Cigar Factory Readings in Cuba

Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 29 — I was going through adolescence when I became interested in the job of people who would read to workers in cigar factories as they rolled tobacco.

I had fallen into the net of passion for books and became convinced that it would be the best job anyone could have: spending the whole day reading…and getting paid for it.

I don’t know exactly when I changed my mind. Maybe it was when I found out that certain readings were required at certain times. Or maybe it was because of my shyness, which would have kept me from feeling comfortable reading in front of so many people.

Or perhaps other passions simply displaced that desire. Those things happen at that age.

Many years later, I meet someone who was a roller for one of Cuba’s most famous cigar manufacturers: Partagas. I immediately asked him if they still had readers.

The guy told me that every morning someone reads the news published in the national newspapers, only the national and official news, but that later they begin reading books.

That was a good while ago, so I don’t remember the titles, but I was amazed to hear that most of the readings had to do with war, especially World War II, including one about the Red Army’s Marshal Georgy Shucov.

Then I breathed a slight air of relief when he said they’d also read the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings and some other novel.

I also found out, talking with a Cuban writer, that on a few occasions there had been readings organized through the Cuban Book Institute whereby the authors would read their own works to the tobacco rollers.

This writer, though, said he didn’t feel good doing it since he felt the workers weren’t interested in his work.

I’m not against any book, I think you can learn something from any of them, but I think cigar factories offer a setting in which better advantage could be taken.

We should remember that tobacco rollers have been “problematic” throughout history, in large part because of the work of readers.

It’s no wonder that in 1866 the Spanish government banned readers at tobacco factories under the suspicion that they were collaborating with revolutionary independence forces.

Taking into consideration that through reading one can advance culturally and ideologically, the ideal situation would be to ask each worker what he or she prefers. Instead, from what I’ve heard, it seems they’re only being indoctrinated.

Many of them have raised the same demand (among themselves), but few are willing to cross the line of what is now convention.

Another more expensive and almost impossible solution in Cuba would be for each of them to have their own computer and to choose whatever audio eBook they wanted.

But if they continue with one reader for everyone — which is more than likely — they could aim for more diversity when it comes to the news; in other words, that they could try to broaden the sources beyond the official press. They could raise awareness of the alternative press and make the workers feel better informed.

This could be done in those cases where people want to listen to the news, because it makes no sense to impose things. Rather, a list of the alternatives could be proposed to the workers, and they could then choose the topics and the books for their enjoyment.