Editor’s note: Reynaldo Cruz’s visit to West Hartford is being sponsored by Teen Cultures Connect. He is a resident of Holguin, Cuba, where he is the editor of the digital news site Revista Universo Béisbol.
By Reynaldo Cruz, [email protected]
For any English language student in Cuba, the name Webster carries a special meaning.
The subject of English lexicology, part of the Linguistics Studies within the English Major syllabus, is closely related to the Webster’s Dictionary, due to its high level of detail when it comes to word formation and etymology. Therefore, the Noah Webster Memorial West Hartford Public Library and The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society seem to be places made for the visit of any of the students who have graduated from the English Major in Cuba.
Located at 20 South Main St. in West Hartford, CT, the library has a huge variety of volumes and many rooms including a history room and a computer lab. It also holds several audiobooks while offering a service of high quality. Its construction ended in November 1937, and it holds treasures that go back to the 19th century, including an 1859 Webster’s Dictionary, which was kindly shown by Director Martha Church.
Following the rules of every library whether it is in Cuba or the United States, we managed to snap a few photographs, always respecting customers’ privacy. It is said that libraries are packed with hidden gems, and this one is no exception. After finding out that the person speaking with her was from Cuba, the director showed three books dealing with perhaps what makes Cuban and American citizens closer, and which has a special link between Cuba and Connecticut: baseball.
The first books of the first town library were a donation made by Noah Webster himself. He also created the first English Elementary Spelling Book (1783) in the US – banishing British spelling of some words – while also being an advocate for a unified American nation in language, culture and policy; the abolition of slavery and the right of women to have an education. To him, it was important that American citizens spoke and pronounced in a similar way so as to achieve an identity as a nation and be able to understand each other.
The Noah Webster House, which stands at 227 South Main St., keeps alive the aura that surrounded Noah Webster since he was born in 1758. It has been carefully kept alive until this day, and despite being small, it seems to harbor the grandeur of its most celebrated child. Objects going back to the 18th century and some reproductions fill the place and make visitors travel to the times of the U.S. War of Independence and the birth of the American nation.
After finding out they had a Cuban visitor who actually used the Webster’s Dictionary in college while majoring in English language in Cuba, Amy Fernand Boulton, development manager of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, kindly offered to present a 12-minute video about the life and legacy of Noah Webster.
As an English language student in my hometown of Holguín, Cuba, discovering more about Noah Webster and his legacy not only as a linguist, but also as a very important person when it comes to the state of Connecticut and the United States as a nation, has a very personal and romantic meaning. While the name we link to the learning of the intricacies of English language, word formation, and etymology takes a whole new dimension for me, I can’t wait to go back to Cuba and my Alma Mater, and tell my former professors and the current students about the life of a man that simply deserves a higher place within the History of the United States of America and English as a language.