I’ve never gotten around to
writing the “memoir” friends ask about, but I do have lots of stories. A bit
late to the blogosphere, given that I have strong opinions, I am passionate
about many issues, and have always wanted to spread the word. I also like to
share Cuba-centric anecdotes. So here
goes: my first blog and a few ideas for future posts.
The first is a no brainer.
On December 17, 2014, and on July 20, 2015, the US and Cuba took serious steps
toward normalization of diplomatic relations. Those baby steps came after and
preceded other baby steps – a little easing on the travel regulations (but NOT
lifting the travel ban), a bit more money allowed to enter Cuba via friends and
family, cautious steps to improve communication, a kind of “easing” across the
board. But no lifting of the embargo, no clear change in banking regulations, a
lot of uncertainty. No one’s quite sure – except maybe our legal team – just
what a U.S. citizen can and cannot do, legally.
One thing, however, is a
clear and present danger to Cuba: the rush to the island by U.S. travelers. There
is much that we can do to help visitors see not “the culture of tourism, but
Cuba’s culture,” as ICAP (Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos) president Kenia Serrano noted in her
remarks at a recent Center reception in her honor. I’ll talk about how we do that.
I want to write about why
Cuba is important to all of us, too. Not just CCS members and friends, but our
community, our nation. It’s important because the history of US-Cuba relations
and the Cuban Revolution has a lot to teach us: the domestic policies that have
made Cuba’s population the healthiest and most educated in the Americas; the
way Cuba has shaped its own internationalist foreign policy; how the Cuban
people have confronted the serious problems of daily life caused by the U.S.
embargo and the country’s own internal economic policies; a cultural policy
that has helped create a country with so much working talent that visitors come
away exclaiming, “Cuba is a country of writers, musicians and artists!” Some of
these topics can be covered more expertly by others, too, so I plan to invite
I want to write about why we
started the Center for Cuban Studies in 1972, and how it grew; how our Lourdes
Casal Library flourished, and why; how we started our Cuban Art Space in 1999.
and why. I want you to know our current program, and our plans for the
immediate future, why a center like ours is relevant to the future of Cuba and
to U.S.-Cuba relations. More than enough topics for many posts.
And then there are those
personal stories. After traveling to Cuba more than 300 times over 45 years, I
have many. A few weeks ago I spoke at a synagogue in Montclair, NJ together
with a screening of “Havana Curveball,” directed by Marcia Jarmel and Ken
Schneider. Most of the audience was made up of junior high school students,
together with a few teachers and parents. During the Q & A, an 8th
grader asked me something I’d never been asked before. “Do you think going to
Cuba has changed you in any way?”
What a wonderful question! Of
course, I said that Cuba had done more than “change” me; it had defined my life’s
work. But as I was trying to answer, I realized how inadequately I was
responding. But I tried. I told him that Cuba had taught me patience – several
times a day during my first visits people would say, Paciencia, chica, paciencia! When we in the U.S. want or need
something, I pointed out, it must be NOW. In Cuba, it CAN’T be, whether it’s
waiting for a bus or taxi, trying to buy enough food for dinner this week,
seeing a doctor or a dentist (but at least it’s free), or paying a bill.
Cuba taught me a certain
social graciousness, a way of slowing down, and paying more attention to others.
You can attend a serious meeting in Cuba, for example, to discuss serious
topics with important people, but no serious talk happens before having a
coffee or juice or a soda, maybe even a cookie or two. It’s a good way to slow
it down, relax a bit.
Cuba has taught me the true
value of community. In Cuba, your toilet breaks down: don’t even THINK first
about getting a plumber to fix it. Try the next door neighbor: it’s cheaper,
faster, friendlier, and usually just as good. It’s a shared experience and the
neighbor sees that your toilet is just as broken down as theirs. Commiseration
Cuba taught me that a
different system truly means seeing the world differently. One story will
suffice: I was in Cuba on September 11, 1973, when the coup in Chile occurred.
For the first time in my life, I saw footage of Latin America on the evening news
– which also made me realize how ignorant we were about life in the Americas.
What we saw on our TV screens was Western Europe – and Vietnam, because of the
war. Even today, more than 40 years later, I can ask: when was the last time
you saw a news story direct from Latin America or the Caribbean that wasn’t a
gigantic natural disaster or on Telemundo or Univisión?
The 8th grader’s
question was so good that I’m going to answer it seriously little by little over
several posts. And I invite you who have traveled to Cuba to send me your
comments/answers to the same question. Do you think going to Cuba has changed
you in any way?
I'm looking forward to 2016 and wish you a very Happy New Year. Help me write the