My first trip to Cuba was perfectly set up by my previous months exploring Latin America on sabbatical in 1991: yes, I would see Cuba’s problems and hear the complaints, but the fear in my Salvadoran friend and the desperation in two Guatemalan boys singing for coins would put in perspective the worst of what I was to see in Cuba. All my trips to Cuba were during the Special Period, when things were the hardest.
Though my three trips with Pastors for Peace’ US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravans were my favorites, all eight of my trips to Cuba – my solo sabbatical trip, two with Global Exchange (including an eco-trip), the Venceremos Brigade, the Labor Exchange to an international labor conference – were great lessons in what we could be.
When I think about Cuba, one of the first memories to pop into my mind is of a morning in a Círculo Infantil (daycare center.) You know: those places where visitors are often taken, because Cubans are so rightly proud of their “Children’s Circles.”
Actually, they’re proud of their children, and this love shows in the way Cuban children affect visitors. People over the years have come up to me and said, “I just got back from Cuba and you should see this great photo I took of some Cuban children!” I’ve heard that from many people who were so surprised at their sudden artistic talent with their camera. What? Are Cuban children the most photogenic people on Earth?
Or are they just among the most healthy and happy.
So there I was, visiting some Círculo Infantil somewhere on the island, watching a couple girls who were probably about four. And I was thinking, “As teachers back in the U.S., we often share with each other that our students are our future. But as I’ve come to think of Cubans as the future of the world’s people, these two girls…”
I tried to figure out how to communicate to these two little children in my stumbling Spanish this concept which would have challenged me in my own language. As I chose the words, “Y por eso, ustedes son…,” one of the girls interrupted to say, “Sí, sabemos: el futuro.” (“And, for this reason, you are…” “Yes, we know: the future.”)
Then there was a time we visited a high school. The students assembled to meet us caravanistas. After some brief words were shared by representatives of both groups, we were asked if any of us had questions. When it came my turn, I spoke of being a teacher from an innercity school in Los Angeles. I asked if any of the students had a message they wanted me to take back to my students. One girl’s hand shot up and waved with urgency. She answered with the most earnest expression and tone, and her words were translated back, “Please tell them not to give up hope; one day they’ll be free like us.”
-by Carolfrancis Linkins who traveled with Pastors for Peace, Global Exchange and The Venceremos Brigade