Monday, August 29, 2011

Seeds of Change - Begin from the beginning: the need for open dialogue

This post marks the fifth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To see previous entries, read about how cell phones can shake a nation and the potential impact of studying abroad.

By Ariel Elias

If you keep looking for answers, you will only find frustration. I’m not sure if this was told to me by someone in Cuba or if the conclusion was my own. No doubt it is a philosophy based on the efficiency and transparency, or lack thereof, of the Cuban government, a force that permeates every aspect of Cuban life. Whether you agree or disagree with the government itself, there is no denying that even the simplest, most innocent of acts can turn political. The meticulous eye of a good idea gone awry watches its people, sometimes subtle and hidden, other times so overwhelming it becomes humorous, bringing out the choteo, making you think, “Surely you have better things to do.”

Cuba is unique because of its complications. You must learn to recognize the difference between an answer and the answer. It is a country of layers that cannot be understood until experienced, and even then, your head will continue to spin as you attempt to differentiate between the real and the lie, the genuine and the exaggerated. Too much is hidden or covered up, blamed on los yanquis or people who have been dead for the better half of a century. Suddenly, you are faced with two choices: believe what you hear or develop an imagination, an imagination that does not blind you or foster naïveté, rather one that fills in the blanks and encourages hope.

So that’s what we’re left with. An imagination, an openness that does not exist with older generations, a restlessness that only occurs when you know there is a better way. We learn to work with what we have, taking it one step at a time. For now, we discuss. We argue, we culture shock, we fight the censors and demand to be heard, we empathize, but most importantly, we establish a relationship. We set the foundation and attempt to correct centuries of wrongdoing that we did not cause, yet we are now responsible for. We ease the tension and create the space. Ultimately, we do not find the answers, we discover them.

Ariel Elias is a recent graduate from Tulane University, and studied abroad in Cuba in the fall of 2009. She currently lives in New Orleans as a medical translator/stand-up comic.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seeds of Change - Loudspeakers for Cuban Voices (Pt. 2)

This post marks the fourth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba and How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation.

A brief introduction:

For the purpose of the Seeds of Change theme on our blog, we wanted to tell our readers about the power of translating blogs. As many of you know, for Cuba's blogging community, the people who translate their blogs represent the opportunity to reach a broader audience, maximize their impact, and BE HEARD. As an example, Mary Jo Porter - who acts as translator for Yoani Sanchez - describes the effect of her work in an interview we featured earlier this month. What we found as we set out to feature blog translating in an entry, was that the greatest testament came from Cuban bloggers themselves. And so, we will be featuring their answers and comments over the next weeks.

To follow up Regina Coyula's response, here is a message from Orlando Luis Pardo:

The word of independent Cuban bloggers is like a light that is true, but very fragile. Before the totalitarian power of the official media, every effort is small to boost this alternative current within today's Cuba. To translate to other languages, to make accessible to other audiences of the world these independent looks into the Absolute State, is a gesture of solidarity of incalculable human and historic worth.

The volunteer translators can hardly feel the emotion that they provoke in each author with each one of the posts they help disseminate. Never have the critical voices within the island counted with such a citizen platform of world support. Never have we felt so accompanied in the midst of the most uncivil solitude(socialipsysm: what I like to call this sub-existential situation after half a century of a Revolution that is "irreversible" even by our Constitution).

We can only give you back our love vocalized in the most elementary of words: Thank you…Or even better, of course, because we already are even without knowing each other: Thank you, brothers...


La palabra de los bloggers independientes cubanos es como una luz verdadera, pero muy frágil. Ante el poder totalitario de los medios oficiales, todo esfuerzo es poco para potenciar esta corriente alternativa dentro de la Cuba de hoy. Traducir a otros idiomas, hacer accesible a otras audiencias del mundo estas miradas independientes al
Estado Absoluto, es un gesto solidario de incalculable valor humano e histórico. Los traductores voluntarios difícilmente puedan sentir la emoción que provocan en cada autor con cada uno de sus posts que ayudan a difundir. Nunca las voces críticas dentro de la Isla contaron con tal plataforma ciudadana de apoyo mundial. Nunca nos sentimos tan acompañados en medio de la más incivil soledad social (socialipsismo:
me gusta llamar a esta situación sub-existencial tras medio siglo de Revolución "irreversible" hasta por nuestra Constitución). Sólo podemos devolverles nuestro cariño vocalizado en la más elemental de las palabras: Gracias... O mejor, por supuesto, porque ya lo somos incluso sin conocernos: Gracias, hermanos...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Seeds of Change - Loudspeakers for Cuban Voices

This post marks the third entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba and How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation.

