The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

Excerpt

No real understanding of the past is possible if children are excluded.

—Paula S. Fass, “Is There a Story in the History of Childhood?”

Since 1959, the Castro regime has based its legitimacy on the assertion of a unique moral imperative, expressed in the slogan “La Revolución es para los niños [The Revolution is for the children].” This highly normative claim alludes most directly to early revolutionary successes in providing education and health-care services to hundreds of thousands of Cuban children whose needs had been neglected during the era of the U.S.dominated republic. It nonetheless has roots that extend further into the island’s history. Fidel Castro’s famous statement evokes the even betterknown words of José Martí, leader of Cuba’s late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century independence struggle, who declared in 1898 that the third and final battle to wrest the island’s liberation from Spain would be fought “for the children, since they are the ones who know how to love— they are the hope of the world.”

Castro’s oft-repeated slogan simultaneously appropriates the patriotic power of Martí’s memory and frames the Revolution’s leaders as sharing his special concern for the well-being of the island’s youngest citizens. Anti-Castro Cubans, however, have laid their own discursive claims to Martí’s legacy. As early as 1960, counterrevolutionaries declared themselves the true inheritors of his moral vision, even as a rapidly growing exile community in Miami sought to portray itself as heroic defenders of Cuban children, innocent victims of Castro-communist indoctrination, oppression, and deprivation. These mutually antagonistic discourses resurfaced in November 1999, when five-year-old Elián González was discovered shipwrecked off the coast of southern Florida. During the following six months, U.S. federal district court deliberations on the boy’s immigration and custody status dominated the news in Havana and Miami and . . .

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