There are no Human Rights in Cuba, food is rationed, and parents have no say in the education of their children. The book is a lie and does not belong on school shelves. It’s a shame the issue is being used politically, but that doesn’t change the fact that the decision to pull the book was the correct one and if the ACLU hadn’t interfered, it would be a non-issue.

  11. mkh    Tue Aug 22, 03:21 PM #  

    Actually, if the ACLU hadn’t interfered, I—or some other proponent of free speech—would have.

    I, also, believe in telling children the truth. I assume your children have been warned that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all lies, right? I mean, age isn’t a reason to hide the truth, is it? Or are some truths simply more politically palatable than others?

    I do not have good things to say about Fidel’s Cuba. I do not even deny the veracity of any of your accusations against the Cuban government. I do, however, take issue with the thoroughly disingenuous argument put forth by the anti-Castro crowd that all children’s books must mention the most base evils extant in their topic. By this logic, ziva, a first grade text on American History should include detailed references to slavery, genocide against native peoples, and the general treatment of women as property. Should I assume that such a text, if submitted to the school board, would have your support ringing as loudly as your denunciation of Vamos?

    No-one can have any case against your emotional response to the book, nor can anyone fault a parent who wishes to instruct their own children in their views on a subject. Parents who don’t accept the scientific validity of evolution (or flat earthers, for that matter) play out this scenario every day their children go to science class. However, you’ll find that their efforts to remove books based on their own beliefs and political views have not been successful, either.

  12. Ziva    Wed Aug 23, 09:24 AM #  

    MKH,Slavery, and genocide against Native Americans, etc., are no longer part of daily life in the United States. American children do not experience being slaves. Cuban children however live with all the conditions I cited. Their food is rationed, they are forced to attend rallies,etc. they are watched and judged on their “revolutionary” progress. They know they cannot say whatever they think, they grow up without hope for any choice in their future, they grow up as property of the State, not the ward of their parents. Obviously books for this age group should not contain frightening graphic images but a simple truth stated, that children in Cuba are not free would suffice. And, it’s not a free speech issue. No one is denying the public access to the book, libraires and book stores are free to carry the book. Every school district selects books and rejects others based on their community’s standards.

  13. mkh    Wed Aug 23, 12:17 PM #  

    As I said, I am not at all unsympathetic to your ideals, or to the situation in Cuba today. I simply disagree with the proposition that first-grade geography books need to carry political information, and feel strongly that this entire contretemps is being staged for purely political purposes.

    School districts may indeed select and reject books based on community standards, but this is not their purpose, and when they do so for patently political purposes at odds with their roles as guardians of children’s education, they are justly slapped down by the courts. If this decision by the board is allowed to stand, I am certain many, many books will be brought to the attention of the board, and trust that all of these “factual inaccuracies” will be shown the same level of enthusiastic debate and financial resources as the Vamos issue.

  14. alesh    Wed Aug 23, 01:27 PM #  


    While I basically agree with you, I’m unsure on one point. we were having a ‘spirited conversation’ about some copy going into a brochure here recently, and someone said to Steve, “now you’re just arguing semantics.” To which he incredulously replied “well, yeah, it’s about words, which mean things, sure!”

    Under similar thinking, I wonder if, in the phrase “when they do so for patently political purposes at odds with their roles as guardians of children’s education,” the word “political” isn’t a similar red herring…

    “Politics” can variously refer to ‘getting what you want,’ ‘the act of leading,’ or even ‘the total complex of relations between people living in society.’

    And so I think that when you accuse someone of making a decision on the basis of “patently political” reasons, what you are “accusing” them of doing is making that decision because it’s what someone else wants, rather then what they, specifically, want.

    My point being that that is nothing particularly contemptible in that, especially as pertaining to a public servant. Right?

    Now I feel the need to say that I think those constituents that believe Vamos should have been removed would do well to rethink their positions. I also think that it would have behooved the politicians in question to have chosen this particular issue to diverge in their votes from the wishes of their constituents.

