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Postcards from Cuba

Letters from the 2017 LSU/Honors in Cuba Trip

 

This past summer, a group of Ogden Honors College students embarked on a study abroad trip to Cuba. Led by Associate Professor of English Solimar Otero and Dr. Eric Mayer-García, LSU/Honors in Cuba explored the history, politics, culture and contemporary society of Cuba, as well as US-Cuban relations both historically and in the present. Particular focus was given to paradigms of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality and their role in the ever-changing nature of Cuban national culture and identity. By studying these culturally defined categories in a context that is both familiar and different from their own, students were urged to reflect on how race, gender and sexuality shape and qualify their experiences as citizens of the United States.

Furthermore, this trip gave students an opportunity to travel to Cuba at a time when the economy and culture were rapidly transforming (especially in Havana) due to the ongoing normalization of relations with the United States. Students interacted with Cuban university students and professors through meetings, classes and activities. They were taught in an environment of cultural immersion through structured visits to Afro-Cuban religious sites, the National Art Museum and the National School of the Arts, as well as excursions to a tobacco farm, a farming co-operative and Trinidad de Cuba — a city on Cuba's southern coast. In postcard format, students reflected on how their own privilege as U.S. citizens and tourists affects their experiences in Cuba and their interactions with Cuban citizens.

 

 


Hey Dad!

I hope that you’re doing great and that everything is going well on the farm back home. I went to a tobacco plantation earlier this week in Pinar del Rio. The town’s historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site, and to the north there is a beautiful national park with mountains like the ones in this picture! The forestation in the mountains is largely undisturbed, but there are pockets of farms and settlements where tobacco and corn grow while cows graze the grass. This scene made me think of home and the sugarcane and cattle there. I miss home quite a bit.

Did you know that tobacco originated in Cuba? People in these areas use local crops like tobacco to make a living. If the farmer owns his own farm, he grows and dries the tobacco, sells some to the government, and keeps some for his own use. Then the owner can roll his own cigars to sell them to tourists and businesses. Tobacco farmers here rotate their tobacco crops with corn to ensure the soil’s health and productivity in growing healthy crops. Farmers embrace their culture of growing tobacco in this region while also ensuring the continued health of the soil and landscape by rotating crops and preserving wilderness with maintenance of national parks in that region.

Also, people in this region were directly affected by the Revolution! In a lecture that I attended on the Cuban education system, I learned that prior to the Revolution, few people in Cuba had access to education, but following Castro’s rise to power, people in rural communities like Pinar del Rio have access to excellent education from primary to university education.

I cannot wait to see you in a few days!

Carter Pesson

 


Greetings from Cuba!

This was a picture of me in Old Havana. When I went to pose with the man dressed as a pirate statue, he wrapped his chain around my neck, to my surprise, making the image that much better. It truly captures the spirit of the city and people and shows how generous and down to earth the Cuban natives are. They are always looking to talk to us to learn more about the United States just as much as we want to know more of their culture. I imagine their life consists of hard work daily to barely make a living. They don’t have much and I wish I could give them more than a good conversation. As for the landscape of Old Havana, you can really see the French and Spanish colonial influence in Old Havana, like in New Orleans, through the architecture. It strongly reminds me of the French Quarter and Jackson Square as we toured through the area. All of these elements that remind me of home make me nostalgic, yet feel even closer simultaneously. If I were to live in Cuba, I think I would appreciate talking to people face to face more than texting and using social media. There is a bit of a drop off in social interaction in the United States and Cuba is still used to relying on word of mouth for information rather than the internet. Being in Cuba is a very humbling experience and makes you appreciate all the small privileges we have, that are often overlooked, in the United States. But needless to say, I am savoring every moment and enjoying this trip beyond measures. I look forward to updating you on our next excursion.

Until next time!

Joshua Barney


 

Dear Family,

For a city that has been blockaded/embargoed by the United States of America since the Cold War Era, it is such a rich and beautiful cultural center of Cuba. This picture has many facets that are both seen and unseen to prove this. At the most basic center, you can see seven American students enjoying masterfully crafted drinks in a restaurant in Havana. Even though travel restrictions occur between the Cuba and the US, students come to enjoy and learn about the cultural center of Havana. In the background, you can see a few quotes and pictures of famous and influential people on the walls. These include John Lennon, Jose Marti, and Bob Marley. Combining the facts that these influential people are on the wall in a Havanan restaurant along with the fact that this restaurant is an authentic Iranian restaurant, you can see that Havana is truly a cultural center for the country.

Today, I had the chance to play pickup soccer with local Cubans in what is an empty fountain in Havana. The people that I met there seemed to have some interesting lives, probably involving going to secondary or pre-college school, along with having the time to go play soccer with their neighbors for 2-3 hours a day. I really enjoy the laid-back feel to the city of Havana. It seems very distant to the hustle and bustle of Baton Rouge, or even the cultural center of New Orleans. I am excited to see more of the laid back, musical, and beautiful culture here in Havana, I believe that would be my favorite thing about living in this city. One of the things I have missed the most though is the internet capabilities that I have in the states. Even in the picture, you can see at least two of the seven pictured Americans on their phones, as we as a society are engulfed with technology and internet overload.

From Cuba With Love,

Shaya Khorsandi


 

Hey Mom,

During our last weekend in Cuba we took another excursion to Matanzas, Trinidad, and Santa Clara. We spent a good chunk of the weekend at a resort in Trinidad where I learned how to play dominos, which helped me understand another piece of Cuba’s vernacular culture. What taught me the most about Cuba, however, was our trip to the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara, which you can see in this picture. I did not study Che in depth in either of my courses, so I did not fully understand how vital he was to the Cuban revolution until we visited his mausoleum. It was incredibly reverent to Che; we weren’t even allowed to speak when we were inside. There was also a museum next to the mausoleum that housed an abundance of Che’s personal items such as his journals, his diploma, and his clothing, which helped the praised historical figure feel more human to me. This trip taught me several things about Che, such as that he was Argentinian, not Cuban, and that he contributed to the spreading of Cuba’s massive literacy campaign that we learned about during our trip to the Literacy Campaign Museum. Cuba is heavily shaped by the revolution, so understanding Che is necessary to understanding Cuba. I can’t believe this was our last weekend abroad; it went by so fast! I’ll see you soon.

Love,

Ann Gilbert