By: Kaitlin O'Meara, Contributor
Over winter break, I visited Cuba with a group from Canisius. We spent two weeks in four different cities (Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Trinidad) to learn more about Cuba and what it is like.
Since Cuba is not a place that many Americans typically have the opportunity to visit, we made the most of our time and visited everything we could. We went to museums, churches and historic sites, and we learned about everything from Cuba’s origins to life following the triumph of the Revolution. We visited a fort that was built by the Spanish in the late sixteenth century, showcasing the colonial history of Cuba, and we visited plantations to learn about the history of slavery within Cuba. Unlike in America, where we try to hide these elements of our history, Cuba is more open about them so that they can learn from the past. We also went to places that showcased the history of the Revolution, like the Granma Memorial, where we saw the boat that Fidel Castro and his fellow Revolutionaries rode into Havana harbor to start the Revolution as well as tanks used by Castro at Bay of Pigs.
Taking Dr. Reitsma’s Cuban Cinema of the Revolution class prior to the trip gave me a basic understanding of Cuba and how the Revolution impacts life in Cuba, but it is one thing to learn about and another to witness it firsthand. One thing we often discussed during class is shortages that are occurring in Cuba, especially of fuel and food. While driving to our house from the airport, we encountered people lining up their cars for fuel days in advance. They didn’t know when it would come or if it would come, but they lined up to wait because of the desperate need. There were also immense food shortages throughout the island, which was something that we did not experience because of the generosity of the families we stayed with, but even that was because they had been saving up their food for a few months so that we could have enough food while we stayed with them.
Without a doubt, this was a very eye-opening experience. I love to talk about all of the cool things that we did, but with that, we also saw extreme levels of poverty and people living in a system that is not sustainable for much longer. There are very few — if any — people in Cuba who don’t have at least one family member who lives abroad who they depend on for money for basic necessities. This is not to say that I did not enjoy my time in Cuba, but I cannot just talk about the interesting things we did without acknowledging that the Cuba that I experienced was not the Cuba that Cubans actually experience. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I had and would not trade it, because I do believe that it was a very valuable one.