As my semester in Havana is almost over, I’ve noticed myself changing the way in which I think about my time here. Initially, I tried to dive into the day-to-day reality of Cuban life in order to try to understand the peculiarities of life in Cuba. Now, I’ve been thinking more and more about my experience here in terms of the connections between the United States and Cuba. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve never quite blended in to the Cuban population. I was often assumed to be other nationalities like German or Spanish. This is mostly because Cubans don’t encounter Americans as frequently as they do the visitors from European countries (even though 550,000 Americans visit Cuba every year – fun fact straight from the Chief of Staff at the U.S. Interest Section). Anyways, it’s not like I’m just now realizing I’m an American in Cuba. It’s more like I’m thinking more about how unique and fascinating the perspective is for us American students and how important it is that I carry it with me upon my return to the states.
A couple of recent events sparked some of this soul searching. Starting in October, the New York Times has been publishing a pretty high profile series of editorials about U.S. – Cuba relations. Every time a new article was written, it would circulate pretty quickly amongst the American students and we’d all eagerly discuss it. A couple of my friends on other programs even had a final assignment to analyze and present one of the editorials to their class. We were excited to hear that one of the members of the editorial board, who apparently has been the real force behind this series of articles, was coming to Havana. We unfortunately never crossed paths, but I enjoyed seeing a photo of one of my Cuban classmates and friend (named Fidel- go figure) attached with the most recent article published in the N.Y. Times. This was a pretty crazy realization- that while most of the paper’s readers would be viewing the photo as a glimpse into a strange and unavailable place, I was looking at the photo and recognizing a Cuban friend who I would sit next to in class that same day.
Another realization, completely to blame on my ignorance of the basic facts of American foreign policy, is that there are about 10 U.S. Marines here in Cuba at all times. Who knew?! They invited a few of the Americans students to their house in Miramar for a cookout. It was a wild. I felt like I had been transported because they were blasting country music, all the cars were Chevys, and they were grilling burgers and hot dogs. Their compound is so impressive and they made us all drool at their access to wifi and American T.V. Not a bad setup at all. It was weird for me though when I realized they weren’t completely embracing me as an American, because to them I was an American in Cuba of my own will.
Luckily, I felt more welcomed when we were invited to the home of the Chief of Staff at the U.S. Interest Section for a reception. The house is incredibly beautiful, also farther out in Miramar, and was built in 1941 and rumored to be for F.D.R. Mr. DeLaurentis, the Chief of Staff, gave us a short speech about his work here and then answered our questions. I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say; almost as much as I enjoyed being in the presence of a decorated Christmas tree.