Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roots of Hope Accepts CPAC Invitation

Roots of Hope is honored to accept an invitation to participate in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to take place this Friday, September 23rd, in Orlando, FL. We will be presenting on a panel entitled “In the Grips of Communism: Freedom of Expression in Cuba.”

Roots of Hope is a non-partisan, non-profit organization created with the goals of raising awareness about the issues faced by young Cubans, connecting with our counterparts on the island, and empowering youth in Cuba to become the authors of their own future. We are a diverse movement of youth that represent a spectrum of ideologies.

Our participation at CPAC seeks to represent the voice of Cuban youth before a national forum. This Conference will allow us to help educate the public about issues of censorship Cuban youth face on a daily basis, while also sharing the ways our organization is making an impact in the lives of young people in Cuba. We eagerly accept invitations to share and learn from prestigious organizations with very different scopes of work, engage in healthy dialogue, and foster an increasingly diverse and collaborative Cuban community.

Roots of Hope does not endorse or support any political group, candidate, or policy.

For any questions, contact Miguel Cruz at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Seeds of Change: A Postcard to the World

This post marks the eight entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read some of the previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba, How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation, Begin from the Beginning: the need for open dialogue, and From New Orleans to Havana.
As an introduction, 100cameras identifies children who are victims of injustice based on their surrounding circumstances and gives them cameras to document their lives. Upon completion of a project, 100cameras has the unique position to carry these photographs across borders to bridge communities together. You see, through their own photography, the children become self-advocators. Their pictures are the voices that speak awareness, and when you purchase one of the children’s photos, 100% of your money is given back to their community to empower sustainable growth. We've completed three projects to date in South Sudan, NYC, and Cuba.

A Postcard to the World

By Angela Francine Bullock

This past June, our team taught the 100cameras photography curriculum to a group of Cuban children that has never been given the chance to share their perspectives with the world outside their borders. Through our relationship with Global Baseball – a program that utilizes baseball to engage youth and teach them valuable life skills – 100cameras partnered with Campo Amor to best serve the particular children’s community.

During the first few days of my Cuba experience, I was not sure what I thought about socialism. I'd heard about this country for years, having grown up in northern Florida with this island only 90 miles south of our coast…close enough to hear first-hand stories from the older generation about wearing dog tags to school in Jacksonville during the missile crisis, but not close enough to have experienced the sweet, loving and family oriented warmth of the exiles that had moved to the south or to comprehend the Cuban government's effect on their own people. My basic opinions on Cuba were solely based on the culture of my surroundings and how it affected me.

The 100cameras team prepared for this project for over a year. Our Field Coordinator – Susanna Kohly – is a Cuban-American and equipped us with a solid understanding of the nation's history, current political environment, and all the possibilities of its future. And I felt mentally ready to digest “Cuban Socialism” through my own personal experience in the field.

But when I first arrived, my mind began to question everything. On a surface level, it just didn’t seem too bad to live like you were stuck in 1962. There were vintage cars, high-waisted skirts, and Rock n’ Roll oldies playing from old speakers, without the media and celebrity mania I was accustomed to back home. This is largely because internet is scarce, and when it is available, it’s a dialup modem from 1999 that cannot work well enough to consume very much of a person’s time. And furthermore, things like our complex media mayhem and reality TV aren’t even allowed into a family’s home. It felt like the society flowed in seemingly simple days. With free education & healthcare. And among people with beautiful souls.

And after stepping off the plane from the busyness of New York City, this all felt a bit refreshing.

Alright, yes. I admit it. I was drinking the Koolaid.

As our team began to work closely with our group of tweens for the 100cameras photography project, I experienced firsthand how people are deprived of many rights, expressions, and opinions. Their opportunities are extremely limited. And regardless of the seemingly simple days without television and the access to free education and health care, we witnessed how these bigger picture limitations have created a climate of fear. It was apparent that the underlying trigger factors of this climate were greatly prohibiting growth, and not just in my American definition of growth – but rather the right to grow as individuals who are allowed to decide what to speak, how to work or create, and ultimately, to contribute to a global society.

Although this climate of fear hinders the exercise of basic human rights such as freedom of speech and expression, our team strongly believed that photography could help. In fact, not only could we provide these children with the opportunity to document their perspectives, but we could also bring those impressions beyond the limits of their everyday life.

During this time of significant political tension between Cuba and other parts of the world, we have had the privilege of providing others with an opportunity to see Cuba through the eyes of a child, which is possibly the closest reflection of reality in its most untainted, unmotivated form. As we spent time with our photographers, we saw hope and excitement in their eyes when they held a camera. They ran through their neighborhood streets to camera class (Literally! We saw them!), listened to the photography lessons and eagerly completed their portfolio assignments. They recognized that through this new voice, they had the opportunity to tell their story.

Our team believes that through the voice of photography, we can empower Cuban youth to take ownership of both their current and future stories, truly empowering the grassroots efforts for positive change within their communities. Perhaps, even the entire island. Because we believe that whatever shape their future takes is the fateful shape of the island.

