My visit to Cuba stirred up a mixture of emotions. It was interesting, lively, cool, sad, confusing, and complex. I left wanting to learn more about Cuba, to better understand both sides of American and Cuban politics, to see more of Havana and its crumbling architecture, to experience its music and art and speak more with its people.
As residents of the United States, my husband and I traveled to Cuba in 2013 on a people-to-people visa, the same type of visa on which Beyonce and Jay-Z traveled to Cuba the week after us. This particular visa, re-instated by President Obama, came with specific requirements, mainly a full-time schedule of educational activities that included interactions with Cubans and no free time to be a tourist. We experienced the thriving art and dance scene in decaying buildings, the literacy and childcare systems that sounded progressive, and budding entrepreneurs in the market and paladars—small, family-run restaurants most often located in the family's home. We poked our heads into the Libreta stores to see the bare shelves and peek at the ration books. We visited a retirement home (old folks playing cards and checkers but in dilapidated facilities) and saw people quietly panhandling on the street. I celebrated my birthday listening to one of my favorite bands, the Buena Vista Social Club.
I read with interest the comments from our Republican representatives in Florida, who oppose the people-to-people visa. They believe the visas are being used wrongly and bolster an awful regime that is repressing its people. I can’t recall what during our week there would have bolstered the Castro brothers. I think more about how we may have bolstered the Cubans we met with our questions about their government, history and culture, and tips in U.S. dollars. We met a doctor driving a cab, university students wanting thumb drives. I know I am thankful for the opportunity to experience this complicated Caribbean island first-hand, to see for myself how socialism and communism work or don’t, to hear the other side, to form my own opinions.
How about you? Any interest in going to Cuba?