By Rosi Smith
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School texts during the 1898–1902 US occupation of Cuba, for example, explained that, while Latin Americans were ‘hot-headed’ and prone to listen overmuch to orators, they should aspire to a system like that of the USA, which represented ‘the most successful of all human governments’ (Perez Jr 1999:161). Nationalism is integral to cubanía and to the sense of collective identity that binds the Cuban people together. Benedict Anderson describes the way that nations have formed in order to serve that very function, arguing that they differ from states in that they are ‘imagined communities’— imagined because they are based on an imaginary sense of recognition and identification by individuals with others that they have never met, which derives from collective myths and discourses of shared values or characteristics.
A central plank of the revolutionary project since its inception, highlighted in Fidel Castro’s 1998 ‘History Will Absolve Me’ speech (Castro Ruz 1998) and promulgated in the Sierra Maestra during the guerrilla period, the education system has continued to be a protected and privileged area and its accomplishments have attracted international recognition. This is exemplified in its shining performance in the 1998 UNESCO study of academic achievement in Latin America, in which the bottom quartile of Cuba’s third-grade language scores were higher than the top quartile in the next-highest-scoring country (Gasperini 2000:23), and mathematics scores 40% better than the Latin American average (Carnoy et al.
Like Cuba, its system’s formation was predicated on a moralized struggle for independence and self-determination (with the USA envisaged from the start as a moral example—‘A city upon a hill’ (Winthrop, accessed 2010)) and both systems rely for their legitimization on a mythologized meta-narrative, cubanía in Cuba and the ‘American Dream’ in the USA, which makes certain personal characteristics and ideological values central to the national character and to the idealized citizen within each system.