The last, and still proud, generation of Cuba’s ‘school of the home’

Miami Herald Staff

For decades, the ladies of Cuba’s Escuela de Hogar have been bound together by memories of their time learning to be homemakers at the “school of the home.”

But just as teaching girls to be housewives has faded from school curricula, the Association for Cuban Home Economics Teachers in Exile will soon be a thing of the past.

The association is ending a 40-year run as its membership and financial resources have dwindled.

“I’m the last generation,” said 74-year-old Lucia Vasallo.

At one point, they counted 1,600 members across the country, Puerto Rico and Spain. They raised hundreds for the League Against Cancer, donated cribs for mothers in need and organized luncheons for hundreds.

Now, only about 50 members remain. With the ladies in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the group is finally calling it quits.

“For biological reasons,” joked Dolores M. Garcia. “Every year, there are fewer members.”

School board member Raquel Regalado recognized the group this week with a proclamation for their years of dedication to social causes. Regalado said two of her own aunts graduated from the school in Cuba, and taught her to make dresses and play piano.

“It is a skill set that people don’t have [anymore],” Regalado said. “It’s sweet they kept it alive so long: 40 years and still doing community service and raising money, and the exact same way they did it in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Escuela de Hogar was launched in 1918 by Angela Landa. Women crammed the school to learn how to become homemakers, caretakers and teachers. They were proud, with their own hymn that every graduate learned how to sing. Even now, the words come easily.

No hay Cuba nueva sin los esfuerzos, sin las virtudes de la mujer,” Vasallo sang. “There is no new Cuba without the effort, without the virtues of women.”

Laura Cal Lopez, 81, pulled out a photo of a painting she made and Blanca Rosa Garcia, 82, showed off a small photo album with pictures of dozens of elaborate needlepoint scenes she has completed through the years — the products of their studies at the school of the home.

“We learned how to do everything,” Garcia said. “There wasn’t a single young woman who left without knowing how to embroider, weave, cook, first aid.”

In the 1970s, as more students and teachers fled Cuba for the U.S., the association was born so that women could swap stories and do some good for their communities. Garcia said the group formally incorporated in 1981.

Vasallo graduated from the school of the home in 1959. That same year, she said, Fidel Castro shut it down and Vasallo unceremoniously collected her diploma without even a graduation procession.

“We had to take our certificates and leave,” she said.

In exile, the women found work where they could: in a shrimp processing plant, helping out with their husband’s business or in the school system as a Spanish teacher.

These days, home economics has been rebranded as Family and Consumer Sciences. In Miami-Dade schools, there are about 13,000 students enrolled in programs like culinary arts, early childhood education and fashion design services.

“The focus is more workforce instead of homemaking,” said Diana Collingwood, a supervisor within Miami-Dade’s Family and Consumer Sciences program. “They’re really tied to industry.”

Collingwood said programs like culinary arts are growing in popularity with boys. She credits reality cooking and fashion shows with the growing interest. Students in family and consumer science programs can graduate with certifications in food safety and child care.

“It’s one of those programs that is necessary,” she said. “People need these skills.”

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