Without knowing why, I felt a wave of joy the first time they tied a knot in the neckerchief around my neck. I had been anxiously waiting for that moment, so a naive feeling of pride coursed through my inner being when I heard the words: “Now you are a pioneer.”
No one explained to me that from this moment on I’d be responsible for — in addition to that handkerchief and my books — the duty of fulfilling certain social demands, like being better every day (as determined by others), and never letting down the revolution or Fidel, even though I didn’t know what that really meant.
As I always liked to study, and I was quiet and “very well behaved,” the teachers selected me to keep up the list of those who talked during class or didn’t do their homework. I even ended up having the responsibility of taking away the neckerchiefs of the most unruly students, since they had proven themselves unworthy of wearing the symbol of the Jose Marti Pioneer Organization.
The teachers had no idea of how much I suffered from the dilemma of who I should try to get along with. But no matter how much I thought about it, the balance always leaned toward the side of the adults (as I mentioned, I was “very well behaved”).
Had it not been for the shyness that limited me, my political career would have gone far. When the First Congress of Pioneers was held in 1991, I had already stopped being a little girl a long time ago. Yet I still didn’t understand the need for the pioneers to have a congress, something that was boring even for many adults. Maybe these would be different if the meetings were at least something more than a chance for children to perform roles in a play that’s written and directed by adults. But that’s not the case.
The work of the revolution
That first congress traced the line where the mutilation of childhood’s spontaneity, innocence and freshness began, locking these kids in the vicious circle of responsibility.
Looking through the online magazine Somos Jovenes, I found Fidel’s words from the closing of that congress. As he stated: “Sometimes it’s hard for me to call you children, so I didn’t speak to you like children. You might be children in age, but you are all more than children in intelligence, in feelings – more than children in consciousness. I have spoken to you as youth, I have spoken to you as revolutionary militants; I have spoken to you as soldiers on front line.”
This year’s notebook for the fifth congress doesn’t differ that much from the previous ones. Reading the news in the Cuban press confirms that the emphasis is being placed on defending the work of the revolution, and this confirms to me that once again adults are imposing the discourse.
The president of the Pioneer’s organization insisted that the students “ratify their commitment to assume the tasks assigned by the homeland, especially in the economic battle, through attaining a consciousness of producers. The Cuban pioneers, together with their people, will always defend the work and the continuity of the Revolution.”
The vice-president of the Council of Ministers, Jose Ramon Fernandez, in addition to giving these kids a long-winded lecture on the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, told them: “Cuban children and youth, worthy heirs of our traditions of struggle, should have a clear awareness of their commitment to our historical legacy – full of sacrifice, pain and effort.”
As an important part of the event, the book Fidel and the Pioneers was distributed. Put out by Abril Publishers, it is a compilation of the leader’s speeches in which, in addition to explaining who can and cannot be a pioneer, one can find statements like: “I’m sure, I am sure, totally sure, that if the enemy attacked our country, if the enemy assaulted our land, they would have to face even our children, sooner or later.”
The television cameras and the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (I sometimes suspect that even they have a secret desire to blast the pioneers organization), spotlight the delegates parroting the phrases of adults while at the same time swearing their willingness to turn over their books for a rifle in the case of a new military attack.
You can see a young girl worried about the production of coffee in her province as a boy proclaims his desire to study and prepare himself for what the homeland needs, pushing to the side his desires and interests.
One of them might slip up by thanking his mom or his teacher Luis for the preparation given for the congress, unintentionally confirming that they’re only playing roles. Though I admit that this would be an exception, the majority are good actors, well trained, and quite capable of memorizing long texts.
A kid from Holguin Province capped it all off when she confessed her intention to highlight the responsibility of the pioneers to study in order to give continuity to the Cuban revolutionary process. This means she doesn’t study for the need to learn or the pleasure of knowing, but only out of the utility of serving the revolution.
As she declared, “This is a process that has created the fundamental basis from the first instants of the Cuban revolution so that we all are true and totally happy. In our fifth congress we should refer to the need to being efficient, studious, unconditional and revolutionary so as to fulfill our commitment to the Revolution and to demonstrate that every day the pioneers from all over Cuba are conquering the future! “
What is to be done?
Sadness overcomes me when I hear 9 to 12 year-old boys and girls who talk only about politics, duties, of being someone’s hope, and of tasks to fulfill in order to be seen well in the eyes of adults. From each of those children a high level of consciousness and commitment to the historic legacy is demanded – though they’re at an age when they don’t even know what consciousness is and they haven’t yet established any commitments.
There are not doubts that the indoctrination is so crude that it only uses formulas proven over the years, without risking anything. The falsehood imposed by those who attend the congress and the apathy of those who don’t, screams that youngsters are not motivated by the work of the organization. Many pioneers don’t identify with the positions that are adopted and nor do they identify with those who supposedly represent them.
Dayana, my neighbor who’s in the sixth grade, told me that at her school they said something, but that she’s wasn’t interested in it. However, when her mother found out and began to lay into her, Dayana swore that she was indeed aware. This is the way we’re teaching kids to feign and go through the motions. It’s the result of their being forced to not be themselves but what someone else wants them to be.
I don’t find it healthy to instruct youth about their loads of responsibility or how they should be perpetually grateful, impeding the formation of their own identities. It’s possible that students of any age question the quality of the teaching process, establish their priorities and defend (without the need for rifles) their rights and desires; but for this to happen it requires open channels of sincerity, of creativity.
We need to let them (if they want) organize themselves as it seems best to them, and if they don’t feel comfortable with the organization invented for them, then dissolve it.