The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

A Personal Study of Cuba (by UAlbany student Nick Figueroa)

Soy Cuba por una sonrisa de mi gente…
(I am Cuba by the smile of my people…)

The pause button was pressed, freezing the ambient disposition of this isolated island nation. Antique cars and colonial household infrastructures stood stagnant since the 1950s. I felt Cuba’s revolutionary culture—artistic, passionate, united, and proud. History does not reflect the themes presented by academic courses in the United States. Such narratives fail to represent Cuba’s beauty.

The 1960s embargo, imposed on Cuba by the United States, created an economic and cultural blockade. The inability to travel freely from the United States has hindered firsthand knowledge for Americans and enabled stereotypes concerning the Cuban perspective. Cuba has been erroneously portrayed as being communistic, oppressed, ruthless, unvisitable, or savage. Being there, seeing it for myself, revealed that there are two sides to this story.

I traveled to Cuba in May 2015. For five weeks, I studied abroad to collect research for my PhD in Spanish Linguistics through the Autonomous University of Social Movements and SUNY Albany. Through the Martin Luther King Center of Havana, we spoke with distinguished Cuban intellectuals, political members, community figures and local residents concerning their perceptions of past U.S-Cuba relations, the future of Cuba, and their everyday lives. We submerged ourselves in local culture by residing with Cuban host families and visiting essential locations.

Our preconceived notions were discredited by our daily interactions. With Cuba’s socialistic character, universal health care and education are free! There is an abundance of mass organizations and an absence of advertisements and chain companies like McDonalds or Nike. I fell ill from gastritis in Varadero. At the clinic, I was shocked by the unnecessary proof of insurance and swift diagnosis after providing only my name and age.

I observed Cuba’s depiction of Marxism, its positions regarding race, class, and gender, and its food, sugar, and tobacco production, appreciating its endurance despite limited raw materials and fragmented economic relationships. Pogolotti, Marianao, a predominantly Afro-Cuban barrio (neighborhood), demonstrated care and love for one another, a feeling I sensed throughout Cuba. Awareness and education is emblematic, thriving in dimensions where drugs and violence are prohibited, crime and sickness are low, and there is a feeling of safety.

We explored several provinces, witnessing art and culture resounding throughout music-filled neighborhoods with beautiful, multicolored buildings and cobblestone roads. We experienced Cuba’s historical sites, Catholicism and Santería, intense baseball games, and breathtaking cab rides to Old Havana in old máquinas. Like my family home in Puerto Rico, humble meals of rice and beans were served with meat and refreshing mango or guayaba juice, tea, or coffee—simple, filling snippets of Cuban culture.  Five weeks passed exceedingly fast, the last few days filled with sadness. The almost non-existent use of internet or phones meant contact with our host families would be difficult.

I returned to the United States to educate others and banish the animosity and negative perceptions of Cuban people. I witnessed the contrary, interacting with knowledgeable, caring, and hardworking people. As the economic relations improve, I hope Cuba’s beauty, passion, and culture are appreciated by now-increasing United States tourism.

¡Volveré!

Recuerda, mi amigo, que el gobierno y el pueblo no son los mismos…por eso, sabe el pueblo cubano que el gobierno Yuma y su pueblo también no son iguales - Campesino Cubano

“Remember my friend, that the (Cuban) government and its people are not one in the same, and because of that the Cuban people know that the United States’ government and its people are also not one in the same” - Cuban farmer

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Nick’s program in Cuba is just one of more than 130 study abroad options that are currently offered through UAlbany. To explore all of the University’s overseas options, or to apply for them, please visit the new website for UAlbany Education Abroad at www.albany.edu/studyabroad.

For more information on UAlbany’s relationship with Cuba, watch Education Abroad’s own Austin Powers on Time Warner Cable’s “Capital Tonight” show talking about the program - SUNY Also Partnering With Cuba. Topics addressed on the show include: realities vs. misconceptions about Cuba, relations between Cuba and New York State, LGBTQ rights in the Caribbean nation, etc.