Angela Francine Bullock
100cameras Public Relations Director

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Summer Fellows Journal: Wrapping Up

This post marks the "beginning of the end" of a series of accounts by the 2011 Roots of Hope Summer Fellows, focusing on their experiences, thoughts, and musings over the course of the coming months!

By Ben Tyler

This blog post has been extremely difficult for me to write. Being asked to write a post summing up my summer would usually not be very hard, but I simply have not been able to decide on the right words to describe the summer I had as a Raices de Esperanza Summer Fellow. After toiling with this post for some time, I have decided to do my best to summarize what was one of the more insightful, intense, and fun summers I have ever had.

First and foremost, the Fellowship was an educational experience. As I have previously posted, although I am half Cuban, lived in Miami all my life, and attended a primarily Cuban high school, I truly did not know what “being Cuban” meant to me. I had heard the stories of my grandparents and only knew Cuba as the island paradise that had been taken away from them by an oppressive regime. While Cuba may have been that at one point, Raices has helped educate me on what Cuba truly is today: a nation full of young people eager to seize any opportunity they can attain. Raices helped me put a face to Cuba and made me realize that the conversation should not be about international sanctions or economic systems, but about what we can do to give my peers on the island the same opportunities that I have had growing up in this country. The goal is very simple: to empower Cuban youth to become authors of their own future. Clearly politics have not lead us there and Raices has taught me how to change the conversation for the better.

Apart from learning more about my heritage and the problems facing Cuba today, the Fellowship exposed me to a network of student and community leaders from all walks of life. Over the summer I made some incredible friendships and connected with some of the most interesting people that I have ever met. Raices prides itself on its people, young leaders from around the country who have the courage to do what no one else has done before: change the debate. My peers at Raices inspire me on a daily basis to continue working hard and improving myself. The best part about “Roots” is that not only are they brilliant and innovative, they are some of the most down-to-Earth people you will ever meet. It is easy to be egotistical being a part of such an extraordinary organization, but Roots pride themselves on having fun as much as they work. Never would I have imagined having as much fun at work as I did this summer.

Proffessionally, the fellowship allowed me to meet with someof the most important leaders that our community has to offer. From Congresswoman Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen to former Pepsico executive Nestor Carbonell, each one of these leaders provided a unique perspective on Cuba and on life in general. Exposure to these kinds of leaders cannot be found anywhere else and is one of the reasons the fellowship is so special.

Finally, I wanted to thank the people who made this summer possible. To Raul, Miguel, Janelle, and Tony: Thank you for all that you did to make this summer possible. You all brough a unique wrinkle to the office that made me look forward to coming to work everyday. To Chabelli and Claudia: Thank you for being such incredible peers. I learned as much from the two of you as I did from anyone else and I am glad we had the opportunity to work so closely this summer. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank Felice. Words cannot express how thankful I am to you for bringing me on and allowing me to experience and become a part of Raices. You have an uncanny ability to make people feel instantly comfortable and you went out of your way to give us the best summer we could’ve possibly had. I learned so much from you beyond what you consciously taught me and I know you are going to do great things at the White House.

All in all it is safe to say that the Raices de Esperanza Summer Fellowship changed my life for the better. I learned a lot, had a great time, and made some incredible friends. When people ask me what I did this summer it is very difficult to answer concisely, but most of the time I tell them “I spent my summer working to better the lives of young Cubans and had an incredible time doing it”

Until next time,

Dale con dale,


Ben Tyler is a rising sophomore in the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Raíces de Esperanza 2011 Summer Fellow. To contact Ben, email

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Seeds of Change - The Freedom of Music Festivals

This post marks the seventh 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, How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation, Begin from the Beginning: the need for open dialogue, and From New Orleans to Havana.

By Alex Freeman

More than a month later, the takeover of the Rotilla Festival in Havana still comes up in my daily life. Absolute freedom is not something I expect granted to the cultural circles of Cuba, but the erosion of the Rotilla Festival was unexpected. And yet as music festivals die in Havana, they’ve grown in the US. My summer will be bookended by two music festivals, Bonnaroo in central Tennessee and Virgin Mobile FreeFest in between DC and Baltimore.

The first, Bonnaroo, was a convergence of music, culture, art, and 80,000 people from across North America. It was a pure celebration by people who only wanted to enjoy their time away from home in a place unlike any other. And the founder of Rotilla festival, Michel Matos, wished to provide the same cultural Mecca to all those who could make it. According to their press release, the Rotilla Festival “promotes and exposes the great majority of the demonstrations of the Cuban artistic vanguard. It is of a non-lucrative character, completely free and open to the public.”

Angered at the destruction of the Rotilla Festival, the press release rightfully lashed out at the people and institutions that warped the meaning of their event into a State charade. The Cuban government transformed the three-day escape that the Rotilla Festival had provided for more than a decade into a lackluster charade of the Revolutionary spirit.

“We, organizers and authors of the Rotilla Festival, and I myself, its director and founder, DENOUNCE the theft, plagiarism, and kidnapping that this attitude represents for all the young people of this earth that we today represent. We denounce the excessive and stubborn censorship that is being exerted against any cultural activity that DOES NOT originate in the so-called institutions. We denounce the harassment to which we are constantly being put through. We denounce the surveillance and the subtle or direct threats to which we are subject daily.”

