Wednesday, April 19, 2006

About a Book

Michael Putney writes in the Miami Herald about the latest free speech kerfuffle.

The Cuban Calvinists are back. The ones who dogmatically refuse to allow anything to be said or written that doesn’t conform with their straitened view of the island. Even books for small children.

The latest target of the Cuban Calvinists’ wrath is a slender volume called A Visit to Cuba. It’s part of a simple, introductory travel series for children ages 5 to 7, grades K through 2. I’ve read it, in English and Spanish, and find it inoffensive and factually accurate. Factually incomplete, to be sure, but accurate as far as it goes.

Which is not far enough, according to Miami-Dade School Board Member Frank Bolaños. He read A Visit to Cuba and finds it full of “hurtful and insulting distortions.” His solution: Take all 49 copies off the shelves of 36 Miami-Dade elementary-school libraries. A School Board committee debated whether to do that Monday and unanimously recommended against it, based on the opinion of their attorney. He pointed out that state law forbids it, as does the Supreme Court’s 1982 Rico decision that said a school board can’t yank a book from library shelves simply because board members don’t like its politics, religion, nationalism or point of view. The full School Board was set to take up A Visit to Cuba again yesterday afternoon, after this column was written. Here’s hoping they told Bolaños, who wasn’t present at Monday’s meeting, that they’re sorry he’s offended by A Visit to Cuba, but it will remain on school shelves. And not behind the librarian’s desk either, available only on request, as some have suggested. Limiting access is tantamount to censorship.


We’ve been through this free-speech debate before, and I was naive enough to think that we’d moved beyond it. After the Cuban band Los Van Van played in Miami in 1999 over the loud but nonviolent objections of Cuban exiles, I thought we’d matured as a community.

I thought we’d collectively found that the First Amendment protects everyone’s rights; that we’d come to understand as a community that free speech, including unpopular speech, is protected as long as you’re not yelling “Fire!” in that crowded theater.

Frank Bolaños evidently thinks that A Vist to Cuba amounts to crying “Fire!” in the political theater that is Miami. I think Miami knows the difference between a real free-speech fire, fueled by banned books, and a smokescreen for PC thinking on Cuba.

Don’t like the book? Don’t check it out. That’s a choice unavailable to people in Cuba.

The School Board voted yesterday to keep the book…for now. What I think is ironic is that a group of people who sacrificed a great deal to get to America — in many cases giving up fortunes, property, and family ties in Cuba to obtain the freedoms we have here — are willing to deny them for the sake of political correctness. It is also ironic that they are by and large staunch members of the Republican Party, the organization that preaches press freedom and disdains political correctness as a “feel-good” pablum. Censoring a book for children because it doesn’t conform to the proper political agenda of some adults makes a mockery of freedom of expression — which is exactly what happens every day in Cuba.