El Lector: A History of the Cigar Factory Reader

El Lector: A History of the Cigar Factory Reader

El Lector: A History of the Cigar Factory Reader

El Lector: A History of the Cigar Factory Reader


The practice of reading aloud has a long history, and the tradition still survives in Cuba as a hard-won right deeply embedded in cigar factory workers' culture. In El Lector, Araceli Tinajero deftly traces the evolution of the reader from nineteenth-century Cuba to the present and its eventual dissemination to Tampa, Key West, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In interviews with present-day and retired readers, she records testimonies that otherwise would have been lost forever, creating a valuable archive for future historians. Through a close examination of journals, newspapers, and personal interviews, Tinajero relates how the reading was organized, how the readers and readings were selected, and how the process affected the relationship between workers and factory owners. Because of the reader, cigar factory workers were far more cultured and in touch with the political currents of the day than other workers. But it was not only the reading material, which provided political and literary information that yielded self-education, that influenced the workers; the act of being read to increased the discipline and timing of the artisan's job.


Any scholar who has conducted research on Cuba knows how difficult it is to travel to the island and what a great challenge it is to do fieldwork once there, given the difficult economic and political conditions present in the country. Policies of both the U.S. and Cuban governments limit access to such basic means of communication as the telephone, the mail, and the electronic media. Under such circumstances, it was a major accomplishment to be able to write a book that deals in part with present-day Cuban culture.

This book belongs to the corpus of studies about the history of universal reading. I do not mention books banned by the Cuban government, since this study deals with actual public readings in state-controlled cigar factories; I have assumed that such books are never read to the workers. They should be part of a broader study about censorship, a topic that is beyond the scope of my book.

In June 2007, two months after the book was published in Spanish, I presented some of my findings in a number of places in Cuba, among them Casa de las Américas. I took the opportunity then to attend the Fifth International Conference on Culture and Development, where I delivered a talk about libraries and reading aloud in cigar factories. the audience was made up of librarians from all over the world—including many from the United States—and UNESCO’s reading advocates. I noted that I felt it was necessary to study reading aloud in prisons and hospitals as it is practiced today. the idea was received very enthusiastically.

The Spanish-language version of the book has already served as an inspiration for some. in the Dominican Republic, for instance, a school for underprivileged children has opened in which reading aloud is practiced, and in Brazil and Nicaragua, consideration is being given to implementing reading aloud in some cigar factories. in Guadalajara, Mexico, cultural . . .

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