What an adventure! I used to think that Cuba was an island southwest of Puerto Rico (my ancestry) with a ruthless dictator. What I learned is that Cuba is an island rich with history, culture, and life.
This project made me realize how strong the Cuban people are, how much they have suffered and continue to suffer, and how much they have influenced our culture.
I have to thank my loving family for nurturing my thoughts and needs as I worked on this project. Thank you for the pillars that you are in my life. I must also thank my Professor, Gustavo Pellón. Thank you for being patient with all of my questions, cultural and historical, for your endless help, for being available, and always supporting this project. Your tireless enthusiasm is contagious! Your passion for Cuba is great, your knowledge endless. Also, thanks to Javier Sotolongo for inviting us to visit his church and visit with his loving congregation. Finally, I thank Juan and Miguel Salvat and Uva de Aragon for meeting with me and the girls in Miami, and for taking time out of their busy schedules. The information that you provided is priceless. God bless you all.
Norma J. Hernández
To the Reader
I began this project as a guideline for how I, as a Spanish teacher would teach Cuban culture and history to my students. What I found as I embarked on this journey is that there is so much information available, but little shared with our students in public schools today. This became my motivation, and from it a project that no one can ever say is complete, because there is so much more that can be added.
I learned a great deal from my students. They knew little about Cuba’s history, and were thirsty for more knowledge once the door was opened.
I have prepared an English language section for you to use as a guideline to teach from. This is particularly useful for the non-Spanish speaker, or the lower level Spanish classes. The Spanish section which follows is particularly helpful in the upper level Spanish classes.
I challenge you, the Spanish teacher, the History teacher, the Language Arts teacher, the Home Economics teacher, and others who may be interested in sharing this information with your students, to read through this project and teach from it, research for yourselves, and expand upon it. I offer this project as a tool from which you can teach, but more importantly from which you can learn.
I welcome your experiences as you learn and teach, and would like to hear how you decide to present the subject matter.
You may e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. May you have a wonderful journey.
Norma J. Hernández
Cuban Culture in the United States On Saturday, February 28, 2004 I along with four students; Kaitlyn Bennett, Whitni Perry, Tykia Thomas, and Leanne Watrous embarked on a trip to Miami, Florida. For the next seven days we would experience the Cuban culture in the United States.
Traveling with students, it was necessary to be very budget minded. I found a wonderful hotel only minutes from every activity that I had planned. TownPlace Suites by Marriott proved to be an excellent place to stay. The apartment/townhouse dwellings are secure, comfortable, and fairly inexpensive when traveling with a group. Our apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, living room with a queen sofa sleeper, master bedroom with a queen bed, second bedroom with a queen bed, and a bathroom. The property had a fitness center, a pool, and an outdoor grilling area with a gas grill, a patio, and table and chairs. It was our home away from home.
Our first full day in Miami, we went to the Flagler Dog Track Flea Market. This was a cultural experience for all. Upon walking through the gate, a Cuban couple was selling “ceviche”, a seafood salad in a citrus sauce. The girls tried the ceviche, which they had never tasted, and weren’t sure they cared for. Some say it’s an acquired taste. Later the girls purchased gifts and souvenirs for themselves and family and friends, as they glanced through the aisles of many items, dancing to the beat of Latin music. They purchased clothing with a Latin flair, Spanish playing cards, baseball coin purses, colorful sunglasses, and memorabilia displaying the Cuban flag. The sun was scorching hot, and after the flea market it was time for a swim back at the hotel. The sun had beaten us dry, and we were ready for the cool water. We went back to the hotel after a day of shopping and enjoyed the pool for an hour, and having already made a grocery-shopping list, we went to the grocery store. This too proved to be a cultural experience. The many foods that are not offered in our hometown were foreign to the girls, but they were willing to try some new things. Each of the girls bought empanadas for the road, and all were quite satisfied. In fact, this became the daily trip to the Latin market and “Don Pan”. The girls tried empanadas with just about every filling that they were offered in. We went back to the hotel and made chicken with fresh vegetables and served that over rice. The girls said it was the best food out they had ever had. After dinner and cleanup, I took the girls to a local Baptist church run by an old friend. The entire service was in Spanish, and after the service, they had a fellowship. Empanadas were served, as were “mariquitas”, and a fruit beverage. There were people playing pool, others talking, and some listening to music. The girls conversed with the young men of the church, and found that some of the guys had recently arrived from Cuba. Other people became involved in their conversations when they discovered that they were studying the Cuban culture. One young man, “Julio” told us that his father came to the United States with the Pedro Pan missions. People who had a story to tell soon surrounded us. Everyone wanted us to hear what they went through, what their father went through, their mother, their sister, their brother, their aunt, their uncle, their grandparents, etc., went through before they got here. This had proven to be a fruitful day. Little did I imagine that the girls’ lives would be so impacted by what they heard. We went back to the hotel and talked about the experiences. Some one said that it sounded like something you would hear about on television or watch in an adventure movie, not something they would ever hear from someone they had just met.
