By Mark Storer
Francisco Romero has traveled extensively throughout Latin America. From Mexico to Venezuela and from Nicaragua to Honduras, the 34-year old Oxnard teacher has looked to ways to enhance his own understanding of Latin American culture and education.
But at an early spring conference, a chance meeting with Tanya Cole, a Southern California regional organizer for the Washington D.C. based political action group Witness for Peace, gave Romero an unexpected opportunity.
“I was reading a pamphlet about a chance to be part of a delegation of educators to Cuba,” said Romero who is single and teaches special education resource classes at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard. “I was really excited by the opportunity.”
Romero and his sister, Alma, 30, an English language arts teacher at Haydock, will arrive in Cuba on July 19 as part of a delegation of 37 educators from across the United States being sponsored by Witness for Peace They will return home July 29.
Witness for Peace is underwriting most of the trip, but there the Romeros are still in need of funds to pay travel expenses.
“We need to raise about a thousand dollars,” said Romero. “We’ve got $200 of that already, but that’s why we’re holding the fundraiser.”
The fundraiser is a concert and art exhibition to be held Sunday at 6 p.m. at Café on A in Oxnard and will feature music by the band Caliente as well as art work from area artists, Andrea Vargas Mendoza, Louie Moreno and Rolando!
National Public Radio affiliate KPFK’s Miguel Paredes, host of “Soul Rebel Radio” will present a slide show with pictures from Cuba where he has traveled. There will also be Cuban food and beverages available.
“The Cuban government provides universal education to all its citizens from pre-kindergarten on up,” Cole said. “This trip is a way for educators to go and learn about a new model and way of doing things.” Cole said that Witness for Peace has been advocating a change in U.S. perceptions of Cuba. “We think the embargo needs to be lifted against Cuba, and with the recent lifting of the travel ban to the island, we think the embargo can eventually crumble.”
Cole has traveled to Cuba numerous times and said that U.S. perceptions are not necessarily reality. “We have no diplomatic relations with Cuba, and it is a failed policy,” she said. “There’s been a lot of opening up of the island recently.”
Still, Amnesty International released an announcement on June 9 that while Cuba had accepted “some” of the United Nation’s suggestions on enhancing human rights, the organization was frustrated that the Cuban government still would not allow Cuban citizens to travel freely where they wished and did not provide fair and speedy trials within their justice system.
“I definitely want to get first hand knowledge of the system,” said Romero. “I want to know what the political and social realities are under the Cuban system.”
Romero said he wants to focus particularly on teaching methodologies in the island nation and focus on their learning disabled population. “I’m very concerned with some of our dropout rates here at home,” Romero said. “A very high number of our students right here in Oxnard drop out of school, and that number goes higher in the learning disabled population. I want to see how Cuba deals with that. The literacy rate in Cuba is something like 90 percent and that fascinates me. I’m anxious to talk to people there on the island and get a first hand look at how this is done and how they work there.”