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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Cuba The Surrender Tree

Two books crossed my lap this week involving Cuba and Cuban-Americans so I wanted to take some time to devote to each. Neither story intends to solve the world’s problems with its relationship to Cuba. But each is valuable for the struggles revealed and the questions they inspire.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for FreedomFirst, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle for middle school and up. Did you know this was on LexGo’s Most Talked About Book earlier during National Poetry month? 

Focusing on the Cuban wars of independence between 1850 to 1899, this verse story focuses on one nurse who finds the strength inside to try to save anyone – black, white, Cuban, Spanish, friend, or enemy. The nurse is a true historical figure Rosario Castellanos known as Rosa la Bayamesa as is her husband, Jose Francisco Varona. Poems in their voice and in the voice of Lieutenant Death tell us this story of 3 wars and how individuals change through war experiences.

Readers will be inspired to seek more information about Rosa, the Cuban wars of independence and what happened after this book ended. Thanks to Google books, I found a paragraph (just one paragraph) in Cuban and Cuban-American Women: An Annotated Bibliography by K. Lynn Stoner. There are 79 sources listed in GoogleBooks, but now I want more information. What happened next?

The verse in this book compelled me to linger and vary the voices in my head as I read. I found the interview of Margarita Engle by Bonnie O’Bryan. Her earlier work The Poet Slave of Cuba was recognized for:The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

Winner, Americas Award
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book
A New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age
A CCBC Choice
A Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book
A Booklist Editor’s Choice

I anticipate this title will receive similar acclaim because the voices are compelling. I need more. Give me more poetic verse and more history of Cuba.

In an off-topic meandering way today:

Why were we never taught that the Spanish instituted the first modern, systematic use of concentration camps – called reconcentration camps here – as a way of controlling rural populations? After moving in the peasants in only 8 days and making no provisions for shelter, food, medicine, or sanitation, can we be surprised at the destruction of approximately 10-30 percent of the island’s total population? 

In looking at the list of concentration camps and internment camps on Wikipedia, the article does not even include these Cuban reconcentration camps. I checked the listing of Prisoner of War camps with no success either.  Buried in the article on internment is a short paragraph: 

Although similar camps may have existed earlier (such as in Cuba (1868–78) and the Philippines (1898–1901)[5]), the English term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during the 1899-1902 Second Boer War[6]. Allegedly conceived as a form of humanitarian aid to the families whose farms had been destroyed in the fighting, the camps were used to confine and control large numbers of civilians as part of a Scorched Earth tactic.

Do these camps exist anywhere in the world today in new forms? Remember the film from Walden Media I am David that was released in 2003? Based upon the book North to Freedom by Anne Holmes this book details David’s escape from an Eastern European Bulgarian detainment camp. It was an amazing movie but I remember going home and looking up the dates of Eastern European camps. Was I a naive child believing that the only concentration camps came from Hitler?

You might find criticisms of camps buried today. Even Amnesty International suffered attacks when they compared the Guantanamo Bay camps to Soviet Gulags. Countries hesitate to label these as concentration camps. Instead we have refugee camps, political prisoner camps, laogai’s, and children in Darfur who have never known peace while living their lives in camps. I was amazed at the number of displaced people world-wide who are attempting to survive in a camp. But is there an attitude of apathy? Are we discouraged from debating the rights and wrongs of relocating people? There is much misinformation and conspiracy theories galore on the internet. While I was searching for information, I suddenly had that feeling that someone was watching over my shoulder or spying in on my keystrokes. I don’t want to be banned from visiting any countries simply because I ask questions about detainees. What have we become when we worry about this instead of how we can help?