The Department of Chicano and Latino Studies’ 2012 International Travel Project: Cuba

April 10, 2012

From March 23rd to April 1st, 2012, 27 students traveled to Cuba as part of the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies’ international travel project. Spanish Program Professors Claire Martin and Bonnie Gasior, as well as Professor Victor Rodriguez from the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, coordinated the trip. Since 2002, the College of Liberal Arts has supported the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies’ international travel project to expand experiences and knowledge of the Hispanic Caribbean. For the past decade, trips to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico have been offered. Travel is always connected to a course that students must take to develop an understanding of the location’s cultural, historical, political, and social contexts. In order to travel to Cuba, students were required to enroll in one of two courses: “The Pearl of the Atlantic through Its People” (SPAN 490) and “The Latino Experience in the Caribbean: Empire, Reform and Revolution” (CHLS 430). Prior to the trip, Professors Martin, Gasior, and Rodriguez met twice with the students and organized a lecture from Professor Raul Fernandez (University of California, Irvine and Travel Project of the UC System UC-Cuba) who discussed the music and culture of Cuba.

Cuba’s premier social research center The Institute of Philosophy hosted the trip and provided various workshops and lectures. Participants of the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies’ international travel project have not traveled to Cuba since 2006, due to travel restrictions placed on United States citizens; however, these travel restrictions were relaxed a year ago under President Obama’s administration. Organizers of the travel project were excited to offer students the opportunity to visit Cuba, a country with whom the U.S. lacks formal diplomatic relations yet maintains a long history of complicated relations. Cuba is currently undergoing, what the Cuban communist government calls, “actualizacion”: a process that is opening particular places of the country to small- and medium-size Cuban entrepreneurs. The trip coincided with Pope Benedict XVI’s second visit to Cuba, and both the students and professors participated in a mass held in the Plaza de la Revolución on April 28th. While their lodging was located in La Habana, students and professors traveled west to Pinar del Rio Province and east to Santa Maria del Mar, a beach used by locals.

Nearly 60 students attended the first orientation session held in the fall 2011 semester. Many more requested participation in this travel opportunity. Selected students held majors or minors in Chicano and Latino Studies (CHLS) or Spanish (SPAN), met the GPA requirement, and demonstrated a degree of fluency in Spanish. 14 students enrolled in CHLS 430 and 13 students enrolled in SPAN 490 participated in the trip to Cuba. Travel was an option for students registered in both courses. The majority of participating students were CLA students, and all events were conducted in Spanish.

The group at the iconic staircase of the University of Havana

The crowd in the Plaza de la Revolución during Pope Benedict XVI’s mass

The group collecting medical materials for the Maternity Hospital

Dr. Gilberto Valdes, the Coordinator of the Institute of Philosophy, giving a lecture on contemporary Cuba

The group visited Cabildo Quisicuaba: a social-cultural project of education (located in a central part of Havana) that teaches history and dance (both African and ballet) and works with families in the community to address social problems.

Some students in Old Havana


Written by Cortney Smethurst