A brief introduction:

For the purpose of the Seeds of Change theme on our blog, we wanted to tell our readers about the power of translating blogs. As many of you know, for Cuba's blogging community, the people who translate their blogs represent the opportunity to reach a broader audience, maximize their impact, and BE HEARD. As an example, Mary Jo Porter - who acts as translator for Yoani Sanchez - describes the effect of her work in an interview we featured earlier this month. What we found as we set out to feature blog translating in an entry, was that the greatest testament came from Cuban bloggers themselves. And so, we will be featuring their answers and comments over the next weeks.

To start, here is Regina Coyula's message:

Hello to all translators,

The voluntary translations of our blogs is an invaluable labor. This work allows the reality of our country to be seen from a more realistic point of view, different from the one official propaganda has offered. I hope it has helped many people form a more complete -and complex- idea of my country. Thank you so much for making me a part of this.

Saludos para los traductores,

Es una labor inestimable la traducción voluntaria de nuestras bitácoras, pues de esa manera la realidad de nuestro país puede verse desde un punto de vista diferente al que ha ofrecido la propaganda oficial. Espero que haya ayudado a muchas perdonas a formarse una idea más completa -y compleja- de mi país. Muchas gracias por el pedacito que me ha tocado.

See Regina's blog here. To get involved in translating blogs from Cuba, visit

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How Cuban Voices Get Heard: Interview with Mary Jo Porter

To see this interview as it was originally published, click here.

Mary Jo Porter is an American who lives in Seattle. When she wakes up each day, she works as a transportation consultant. In the moments she is not working, she focuses her energies and talents on providing an enormous help for Cuban dissidents on the island, especially the independent bloggers, all the way from her laptop in Seattle. Mary Jo, or “Maria” as her Cuban friends know her, is responsible for the English translation of Yoani Sanchez’s world renowned blog, “Generation Y”. In addition to helping Yoani’s voice travel a little (or a lot) further, she also translates for Claudia Cadelo’s “Octavo Cerco”, Reinaldo Escobar’s “Desde Aqui”, and many others.

Together, with friends and volunteers, Maria has help set up Hemos Oido, a website which posts the blogs of members of the alternative Cuban blogosphere and allows anyone who wishes to volunteer to translate these bloggers into other languages- English, French and German among them. Porter is an example of the importance and effectiveness stemming from solidarity with the Cuban cause, despite not being Cuban. She is one of the many non-Cubans who have decided to spread word of Cuba’s reality throughout the world, not for money, not for political reasons, but instead straight from the kindness of her heart and her sympathy for the Cuban struggle for freedom.

Recently, Yoani’s entries were compiled into a book, “Havana Real”. Below is the story of Mary Jo Porter- “Maria”- and how she became involved with Cuba, as well as her thoughts on this book, the independent Cuban blogosphere, and the island’s reality:

PDLI: You are Yoani Sanchez's translator in English. As we all know, Yoani is Cuban. You are an American from Seattle. What inspired you, as a non-Cuban, to take on such a task?

Mary Jo Porter: “Inspired” is probably the wrong word, it was much more accidental than that. Briefly, the chain of events that led to my translating Yoani’s blog is this.

In late 2007, a Canadian friend, Chris DeMarco, invited me to go to Cuba to visit her daughter Jenny who was working in Havana for a Canadian non-profit. I said “yes!” and turned to Google for information about the island (praying that Dick Cheney wasn’t getting an “alert” every time I typed “Cuba” into my browser). I came across Yoani’s blog in English and was instantly captivated, as people are, by her writing, her point of view, her voice. When I got home from Cuba, naturally I was Cuba-obsessed – I think that country grabs the unwary – and Yoani’s blog became the main food for my new obsession.

Two months later the blog stopped being in English, but I struggled through the entries, relying on Google Translator, taking in as much as I could. Then Yoani put a short note on her blog saying she needed a new English translator. After a week or two when no English posts appeared, I said to myself, “someone’s gotta do it.” So, I’d had seven years of French, two years of Latin and five weeks of Spanish, “What’s a little Spanish?” I thought. I sent Yoani my pathetic first translations, and she sent me the password to the English site.

