Understanding Cuba

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A group of Redlands students, staff and friends visit the island nation as it faces a new kind of revolutionary change.

For some students, it was the chance to visit the country of their ancestors. For others, it was the opportunity to see a place they’ve only read about in books. For all of them, visiting Cuba was an experience they’ll never forget.

Evan Furgurson ’18 found Cubans welcoming and eager to talk about the United States. “They were very curious, and wanted to know about our country,” he said. “They did say that they hated the [U.S.] government but knew the difference between the American government and the American people.

“I also met an interesting young man who was against the Castros, who tried to float to the U.S. three times on a homemade raft. It was super interesting to talk to someone considered a counter-revolutionary in a very secretive way late at night. It was eye-opening for me to see people are suffering and don’t think the system they have in place works. It was the flipside of all the good things I heard.”

For two weeks, 31 University of Redlands students, staff and friends explored Havana and the Cuban countryside during the 2015 May Term. The trip was led by University Chaplain John Walsh and Chapel Events Coordinator Peter Tupou, who said it was important to create an itinerary that was authentic and educational. “We wanted to immerse ourselves completely in all facets of Cuban life,” said Tupou.

The students explored historic and politically important sites, like the Museum of the Revolution and Habana Vieja, Havana’s historical and oldest district, and experienced one of Cuba’s storied political rallies during the International Workers Day parade in Plaza de la Revolución Square. “It was an incredible experience seeing thousands from around the globe marching together,” said Jacob Khuri ’17.

The group also met with representatives of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, and they painted an elementary school along with Espiral, a Cuban non-profit community project made up of students and workers from different social and professional spheres.

For Sienna Opara ’16, the trip wasn’t just an educational opportunity—it was also a way for her to connect with relatives. “When you have spent many of your younger days hearing stories about relatives you haven’t met before and you finally get the chance to do so, it seems so surreal and incredibly awesome at the same time.” Opara wants to see the embargo lifted soon. “As a witness to how brave and compassionate Americans have fought for the justice of many worthy causes,” she said,” I challenge those and every other good-natured person to fully learn the effects of the embargo.”

For Tupou, it felt like the trip took place at the right moment, during a pivotal point in history. “For a few weeks, Cuba allowed us to stand in a different place than any of us had stood before, to see the world through different eyes and hear different voices,” he said. “In Cuba, our students discovered common ground and that sometimes we have to travel thousands of miles to learn how close we really are.”

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