Kids to Cuba, 1970

by Jessica Green

As I work through all of these Boston Public Library index cards, a number of intriguing subjects catch my eye. Usually it is their brevity and lack of detail that draws my attention and makes me wish I could watch the clip for myself there and then. This week, I came across a couple of cards with the title, “Kids to Cuba.”

Why are several hundred kids going up to Canada to take a boat to Cuba in 1970?

Thanks to the handy Boston Globe archives, I was able to find out.

According to the newspaper reports, 450 young Americans from all over the country left Boston, disguised (unsuccessfully) as skiers, on chartered buses for Canada. There they boarded planes for St. John and traveled on a cattle freighter to Cuba, all on the Cuban government’s tab. Their mission in Cuba: spend 10 weeks harvesting sugar with the other members of their 660-member group, who arrived in Cuba via Mexico.

These travelers were part of a group called the “Venceremos Brigade.” Venceremos is a Cuban revolutionary slogan that means “We shall overcome” or “We shall win.” These cane cutters aimed to help the Cuban people achieve Castro’s goal of harvesting 10 million tons of sugar cane that year, a goal which experts consider impossible.

The Boston Globe also interviewed members of the 212 or 216 (depending on the source) person brigade that went on a sugar cane harvesting trip the winter before. These young “radicals” talk about wanting to see for themselves what the revolution was all about and show solidarity with the Cubans by working side by side with them and challenging the blockade. Mike Kazin, son of writer Alfred Kazin, grew optimistic about the possibility of revolutions popping up in other countries, because, “It’s just so obviously a better way to live, a better way to organize society and to get people to relate to each other.”

Formed in 1969, the “Venceremos Brigade” is still active today and recently sent 33 members to Cuba in summer of 2010. It will be interesting to see this 1970 WHDH footage preserved and made available someday - were you part of the brigade? What do you recall of your experience?