JSC class to explore Cuba once again

The fourth Art and Culture of Cuba study tour is set to run in February of JSC’s spring 2018 semester, offering an interdisciplinary format for all participants.


Led by Associate Professor of Writing and Literature Tyrone Shaw and Professor of Fine Arts Ken Leslie, the course will introduce students to the streets, museums, schools, arts, music and social scenes of Havana, Cuba.


Leslie and Shaw say the experience is enriching in both a social and academic sense without being a significant financial burden for students.


While they are in Cuba, Leslie says students will have the opportunity to design, investigate and develop “any kind” of project on Cuban culture and society. “It certainly can be something in the world of journalism or writing, creative writing or poetry . . . We’ve also had students do an anthropological research project,” he said.


“The certain amount of the time they’re there, they will have free to do the kind of research they need to do to be ready when they get back,” said Leslie.


In addition to their projects, Shaw and Leslie say students will encounter different flavors of Cuban life from restaurants and art schools to music venues and museums.


Prior courses included trips to San Alejandro Academy, Cuba’s premier art high school, for a Leslie-taught bookmaking class; a trip to an alligator farm; and an encounter with the acclaimed Cuban artist Salvador, whose style is rooted in Afro-Cuban tradition and culture.


“You can’t count on anything happening down there when it’s supposed to or where it’s supposed to,” said Shaw, whose intent for the class had been to tour Finca La Vigia, the home-turned-museum dedicated to the influential American writer, Earnest Hemingway.


Instead, Shaw, Leslie and their class had to alter their plans.


“Ken and I thought, ‘We don’t have Salvador’s Callejon de Hamel [Hamel’s Alley] planned,” said Shaw. “’So why don’t we go over there and see if there’s anything happening?’ It turns out that Salvador was there and was really happy to see us and they – Santeria dancers – put on a private show for us and it was just really wonderful. It was a great experience for the students.”


Like Shaw’s moment of serendipity, Leslie remembers a past trip in Cuba in which a student “gushed” with excitement after a conversation with a Cuban on the street in Havana.


“We were piling into these taxis and I had my cell phone and wanted to get some recording of the street traffic,” said Leslie. “We didn’t go a block or two when this student suddenly gushed out this incredibly excited story of this Cuban that he’d met on the street and how much of a connection he made to this guy. It was such a beautiful impassioned thing of just waking up and seeing the larger world and the people in it in a very different way than when you just watch it on TV.”


Because the Obama administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba in 2010, relatives of Cubans, religious organizations and accredited courses like Shaw and Leslie’s have been able to travel in and out of the communist island country more freely than in the mid-2000s.


This past summer, President Donald Trump ordered a roll back of “most” U.S. business transactions with Cuba’s Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group – an integral part of the country’s economy – due to Cuba’s use of U.S. money to fund a “repressive military-dominated government,” according to Trump in a June 16 Reuters article by Steve Holland.


Holland also reports that U.S. air and sea travel are expected to be protected in the new policy because of pressure applied to the Trump administration by U.S. businesses.


Despite any political uncertainty or Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction throughout Cuba in early September, both professors expect the trip to run as scheduled in February.


Come February of 2018, Shaw says he hopes to take his class to Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), the University of Havana’s school of fine arts, and to visit Cuba’s music and social scene.


“We want to bring the students back to ISA . . . the campus is so extraordinary and so historic in the sense of modern history, because it wasn’t constructed until the ‘60s and was highly controversial within Cuba at the time,” said Shaw. “Just to see what is going on at that university and the arts, it is just incredible.


“I shouldn’t be surprised because San Alejandro – the work the students do there – is astonishing for any age; the buzz of creativity, the dedication and passion of the faculty,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful place to visit and to watch the interactions between the students and the faculty.”


Leslie and Shaw say a series of pre-meetings will precede the application process for the trip, which will be followed by a combination of selected readings and films for accepted students prior to February’s adventure.


At the end of April, students will present their projects for the class during a party complete with Cuban food, says Leslie, who encourages students to take advantage of the affordability of JSC’s travel opportunities while they can.


An informational meeting for those interested in the class will be held Thursday, Sept. 28, at 3:30 in VAC 124.


“Whether the students choose to do this trip or not, they all should seriously consider doing at least one adventure like this while they’re in college,” said Leslie. “You have different times in your life when it’s easier and not so easy [to travel]. And as much as it might seem difficult to someone now, it’s one of the easiest times there is.”