Hanging out by the pool at the NWP Resource Development Retreat in Austin, someone brought some cigars as a gift for another in our cohort, and I was reminded of the story of the lectores in Cuba’s (and later Florida’s) cigar rolling factories. It was a fascinating phenomenon, organized by the workers themselves, not their employers. The lectores were paid by contributions from the workers. There were many struggles and much resistance from the bosses.
The readers would read the newspaper, cover to cover, in the morning, and some piece of literature in the afternoon. Even those working in the fields would gather when they could near the rolling barns to listen. This tradition is a major reason why the Cuban Revolution’s early literacy campaign was so successful–almost the entire population had been listening to stories for hours a day for many years. Within less than a year, I believe, Cuban had achieved nearly 100% literacy and still has the highest literacy rate in the world.
Many lectores were quite highly paid, and had a status comparable to today’s rock and movie stars.
I couldn’t find a good account of the early Cuban history of the lector phenomenon, but there’s a great interview by Studs Terkel with Jose Yglesias, author of The Goodbye Land, In the Fist of the Revolution and An Orderly Life, about the early history of the lectores in Ybor City, the Cuban enclave in Tampa, Florida.