PDLI: So if you didn’t know Spanish, how could you translate the blog?

MJP: The short answer is I couldn’t. Which turned out to be a good thing in every way. It led to everything that came after, including, and the help of literally hundreds of volunteers.

If I had known Spanish I probably would have just turned my hand to translating the blog and that would have been the end of the story: Yoani’s blog in English. And of course if Yoani had known English then, she would have laughed at my first efforts (and sent the password to someone else!), another end to the story.

PDLI: But how did you manage to translate?

MJP: I knew I couldn’t do it, but I thought I could find help to get it done, so I posted a notice: “This blog is the work of volunteer translators. Please help.” Note the plural “translators.” Within a day, it was true.

People emailed me from all over the world. They edited my feeble efforts, explained Cuban slang, corrected grammar, cleared up misconceptions, and we were off and running. Early on, there was a co-translator, Susanna Groves, who actually knew some Spanish; she worked closely with me until she had to set it aside to work on the 2008 elections. I still rely enormously on other people’s help, even though I’ve been doing it for over three years now.

PDLI: Can you tell us a bit about and

MJP: In addition to Generation Y there were a number of other great bloggers on Yoani’s same domain,, and I wanted to translate them as well. As my Spanish improved, I added Reinaldo Escobar’s blog, “Desde Aqui,” and then others, and when people emailed offering to help, I would keep a mental note of those who “came and stayed” and kept asking them to do more and more. Some were people like Norma Whiting, who came from Cuba as a teenager and now translates Miriam Celaya’s blog, and Regina Anavy, an American who cut sugar cane in Cuba to help the Revolution but who now helps Cubans in other ways. There are way too many people to name them all, but those are examples two who “came and stayed.”

Meanwhile, Yoani and company started the Blogger Academy and we just couldn’t keep up. There were great blogs like Claudia Cadelo’s “Octavo Cerco,” Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo’s “Post Revolution Mondays,” the blog of the Black Spring political prisoners written (or dictated) from prison, “Voices Behind the Bars,” “Crossing the Barbed Wire” by Luis Felipe Rojas, blogs from Laritza Diversent, Ivan Garcia, Regina Coyula, Angel Santiestaban, Rebeca Monzo, the list goes on and on. And there were some of the earliest bloggers, like Dimas Castellanos and Miguel Iturria Savon, that I’d been wanting to translate for a long time.

I felt we needed to show that the exhaustion with the “revolutionary process,” with the lack of human rights, wasn’t just the weird dream of a few misguided people. And clearly we needed a way to more efficiently harvest the energies of all the people who had time to give, but not their whole lives. And we wanted the translations to reflect the differences of opinion among the bloggers, the plurality of voices. So, with the help of my friend (from the 4th grade) Karen Heffner Chun, we did a test run on Yoani’s blog that we called the “Cooperative Translation Experiment.” We couldn’t put the entries up fast enough, there were so many people wanting to help.

Karen then came up with the idea of having a separate site, and she coded and created it and that’s how came into being. People working in other languages wanted in, so now we have four languages and hope to add more. was created so people didn’t have to page through 30+ sites, but could, if they wanted, read all the blogs in one place.

PDLI: Your translated entries are published on Yoani’s most recent book, “Havana Real.” In the prologue, you say you traveled to Cuba and felt the "weight of the totalitarian state." What do you mean by that?

MJP reading from "Havana Real" at the University of Washington Bookstore

MJP: I should say something about my “before and after” perceptions of Cuba. In “real life” my work and background have nothing to do with Cuba – I’m a transportation consultant – and although I’m far from apolitical, Cuba wasn’t really on my daily radar. My earliest impressions of Cuba were not all bad, though I do remember being scared to death during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I blamed that on the Russians, not Fidel. But coming of age during the Civil Rights struggles here at home and the Vietnam War, it was not hard to imagine that someone might have a better idea.

That said, I’m not stupid and 40 years later I had no illusions about a person who perpetuated himself in power for half a century. But if I thought of Fidel at all, it was as a self-aggrandizing psychopath, but an almost “well-meaning” psychopath, if you can merge those concepts in your mind. Che Guevara, interestingly, who remains a hero to so many people, I thought of as over the top nuts and self-obsessed. I felt that Fidel had at least stuck around and “done the work” while Che flitted about, a sort of jet-setting, celebrity “revolutionary.” I should mention, for those who haven’t been to Cuba, I’d been there less than 24-hours when I renamed the country The-All-Che-All-The-Time-Place; it was ridiculous.

