Chapter Two: The Forging of a Rebel
Fidel Castro’s formative years of education may have started in his home town of Birán, but they were quickly moved to Santiago de Cuba. Though his parents paid out 40 pesos per month to a teacher there to educate Fidel, he rarely attended any formal school setting of any kind. For Fidel, this was just one more opportunity to prove to himself that he can overcome almost any obstacle placed in his path. On his own and with no formal scholarly direction to guide him, he learned to read and write as well as all the basic functions of arithmetic; multiply, divide, add and subtract. In the end, the only type of education his teacher gave him was French etiquette, something he would later rebel against.
He also came face to face with problems usually associated with the poorest of people, hunger and proper footwear. The stark contrast between his home in Birán, where his parents would practically force him and his siblings to eat, with the life of wanton scarcity while living in Santiago de Cuba with his teacher, gave young Fidel an even greater appreciation of the differences between the haves and have nots. He received one meal a day and had to repair his crumbling shoes in order to avoid going barefoot.
It was also during this time that Fidel first experienced the trappings of military conflict. In 1933, Cuba was rocked by a general strike that toppled the dictator Gerardo Machado and a month later rocked anew by the 100-day government, also known as the Sergeant’s Uprising. Here he learned to sleep through the sounds of dozens of exploding bombs piercing the night’s silence throughout the city.
This period in Castro’s life also gave him godparents, when the sister of his teacher married the Haitian consul in Santiago, they took him as their godchild and he was later baptized. One very memorable day, his godfather took young Fidel down to the docks to watch the deportation of thousands of Haitians from Cuba. The herding of these people like sardines onto the boat La Salle had a profound effect on him. He remembered vividly the injustice these people suffered being treated like beasts of burden in the rich fields of sugar cane where he grew up, and yet without any warning, they were now being packed onto a ship to be returned home.
Another injustice Fidel noticed was the lack of people of color in the well-to-do Jesuit schools he attended. Though at the time it was more a curiosity than a blatant injustice of racism, it still stayed in his mind that not all aspects of society are equally divided among all the people. As he continued down his life’s path, Fidel became increasingly aware of the unjust distinctions that society would impose on its people. And having to endure some of those same hardships made it all the easier for the young rebel to identify the wrongs in life and work to make them right.