Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cal State Long Beach Cross Department Collaboration

CSULB Students, and Faculty Members Set To Take Historic Visit to Cuba

Four Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) faculty members will lead 25 students on a historic visit to Cuba from March 23 to April 1 as part of a collaboration between the university’s Department of  Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures’ (RGRLL) Spanish program and the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies.

The first visit to the country by a CSULB class since 2006, the trip will include a tour of Havana that will feature visits to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Centro Memorial to Martin Luther King and the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina.

“Trips to Cuba had been cancelled by many educational institutions, including CSULB, because of very strict conditions issued by the Department of the Treasury,” explained RGRLL Professor Claire Martin.  “Since the rules have been relaxed, we are conducting our first trip (with) 25 CSULB students who will be able to experience and witness the interesting changes taking place in Cuba as it opens its economic system.”

Interest in the Cuba trip began when Victor Rodriguez, associate professor of Chicano and Latino studies, approached Martin and RGRLL Professor Bonnie Gasior with the idea of promoting a Cuba trip to their Spanish majors and minors.

“I am the director of a program that used to be supported by IRA funds, ‘The Latino Transnational Experience in the Caribbean.’   Under this program, we carried out four previous trips to Cuba, but our last trip was in 2006.  Since then, we have been traveling to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico,” noted Rodriguez, who will be joined on the trip by fellow Chicano Studies Professor Jose Moreno.  “Since the regulations were relaxed earlier this year, we decided to resume the travel to Cuba.  We thought this would be a great opportunity to extend our collaboration with the RGRLL Department, and we decided to make it a joint effort.  The response has been overwhelming.”

Gaisor added, “We realized immediately that going to Cuba represented a great opportunity for our students and for us.  As advisors, we know our students well, and we’re eager to share this experience with them,” she said.  “This is the kind of trip they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The braiding together of the two courses carried special challenges.  Two classes were scheduled at the same time on Mondays so that both cohorts of students could work together.

“When Dr. Rodriguez lectures about the historical context of the Cuban revolution, both groups will get a chance to hear it,” Martin said.  “They will both read foundational literature about Cuban culture such as Columbus’ first descriptions of Cuba.  The two groups will meet and discuss the texts together and read secondary sources.  Unfortunately, not all the students enrolled in the two classes will go on the trip because Cuban accommodations offer space for just 25 students – period.”

Martin also pointed out that all participating students are bilingual.  “They all speak Spanish,” she said.  “They will be able to have direct communication with the people of Cuba without any kind of mediation or interference by government or media.  There is the possibility of real, unfiltered communication between the students and Cubans.

“Their perspective on the country will carry the authority of someone who has actually been to Cuba and who has seen firsthand how people live,” she continued.  “I’m sure our students will be critical of what they see in Cuba.  There’s plenty to be critical of.  But the goal of this university and of this course is to promote critical thinking, and I am certain the students will come back with a critical eye, both for Cuba and for their own country.”

Both Martin and Gasior are pleased with what the students will see in Havana, believing the students will be interested in these sites because of their cultural and historical significance.

“Look at the significance of the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina to the Cuban people.  The school offers free medical instruction for all Latin Americans who must then return to their countries of origin and practice for two years,” Martin noted.  “The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is one of the best museums of its kind in Latin America.”

This is the first visit to Cuba for both faculty members.  Gasior has traveled extensively through Latin America and anticipates a degree of culture shock in separating the media images of Cuba from the real thing.

Cuba is kind of a question mark for me but I’m very excited about going,” she said.  “I’m eager to talk with the Cuban people, but I’m also eager to watch our students.  I’ve seen our students go abroad before and it’s an amazing sight.  There is always a moment of epiphany when the student discovers something they never thought about before.”

Their primary hope is that their students gain a new awareness of the world and their own country from their Cuban journey.

Cuba has been a four-letter word to the average American for 50 years,” Gasior said.  “I am confident, however, that our students will return from their time abroad with a more positive image of Cuba.  It depends on what each student wants to get out of the experience.  
I hope they come away with a greater awareness of everything from Cuban heritage to Cuban cuisine.”

Rodriguez hopes his students take advantage of Cuba at a historic turning point.  “Cuba is in the midst of liberalizing its economic (in some sense parts of its political system), so we will have the unique opportunity to see a society changing without the kind of turmoil (until now) that we have seen in the Arab Spring,” he said.  “I hope our students will value their experience of another Latino culture.”

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