But all it took for me to “see the light,” or in this case “the darkness,” was to arrive in Cuba and walk up the steps to our hotel. At the door were these big burly bouncers, turning away Cubans. And then of course Jenny quickly clued me in, as did Cubans I talked to. And as you know, only a small part of the horror is outrageous events, most of it is that endless grinding down and crushing of people whose entire lives are controlled by a dictator. A lifelong grinding down, where you go to your grave, still not free.

Despite what people think, Cubans didn’t really complain to me about material things, they complained about the lack of freedom. About the petty – but completely oppressive – control of the local enforcers. I only met three communists the whole time I was there. That was it. And one of the three was an American!

PDLI: Why do you think many Americans (and others) have a misconception of the Cuban reality? How does “Havana Real” shatter these perceptions?

MJP: Let me start by saying, I like to think that if Yoani has accomplished one thing, she’s reduced by at least some small fraction the number of Che Guevara T-shirts in the world!

What Yoani does is make people see clearly. Rather than rant and rave about despots or political systems, she calmly relates the stories of everyday life. What it’s like to live in a failed country under an all-powerful dictator. What it means for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What it means for your child in school, your grandmother in the hospital, your family separated by an ocean. The same stories I heard on the streets and in the living rooms of Cuba, but that don’t get told very much in that straight forward and powerful way beyond the island.

For people like me, born and raised with human rights and democracy embedded in our bones, and believing, with Anne Frank, that “people are good at heart,” it’s just a lot to grasp that someone who says they want what we want… “liberty and justice for all”… can be truly malevolent. “Havana Real” takes our blinders off.

The Cuban regime has done an excellent job creating its own myths: vilifying Batista and the U.S. role in Cuba, and regaling us with their successes in health care and education. Of course they never mention that although everyone in Cuba can read, they’re not allowed to read anything but the All-Che-All-The-Time crap approved by the regime; everything else is censored.

The American communist I met in Cuba went on about statistics for child mortality (low) and life spans (long). But individual lives are not statistics, human emotions are not statistics, human rights are violated in the flesh, not on pages of statistics. Yoani and the other bloggers fill in the details about what happens to Cubans between the time they survive infancy and when they come to the end of those long lives. It’s truly “the banality of horror.”

I also think that Yoani understands, truly understands, what a free and democratic nation requires, even though she doesn’t live in one. She understands the need for tolerance of those you disagree with, for a plurality of voices. Honestly, in addition to opening my eyes about Cuba, she’s made me a much more tolerant person with regards to the political spectrum here at home. Thinking of people I strongly disagree with, I look at them now and I’m thankful that I live in a country where they and I can come together under one government, free to express ourselves, free to fight for our beliefs, in a framework of laws and rights that protect minority viewpoints.

PDLI: In your own words, please explain the Cuban blogosphere. What would you say these bloggers represent to Cuba, and what do they represent to you? Would you say that this phenomenon has been successful?

MJP: Well talking about the independent Cuban blogosphere, I like to think they, and all the others who are resisting the regime in so many ways, represent the seeds of a free and democratic society.

For me, the most powerful message I’ve gotten from all the Cubans on the island who resist, is that Cubans living on the island are completely capable of recreating their own country. Rebuilding their own country. I have tremendous confidence in the future of Cuba – and fear sometimes, of course, because it won’t be easy – but mostly tremendous confidence.

Are the bloggers “successful”? I guess I define success as the fact that they wake up every morning and keep going. I think that’s success. It’s a cliché, perhaps, but to me yes, they represent the success of the human spirit.

PDLI: You’ve been doing this for over three years. Have you had about enough? Or do you think you’ll keep on doing it?

MJP: What I have the hardest time convincing people of is that, honestly, I don’t do what I do for Cuba, or I do it for Cuba only in the vaguest possible sense. “Cuba” does not get me up in the morning.

What gets me up in the morning is friendship, my friendship, and even love, for individual bloggers. Even though I’ve never met a single one of them, even though I can’t have extended contact with most of them, primarily because they have hardly any Internet access, I feel extraordinarily close them, even those who barely “know” me, people with whom I might have exchanged only a few emails.

