On March 1, 2014, nine students went on the first-ever University of Florida-sponsored study-abroad trip to Cuba. Organized and led by Dr. Lillian Guerra, the trip lasted eight days during the university’s spring break. Studying Cuban slavery and its legacies, the group spent its week in Cuba as Cubans, rather than as tourists. The students visited museums dedicated to retelling the history of the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, surveyed sugarcane plantations with more land than many of them had ever seen, spoke to expert Cuban historians, and generally immersed themselves in the Cuban cultural and physical landscape of the 21st century. They also tried to turn back the clock to see how the legacies of slavery affect the island and its inhabitants today. The most striking element of the trip was Cuba’s open acknowledgement of its connection to slavery—the homes of various plantation owners are still intact and, in fact, serve as museums for researchers like those of the UF group. But while the history of slavery was not hidden, the legacies of it had to be interpreted through analytical lenses considering Cuba’s effort to ignore the effects of slavery in an effort to promote a race-less society built on common hard work and perseverance.
(Information and text provided by Joanna Joseph)