Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The True Tesoras of the Cuban Literacy Campaign: A Conversation with Maestra Director, Catherine Murphy

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The True Tesoras of the Cuban Literacy Campaign: A Conversation with Maestra Director, Catherine Murphy

Article excerpt

Maestra (2011), a documentary film by Catherine Murphy, shares the personal testimonies of nine women who were among the 250,000 volunteers, or brigadistas, of the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961. These young Cuban volunteers, of which the majority were females, a large percentage minors, were sent to rural communities island-wide and succeeded in teaching over 700,000 individuals to read and write. The lyrics to the song at the end of the film, a musical accompaniment to the still shots of the gleeful volunteers parading through Havana celebrating the culmination of a successful year-long National Campaign, embrace the thematic backbone of Maestra:

Yo sabía leer en tus ojos

Lo que tu alma me quería decir

Ahora puedo leerlo en tus cartas

Ahora empiezo mi amor a vivir

La patria me ha dado un tesoro

He aprendido a leer y a escribir

The lyrics of the song alone, written by Cuban composer Eduardo Saborit during the literacy campaign and later made into a contemporary song by up-and-coming Venezuelan artist, Heyleen Williams, speaks to a much broader message the film represents. The original poem, "Despertar," written over a half-century ago by Saborit is repurposed or reinterpreted by Williams-given a contemporary twist- for consumption in today's world, a world that often struggles to grapple with the past. Murphy, too, in allowing for nine brigadistas to share their personal stories, reenvisions history and provides a chance for the people of Cuba to put faces to a specific moment and movement of their past, a true revolutionary triumph. As Murphy makes clear in the following interview, it is the people-the experience of the many teachers of the Literacy Campaign-that initially attracted her to the story and it is their strong testimonies, so vividly recounted, that hold meaningful lessons for all time periods and people: current teachers in secondary and university education, high-school students, Cubans, Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Latin Americans. Returning to the lyrics of Saborit's poem, if the once illiterate Cuban speaking in the poem recognizes what his homeland has given him-the ability to read and write-as a tesoro, one cannot forget the real tesoro, or perhaps better said, tesoras, were, and still are, the teachers themselves.

Megan Jeanette Myers: First off, I want to share with you how much I enjoyed the film and the message. I actually teared up at the end when a few of the interviewees, also with tears in their eyes, spoke about this life-changing experience and what it meant to them to volunteer their time selflessly. To pull direct quotes from the documentary, "enseñar es lo más bello que hay en la vida" and "enseñar es un arte" are two that really highlight the reciprocal nature of teaching, a meaningful process for both teacher and student. I think we see this liberation theme when we consider that the teachers, the brigadistas, got their first taste of freedom when they entered the Literacy Campaign. And, at the same time, they gave illiterate Cubans their own freedom, through the ability to read and write. How do you envision this two-part freedom? Is it something that came about organically while filming?

Catherine Murphy: The story was inspired by a couple of the women who I knew who were part of the Literacy Campaign, and their stories about how much this experience impacted their lives. So, the film was motivated by the experience of the teachers. And they talk about teaching as a reciprocal endeavor. In fact, it is often teachers that learn the most, and an open-minded teacher can be open to learn as much from their students as they impart. So yes, the film looks at teaching as a two-way experience, but it also looks at the broader issue of service and the transformative power of service. The testimonies we gathered from the young teachers show that giving something huge to someone else-something meaningful enough to change their life-liberates the giver along with the recipient. …

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