Through their words, they lay themselves open, let all of us into their lives. It’s impossible not to want to do some small thing to help them, one-on-one, as individuals. They work so hard, take so many risks, pay such a high price, and at the same time gift the world with their incredible words and pictures, with their strength, courage, and sheer endurance.

I started doing this because Yoani is a young woman, a woman my daughter’s age, who needs help, the help of someone who speaks English. I can’t do anything tangible to make her life better. But I can do this intangible thing, I can help her voice resonate a little further. And I believe there’s great power in that.

I can be a part of letting all bloggers, all the resisters, know: someone is listening, someone is watching, someone knows what is happening to you. Whether alone in front of their computers, or crammed into some cell, they have not been entirely abandoned. The world IS watching. And it is watching the people who threaten and hurt them.

The bloggers represent the ability of the individual to say “No”. The almost unimaginable guts of some individuals to stand up and say “No, not me, I refuse to participate.” We all like to think that in their place we would be them. But most of us know it’s pretty unlikely.

Most of all, of course, what I hope they represent is the nascent free society, the seeds of democracy, human rights and freedom for that island.

But for me, what they most represent is my friends.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seeds of Change - What comes next: study abroad and youth-led social change in Cuba

This post marks the second entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read previous entries, see How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation.

By Sam Tabory

It turns out that I didn’t spend a semester studying abroad in Cuba so that I could better grasp Cuban history, the Cuban experience, or the Cuban context. Instead, I spent that semester coming to the conclusion that the situation is so intricately and overwhelmingly complex, that all I could do was ride the wave, trying to take in as much as possible, until a Miami-bound flight spit me back out in the States four months later. Cuba opened my eyes to a lot. I could try to tell you about it, but that’s not what this post is about. My experience in Cuba ended months ago, and now I've moved on to a very different place in my life, albeit still carrying with me the lessons I learned while on the island. But the Cuban youth with whom I shared those experiences and with whom I formed deep bonds still live on the island. They still endure the daily struggle. They are still looking for a way out. For a new society. For something to change.

That’s what this post is about. It is about those youth, and the potential that study abroad programs have to help them as they seek to define their own futures. Just as cell phones and the Internet are opening new avenues that allow access to information and the outside world, so too are study abroad programs. When a foreign student steps off a plane at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, a new stimulus is being introduced to the island. That young person will not only take away his own impressions of the island to share with the world, but he will also leave impressions. As a university student, he will inevitably make awkward small talk in class, form friendships, chat with taxi drivers, join intramural soccer teams, get drunk over dominoes, go to clubs, have heart-to-hearts, argue about sexualities, fight about politics, debate moral and material paradigms, etc. He will, simply put, live his life for four months, a semester, a year…whatever it may be, and he will leave behind an impression, even if limited, of what type of people and what type of ideas are to be found in the broader global arena. In a word, he will become a vignette, to be added to a larger collection of vignettes of all outsiders who have set foot on the island. And it is these vignettes that become food for critical thought as young people in Cuba explore and experiment with what type of new society they want to create. This is the value of study abroad in Cuba.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that study abroad should be seen as an evangelizing force to spread the gospel of the western world. The Cuban students with whom I built strong friendships were as discerning and critical as university students anywhere. They understand the need for change on the island, but they also understand that they must be careful as to which models of change they employ. Most Cubans will readily agree that their own model or status quo is not working, but that does not mean that they are ready to blindly adopt foreign norms. They have strong opinions about social justice and the role that the State should play in the lives of citizens. These opinions are real and genuine, firmly grounded in historical tradition and collective memory, not simply the rhetoric of Fidel. To assume that study abroad in Cuba is a force by which to indoctrinate Cuban youth is incorrect. Its purpose is to introduce as many new ideas and stimuli as possible, to give young people in Cuba access to as many models as possible, so that they can begin the individual but also collective process of deciding which qualities, characteristics and models of the outside world are best for them, and which are not. Who do they want to emulate, and whose likeness do they want to avoid? These are the questions that need to be answered as Cuba moves forward in forging its future.

