May 2015 Features

Viva Cuba!

Cuba_nbHalfway between the United States and Latin America, Cuba has historically charted its own course. With the recent thawing of relations between Washington and Havana — travel restrictions lifted, a new embassy opening — Bryn Mawr’s timing couldn’t have been better for a 360° course cluster focused on Cuba.

This semester, 10 students who enrolled in Contemporary Cuban Culture and Society in a Global Context got a firsthand look at Havana today. Three of Bryn Mawr’s finest — Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research Professor Raymond Albert, Cities Professor Gary McDonogh, and Spanish Professor Enrique Sacerio-Gari — provided the academic perspective in courses on colonial and post-colonial urbanism, race and law, and Cuban culture and cinema.

And their scholarly understanding came to vivid life in their spring break trip to the island nation. While in the country, students heard from local architects, listened to economists, rubbed elbows with filmmakers, and even met with President Raul Castro’s daughter and LGBT activist Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.

They stopped by artists’ studios; took architectural tours that included 1950s casinos, post-Revolution housing, and a Chinatown that dates back to the 19th century; and visited a public art project by José Rodríguez Fuster. To conduct research for their final projects, students ventured off on their own—whether to one of Havana’s cemeteries to compare the funerary practices of Catholics, Jewish-Cubans, and Chinese immigrants or at an evening of dialogue with scholars from the Casa de las Américas.

But the trip wasn’t all lectures and research. During their weeklong stay, the students did get a chance to savor the local culture. What they discovered? The Havana street life is vibrant, the culture dynamic, and the vintage cars an adventure in time travel.

Get a glimpse of their journey in this photo album by College photographer Kate McCann.