Themes in Afro-Cuban Cultures
Not Your Average History Class
SUNY Old Westbury
Class of 2019
I had the privilege of being part of the pilot program at SUNY Old Westbury for the winter course “Themes in Afro-Cuban Cultures.” I must admit that I expected it to be non-stop historical readings and endless museum trips in a foreign land that I did not know much about. That could not have been any further from the truth. This trip was not your average history class. We learned Cuban culture in the best way possible, we lived it.
We spent time in Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and La Habana. With each town we visited we were afforded the opportunity to learn about its rich history through captivating visits, mentally stimulating lessons and by interacting with the community. Our interactions and exchanges revived the history and brought it to life.
Statues were not just sculptures for taking pictures and museums were not just cold buildings full of artifacts. They held stories that we dissected and carefully analyzed together as a group. This made walking the streets that Cirilo Villaverde mentions in his book Cecilia Valdés that much more meaningful. We felt the emotions of what his characters, Leonardo and Pancho, felt walking the streets of La Habana while dealing with systematic racism. We stood in awe in front of the statue of Cecilia Valdés. We held the shackles that once weighed down our ancestors at el Museo de los Esclavos in Trinidad. We felt the African drums and culture permeate through our souls while participating in a Rumba in Cienfuegos. We learned the ancestral stories about the African Orishas at La Casa de Africa. We saw syncretism with Catholicism first hand at La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla. Most importantly, we felt the love and welcoming spirit of the Cuban people everywhere we went.
This class taught us a great deal about Afro-Cuban cultures. However, the best lessons learned where those that could never be taught from a book or in a classroom. We learned the love of the Cuban people, the determination of the Cuban people, and how to feel the oneness that permeates through the Cuban people. We explored Cuba and discovered the truth of the beauty and richness that lies within.