Cuban mojitos, salsa dancing, Cohiba cigars, black coffee, and Havana Rum – all things we’ve long admired about Cuba but from afar. With the country restricted from U.S. tourism for the last 50 years, we couldn’t really explore our fascination with it. So when President Obama expanded the categories of Americans who could travel to Cuba legally, the floodgates opened up and Americans are talking about Cuba now more than ever. So before the Cuban takeover of American tourists and companies, I decided to gather a group of 14 black professionals (mostly FAMU alumni) who were just as curious about Cuba as I was, and bold enough to make the journey with me to see what’s been hidden from us all this time.
Imagine a scene set back in the 1950s with old classic cars and colonial style architecture. Imagine a society cut off from the world where you can’t get a cell phone signal and slow Internet access is available only at some hotels. That’s what we encountered in Cuba. It was as if time had stood still and it was still 1961, when the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. There was vintage beauty in the Cuban culture, way of life, and proud Afro-Cuban heritage. There’s something about visiting a destination that isn’t so Westernized, where you can delight in authentic cuisine and not American food chains, where you get to experience a culture their way.
It’s hard to know what to expect from a country that’s been restricted from us for so long, but we knew that, at the very least, we wanted an experience that would immerse us in Afro-Cuban heritage and give us a more balanced perspective on U.S./Cuba relations. This journey ended up being the most enlightening, educational, and cultural experience ever, and it gave us an authentic glimpse into the Cuban way of life.
Forget about lounging on the beach and soaking up the sun. Per licensing requirements, our tourism experience required that we put in a full day’s work and adhere to an approved itinerary created by our tour operator. As Americans, we aren’t considered tourists and aren’t permitted to do typical tourist-type of activities (e.g., sightseeing, beach combing) since it is still technically illegal to visit Cuba without a people-to-people license. So we were required to do activities and visit attractions that would allow us to culturally exchange with the Cuban people. This was by far the best way to experience the country and learn its history over the last 50 years.
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