    But even with those two ideas, I can’t help but see a flaw in that one part of your criticism. Thoughts?

  15. Ziva    Thu Aug 24, 03:42 AM #  

    mkh- When you say a childrens book shouldn’t contain political issues, you make my argument for me. The false picture painted of Cuba in the book could have been written by Fidel Castro’s propaganda writers and it is political. For almost a half century he has used this very same lie, that all is well in Cuba to oppress Cubans terribly, while world opinion reads the propaganda without question. It’s what he does best, at a terrible cost to the families of the very same Cuban-Americans whose children attend Miami schools. If your father was executed without trial, or imprisoned for 20 years for disagreeing with the government, if you’ve watched 12 year olds selling themselves to tourists for food, imagine your child bringing home a book that portrays a normal life in Cuba by American standards. It is an affront. Personally, I think the case will be lost and it’s going to cost a lot of money, but their fight is admirable. Putting the book on the shelves was wrong, fighting to remove it is the right thing to do.

  16. gansibele    Thu Aug 24, 09:06 AM #  

    As somebody very familiar with Cuban propaganda, I can tell you that this same book would have been condemned in Cuba for showing the state of depauperation and ruin the country is in. You see what you want to see in the book. Omission of those facts you mention (not in dispute by anybody who is against the ban) does not amount to a politically-motivated painting of a false picture in a book that’s not supposed to be an in-depth analysis of Cuba. You can’t point to anything in it that’s a factual lie.

    There’s nothing admirable, nothing at all, about using all that suffering, all the loss and grief you mention for political gain, and that’s what’s going on here Ziva, don’t kid yourself. A bunch of two-bit politicians jockeying for position in a race to show who is more anti-Castro over a children’s book in order to curry favor with a vocal minority. “For almost a half century” this has been the MO in Miami and I find it just as disgusting.

    If you are really concerned about “world opinion”, then understand that this obsession to attack any perceived slight, this ridiculous waste of taxpayer’s money in a quixotic quest has become yet another propaganda victory for Castro. With enemies like these…

  17. mkh    Thu Aug 24, 03:17 PM #  

    You are correct, Alesh, insofar as the definition of “politics” does indeed have some bearing here. For accuracy, I should have been more explicit in my description. Toward this end:

    This issue was created by GOP operative David Rivera for the express purpose of punishing Alex Villalobos for following voting against GOP/Bush education “plans,” as was expressly desired by his constituents. There was local market research done to find a loosely education related issue which would captivate the Cuban-American voters, potentially enabling the GOP to unseat the popular Alex Villalobos with the unknown and talentless (but mindlessly loyal) Frank Bolaños. This issue has been raised not because of an outcry by Bolaños’ constituents; they are making a fuss because the candidate’s handlers manipulated them into doing so for GOP revenge against a moderate Republican. Therefore while this is a political act on his part, it isn’t not political in the sense of using politics to affect the will of the people, but rather artificially inflaming the passions of the people in order to achieve personal power without concern for the will of the people.

    Well, that is certainly longer; is it a little more clear?

  18. mkh    Thu Aug 24, 03:27 PM #  

    And because I can’t leave well enough alone, here are two additional comments:

    1. Ziva, by your loose definition of “politics” then books which show icebergs calving in the Arctic should be removed, even if they don’t mention a reason for the split. After all, the White House tells us that global warming doesn’t exist, so any mention of hot weather, deep water, or flooding becomes political speech. Remember, for an argument to be valid, is has to be applicable in scenarios other than discussions of Cuba.

    2. Alesh, I agree wholeheartedly with Steve’s assessment. Words do, indeed, mean things, and too few people realize that on anything more than a superficial level. Of course, language is also a virus, but that’s a conversation for another time.

  19. Ziva    Fri Aug 25, 09:00 PM #  

    I guess you all got bored over at the Herald blog. I’ve said all I need to say on the subject, no need to start with icebergs and global warming which have nothing to do with this conversation.