On March 28, four Alexandria Campus professors discussed their recent trips to Cuba as part of the Liberal Arts Division’s week of seminars titled “Cuba: Culture and Concept.”
Professors Araceli Bachner, Lucy Gebre-Egziabher, Peter Ruffner and Gloria Ward spoke to an audience of 20 students, faculty and staff about their recent travel experiences. The four professors spoke about their personal and professional interests in traveling to Cuba, their individual experiences and answered questions from students and faculty.
Ruffner and Ward, who teach English as a Second Language (ESL), spent 11 days in Cuba in 2015 as part of a dance class they took at George Mason University. Ward visited a second time in 2017 with Bachner and Gebre-Egziabher for professional research. Diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States were severed in 1961 before being restored recently under President Barack Obama’s administration. Ward, who is half Cuban, expressed her long-time interest in visiting and shared that she never thought she would have the opportunity.
“I never thought I’d go, but when a colleague went, I thought I’d also take the opportunity to learn about where half my family is from,” Ward said.
Bachner, who teaches communication studies, said she was interested in visiting Cuba for two reasons: to learn about Santería – a religion practiced by many Afro-Cubans – and to see if she would have a culture shock experience. Bachner wanted to understand the history of the religion and the people who practice it. And Cuba did not disappoint in the culture shock department.
“I am not unfamiliar with poverty, but what shocked me the most in Cuba was the Communism and the lack of choice,” Bachner said. “It was very overwhelming to experience that and see the government propaganda.”
Ruffner, who has a background in music, paid close attention to the musicians and Cuban music and noticed how it has influenced a number of different genres including jazz and even hip-hop.
“Cuba has just always been the forbidden fruit even when I was a teenager,” he said. “I’ve been to about 15 countries in my life, but if this isn’t the one that has had the biggest impact on my life, it’s in the top three. I still think about it every day.”
During her visit, Gebre-Egziabher showed a film critic Final Exam, a film created by her NOVA students in collaboration with Ethiopian students. Bachner, Gebre-Egziabher and Ward also connected with educators in Cuba and enjoyed some of their lectures. Their hosts also invited students of all ages to welcome them. All of the professors on the panel agreed that the most memorable of Cuba is its people.
“Cuba is its people,” Gebre-Egziabher said. “Music is like oxygen to them and they dance every day. They love you and will share what little they have with you.”
Throughout the week, the Liberal Arts Division hosted a number of events including showing the documentary Craving Cuba and hosting a Q&A with the director Zuzy Martin Lynch.