But the work of forging a new society is not neat. It is messy and contradictory and ultimately a very human and imprecise endeavor. It requires that those undertaking the process are the most well-informed and worldly individuals a given society has to offer. But the youth of Cuba don’t have access to global travel opportunities and study abroad programs. If they cannot see the world, the world must come to them. Although they are an imperfect stopgap, study abroad programs administered by European and North American universities are an important resource in making sure that Cuban youth have at least limited access to the schools of thought and ideologies of the global arena.

I could write pages and pages about the personal benefits that I got from studying abroad in Cuba, but the real importance of study abroad programs has more to do with what Cuban students are able to do with the raw intellectual material of having foreign nationals studying in their classrooms. Study abroad in Cuba isn’t about benevolence or proselytizing. It’s about a two-way exchange of information. Anyone who spends significant time on the island will be changed, for better or for worse. But the Cuban youth with whom you interact will also be changed, for better or for worse. Societies are built, opinions are formed, and the world goes round as we are introduced to and react to stimuli. The more stimuli we are exposed to, the faster things move. To study abroad in Cuba is to be such a stimulus in the context of a national transition. Cuba will change, and it will do so dramatically. But what that change will look like is still a matter of debate, as it should be. Study abroad programs, and the foreign stimuli they introduce, are an important component of keeping that debate alive as young people in Cuba seek to define and mold their own futures.

Sam Tabory is a senior at Tulane University. He spent the fall semester of 2010 living and studying in Cuba as a student at the University of Havana. He can be reached at

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Announcing Baking for Good's Featured Nonprofit!

Thanks to your votes, Roots of Hope has been selected as Baking for Good's featured nonprofit this month! As a result, we are now displayed on their cause introduction page and their blog! More importantly, every purchase made in our name will give $1 additional to our cause!

For those of you unfamiliar with Baking for Good, it is a social business that makes irresistible baked goods for any occasion and donates 15% of every purchase to the cause/nonprofit of your choice. We partnered up with them several months ago and are proud to have been selected as this month's feature!
Now, on to the good stuff: for the entire month of August use the code ESPERANZA15 at checkout to receive an extra 15% off their order!
Thank you again for your support - it was a close vote and an exciting victory for us!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Triangulating Hope

By Hanny Rivera

The most common reaction when I told friends I was going to be spending the summer conducting ocean research in Bermuda was a wry smile followed by a cliché joke telling me not to get lost in the Bermuda triangle. Though, to be fair the warning was perhaps well warranted, as I did very recently find myself in the middle of the ocean, on a boat that was quite suddenly and inexplicably sinking. Luckily, the rescue response was as quick as the sudden onset of this mishap and the boat was towed safely back to shore. Apart from that rather disconcerting event, the rest of my stay in the Devil’s Islands (an old Spanish name for Bermuda) has been quite paradisaical. The people of Bermuda are extremely friendly, polite, and helpful. The island has a modest charm that is hard to resist. Brightly colored houses line the slopes along the jagged limestone coasts and mopeds zoom around the winding roads that run across this 20 square mile island. Walking around downtown Hamilton, the capital, I see a plethora of shops, marinas, and restaurants. The streets are clean, the roads in prime condition, and the buildings glean in the bright afternoon sun. As I take this all in, my mind wanders to the streets of an earlier island destination, Cuba.

One hears so many stories about life in Cuba that it becomes nearly impossible to discern what is true, what is in the past, and what is plain exaggeration. I found that certain things were exactly as they had been described, others much worse, and few a bit better. Unfortunately though, the reality was far from what I would ever wish it to be. Instead of the pure clean air one imagines when picturing palm trees and a refreshing ocean breeze, there was overwhelming smog from the reconstituted old cars that strut along the deeply contoured streets. The architectural beauty of Havana’s buildings lies crippled, eroded by time, and gravity becomes a new foe while walking beneath balconies and overhangs. What I find most disheartening however, is that most Cubans have for a large part resigned themselves their fate. In their mind the only route to a better life is overseas. The Bermudian national motto is “Where the fates carry us”; Cuba’s is “Patria o muerte” (Homeland or death), yet I can’t help but wonder why it seems as though it is Cubans that have decided to passively follow the winds of fate. As I struggle to understand why a country full of some of the most hard working and culturally rooted people I have ever met has watched their homeland slowly deteriorate, I can only hope the next gust of winds awakens some new passions.

Hanny was born to Cuban parents and moved to Miami, Fl at the age of two. She is currently a senior in college and studying marine biology and oceanography.