What once was a break from the norm for Cuban youth was transformed into more of the same.

In a few weeks, I will be attending Virgin Mobile FreeFest. Amidst 40 acres of green forest, dozens of bands will perform, artists will present their work and fans will celebrate. Much like what Rotilla Festival once was, FreeFest is free and meant as a break from the norm that you can’t get anywhere else.

The fact that the Rotilla Festival existed in the first place is a sign that some seeds of change have taken root in Cuban culture. There is the demand for a mental respite from the constant strain of daily life. Thousands of Cuban youth can attest to the awesome power that a music festival holds and were disappointed to hear that the Rotilla Festival was reorganized. But the seeds of change are already planted inside each and every patron who had attended the Rotilla Festival in the past decade.

So I’m grateful that I can attend festivals that are meant for celebration of my freedoms rather than my State. And I hope that the youth in Havana can have that opportunity again one day soon.

Alex Freeman is a senior at Northwestern University majoring in Political Science and International Studies. He spent the summer interning with the Cuba Study Group keeping up on Cuban news and attending meetings and discussions in DC about Cuban and Latin American affairs.

Seeds of Change: From New Orleans to Habana

This post marks the sixth 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, How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation, and Begin from the Beginning: the need for open dialogue.

By Annie Gibson

A few days ago I arrived in la Habana with a group of students from Tulane University in New Orleans. They are about to embark on an amazing adventure, studying for a semester at la Universidad de la Habana in the Departments of Artes y Letras and Geografía y Filosofia. It is an experience that few North American students are granted due to the obvious hurdles caused by the strained relations between Cuba and the United States since 1959.

Tulane University has engaged in a semester long study abroad program in Havana, Cuba in partnership with the University of Havana since 2009. This program evolved out of several years of sustained effort by Tulane’s Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute (a part of Tulane’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies) to develop relations with Cuban counterpart organizations for the purposes of academic collaboration and exchange, curricular development, cultural exchange and international development and dialogue. The Cuban & Caribbean Studies Institute, a part of Tulane’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies, was officially established in 1997, and has been responsible for the organization of a variety of lectures, performances, courses, symposia, etc. aimed at promoting a true academic and cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States. (

This August, we began our Cuba semester study abroad in Miami, where we made visits to key cultural and political leaders within the Cuban-American communitybecause in order to fully understand Cuba, one cannot leave out its diasporas. And for most in the United States, the term “Cuban-American” primarily evokes images of Miami. As the most populous resettlement of Cuban expatriates in the US, Miami has been the undisputed home of Cuban-American culture and commerce for half a century. For students coming to Cuba from Tulane, however, I am quick to mention that that not only is Miami an important city to study in connection to Cuban-American relations, but their own city of New Orleans has historical ties that date back to the 1800s.

From 1762 until 1800, New Orleans was a Spanish colony administered by the Captains General of Cuba stationed in Havana. That situation ensured close ties between New Orleans, located at the helm of North America’s most expansive riverine network, and Havana, the well-protected port at the Gulf Stream’s entrance to the Atlantic. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Havana and New Orleans were fundamental hubs along an “American Mediterranean” that also included Hispaniola and New Spain. Consequently, the ports at New Orleans and Havana enjoyed centuries of communication, and in the mid-20th century, Cuba was New Orleans’ most voluminous and lucrative trading partner. These ties were critical in the economic, political, and cultural development of each.

The Cuban embargo of 1963 transformed US-Cuban policy and trade into a vehement anti-Castroism. Bolstered by millions in CIA funds and a steady flow of Cuban migrants, while Miami instantly became the epicenter of the Cuban-American community, fifty years later, New Orleans’ port economy has stagnated, never fully recovering from the loss of its vital commercial ally.

This semester of study in Havana, is, thus, not only an opportunity for Tulane students to learn about Cuba, but also to see the historic and cultural ties between New Orleans and Havana that make New Orleans the city that it is today. These adventurous Tulane students will be ambassadors of culture, opening the gates of communication to better understanding the transnational ties between Cuba and New Orleans. We will keep you posted on their findings!

Annie Gibson received her PhD in 2010 from the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Her areas of specialization include Cuban and Brazilian performance cultures and Brazilian immigration to the United States. Her travels and research in both Cuba and Brazil have been supported by two FLAS Fellowships, the Tinker Foundation, and the Research Group for the Study of the Global South. At Tulane, Dr. Gibson teaches a diverse range of courses in Spanish and Portuguese language and literature, Latin American migrant cultures and literature, and performance cultures of Latin America. She holds a contract in both the Departments of Latin American Studies and of Spanish and Portuguese. Dr. Gibson’s experience with study abroad began when she was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, participating in study abroad semesters in Argentina and Brazil. In 2004, she directed a spring break trip to Costa Rica for Princeton Day School middle and high school students, in 2010 she was the Resident Director for Tulane’s summer in Costa Rica program and in 2011 she led a summer program for the Rassias Foundation in Pontevedra, Spain. She is currently the resident director of Cuba’s semester study abroad program in Havana, Cuba.