On Monday, We went to Florida International University (FIU) for a 10:00 tour. The campus is beautiful and is truly an international university with more than 35,000 students from around the globe. FIU’s student body boasts the largest number of undergraduate students of Cuban origin of any university (including the University of Havana), as well as the broader academic community and the Greater Miami area. Upon our completion of the campus tour, we met with Uva de Aragon, associate director of “CRI”, the Cuban Research Institute. The Cuban Research Institute (CRI) is the nation’s leading institute for research and academic programs on Cuban-American issues. Founded in 1991, it is a major resource of the Greater Miami community. The CRI produces an exceptional level of research and public programs related to Cuba and its dissidents. CRI’s mission is to create and disseminate knowledge on Cuba and Cuban-Americans. Since its foundation, the CRI has maintained a program of academic exchange and research collaboration with Cuban scholars, supporting trips to and from Cuba by FIU faculty and students and colleagues on the island. This program is vital to the institute’s standards of excellence in research and teaching. Uva de Aragon’s interview was pivotal to our trip. Not only was Uva able to talk about CRI and its mission, but she too had a story to tell.
Uva de Aragon was born in Cuba. Her father a gynecologist, died when she was nine years old. Having instilled in her a love and desire for learning, Uva was well educated in Cuba’s schools. Her mother later married Dr. Carlos Marquez Sterling, a noted intellectual, a politician. He was a loving second father, and continued to instill those values of life and learning in his new family. Uva told us that she was fortunate to have had two loving fathers. Dr. Marquez Sterling was a presidential candidate for the Cuban Republic in 1958, the government’s favored candidate. Dr. Marquez Sterling was imprisoned on a conspiracy that he had committed crimes against the government and Cuba’s financial institutions. Carlos Prio won the office and a military coup led by Fulgencio Batista removed him from presidency. Batista became Cuba’s dictator and ran the country for several years. Fulgencio Batista was ousted by Fidel Castro during another military coup, and on January 1, 1959 Fidel Castro became Cuba’s dictator, and the period which is called the revolution began.
When asked how long she’s been in the United States, Uva told us that she has been here for 40 years. We were to hear it many times over by other Cubans that we spoke with. It was the magic number. The political turmoil in Cuba forced her and her family out of Cuba, and later her stepfather was exiled. Uva gave us an untiring account of what it was like to have to leave Cuba, what it was like to fear one’s country. She was tireless, and we could have listened to her all day. She told us that ALL Cubans have one thing in common; they all know the date they left Cuba. As Americans who have never had to suffer under a dictator, we don’t think about what other cultures have had to go through to attain freedom or to “get here”. When asked what she missed the most about not being able to stay in Cuba, Uva said she missed not being able to study and develop educational interests in her own country.
Leaving FIU, we were able to take in the fresh air. The breeze made us realize the freedoms we so often take for granted. We stopped at “Pollo Tropical” and enjoyed lunch, after which we decided to relax for the afternoon. Later in the evening we stopped at the Dolphin Mall, a mile from the hotel. We noticed that “Havana Nights”, a movie based on true accounts that occurred in Cuba had just opened. We decided to go back to the hotel, rest, have dinner, and return to the mall for the 10:00 show. The movie was perfect. The girls already felt like they were in a different country, and the music and dance on screen added to our emotions. The girls danced their way out of the theater. It was the perfect ending to a great day.
I had planned for us to go to South Beach on Tuesday. The girls were excited about our trip to the beach, and they were anxious about working on their tans. We felt as if we were back at home. South Beach with its modern flair and numerous hotels, not to mention American restaurants made us feel like we were back in the States. The beach was refreshing, and it was a perfect day with the winds coming across the ocean. We spent the day there, sunning, tanning, and enjoying the sun. We enjoyed a late afternoon lunch at La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant. We enjoyed Cuban Sandwiches, mariquitas (fried green plantain chips), fufú de plátano (a plantain mash with garlic and fried pork), and arroz con pollo.
I awoke on Wednesday to the girls noisily sharing Tuesday’s leftover lunches. They had decided to enjoy these for breakfast rather than eat the typical breakfast fare. There’s just something about pork sandwiches and chicken and rice that doesn’t entice my taste buds in the morning, but they were happy as ever munching on their Cuban leftovers. Our day began with a trip to the Librería Universal Salvat who with its subsidiary, Universal Distribution is a business that since 1965 is dedicated to the distribution and writing book editions in Spanish and especially of Cuban and Latin-American authors. Located at 3090 SW 8th street, it is in the heart of calle ocho, the strictly Cuban district. Eighth Street, better known as calle ocho, runs through this area called Little Havana like an artery. Calle ocho is the culture and life of Little Havana. Since the early 1960's this 25-block enclave became home to Cuban restaurants, small shops, tobacco factories, botanicas orherb/homeopathic shops, record shops, and auto dealerships which have lined its sun washed sidewalks. The aroma of Cuban coffee fills the air as palm trees sway in the breeze. The sound of dominos clashes almost indistinguishable to the music, which is seemingly everywhere you turn. Calle ocho caters to its Cuban exile community and ever increasing Latin American population as well as a growing tourist clientele. Librería