Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elizabeth Ricci: 

Trips offer a special way to 

connect with Cuba

Aug. 19, 2013 6:17 PM   |  
Sisters Across the Straits travelers gather for a group photo in front of the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana's Revolution Square.
Sisters Across the Straits travelers gather for a group photo in front of the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana's Revolution Square. / League of Women Voters of Florida
Elizabeth Ricci
Cuba, long-forbidden to most American travelers, is now easily available to those who wish to experience its history, culture and changing demographics — and Tallahaseeans are missing out.
The League of Women Voters of Florida conducts Sisters Across the Straits delegation visits to this island nation through an official license from the U.S. government, and this spring I traveled with them to experience Cuba first-hand. Since the league began conducting these trips in 2011, 225 people have taken part. Only nine, however, have been from Tallahassee.
We spent a week meeting and exchanging ideas with Cuban scholars, environmentalists, artists, musicians, community organizers and authors.
We talked with women who said their first priority was to protect their homeland.
We learned about Cuba's dual currency, saw elderly amputee and child beggars and visited a dilapidated first-grade classroom. We went to a self-sustaining biosphere, met highly educated women, saw Havana and Historic Trinidad and enjoyed fine music, art and cuisine.
These were once-in-a-lifetime experiences, most of which were positive.
There is still, however, much to learn and a strong anti-American sentiment.
A woman in Havana realized we were from the U.S. and told her dog to bite my mother, a fellow delegate from Tallahassee. The editor of the Cuban newspaper La Mujer described Cuban-Americans in Miami as “a cancer.”
Because the perception of so many Cubans is that Miami represents the entire state, trip leader and former state Rep. Annie Betancourt insists that delegates wear badges listing not only their names, but also the Florida cities from which they hail.
The delegates, though, were not the only ones to learn from this people-to-people experience. For example, many of the women with whom we met erroneously believed that lifting the U.S.-Cuba embargo was solely up to the U.S. president rather than Congress.
With a particular focus on education and strengthening ties with Cuban women’s groups, the league’s trips to Cuba offer a unique perspective and are an excellent and affordable way to see this once-forbidden country. The League's Sisters Across the Straits trips offer travelers the opportunity to learn about Cuba's struggle and how Florida's families and businesses might benefit as the relationship between our two countries changes.
I strongly encourage all Tallahasseeans (including men — don’t be thrown off by the “Sisters” name!) to take advantage of this unique opportunity and travel with LWVF to Cuba. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The deadline to register for the October trip is Aug. 30. Visit TheFloridaVoter.org for more information.
Elizabeth Ricci was a Sisters Across the Straits delegate in May. She is a managing partner of Rambana & Ricci, P.A., immigration attorneys in Tallahassee. Contact her atelizabeth@rambana.com.

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