Maya Seligman
Peace Studies Mission
Cuba/U.S. Relations Seminar
February 26, 1997

Mid-Semester Project Reflections

Working with the Peace Studies Mission has been incredibly valuable for me this semester. The way I perceive Cuba now differs with how I saw the country at the beginning of this semester. While my studies of Cuba in my Nations and Nationalisms class (sociology/anthropology) last semester were extremely educational, giving me a valuable foundation of knowledge, I was only hitting the middle of the iceberg (more than the tip) in terms of quantity of information and depth of understanding. The class gave me the opportunity to untangle the connections between Cuba's nationalism and many other issues (as nationalism is linked to almost all matters there); these connections now make much more sense to me since my scope is now more comprehensive. Any information I now read, see or hear about Cuba is ingested from a different angle than earlier in the semester. The knowledge I have accumulated and absorbed so far helps me to grasp the important questions in a much more complete, comprehensive way. The bits and pieces of data that before seemed unrelated now integrate to form a big picture, leading me to be able to ultimately see what Cuba and its people are really all about.

Our trip to Washington D.C. was very interesting. It stretched the experience of education past the usual boundaries, giving me an intense chance to glean knowledge from a number of different types of experts. I appreciated the opportunity to utilize others' brain power, to discuss the issues from more than one angle, to get my questions answered and to see the range of perspectives on Cuba. At the beginning of this semester, I adamantly thought that the United States' relationship with Cuba was a black and white issue of clear distinctions, of right and wrong. Rebelling 180 degrees against what the U.S. government and media has depicted, I saw Fidel Castro as a hero and the Cuban embargo as total evil. Now I see that the situation is obviously much more complex, as the trip to D.C. especially proved to me. There are so many factors involved, that the U.S./Cuban relations cannot be easily-defined as a moral situation of good and bad, like I once wanted to believe. Studying Cuba's economy, governmenta system, international politics and other issues have shown the interconnected complexity of all historical events in this case. It was fascinating to see how the people we met with seemed to manipulate the same facts and data to argue very different positions (the word manipulate not necessarily having a negative meaning); the experience of hearing such a plethora of viewpoints was totally valuable. When I got home from the whirlwind D.C. trip, I was left with one dominating thought: there is no such thing as the truth. There is only a range of varying perspectives on what is the truth.

I have walked away from every group meeting/class knowing more than when I first sat down. Learning about others' topics has not only deepened my understanding of Cuba, but it has also revealed links between all the issues. After doing extensive research on my own topic, Cuban art, I also see how it relates to everything else. In Cuba, art is not just art. It has strong relationships with such issues as international politics, race & ethnicity, gender, nationalism, the government's domestic relations with the people, freedom of expression, education, generational differences, socialism, changes of the Revolution, abstraction versus realism, Cuba/U.S. relations (esp. relating to the embargo), tourism and the economic market. Thus by researching my topic, I have also learned vital information concerning a vast range of other issues.

The process of my research has been a satisfying experience so far. I have tapped into the useful source of the Internet, opening up a vat of valuable World Wide Web pages, both from and about Cuba; these sites have offered me a direct look at today's art and artists. The extent of published resources focusing on Cuba has surprised me, for I have found a good number of books and articles on my topic. I have also talked with many people who have connections to Cuba, giving me a chance to hear a range of perspectives through their stories. My eyes and ears feel tuned to pick up any information I can about Cuba, wherever I go, which has revealed a number of unexpected sources.

I now am seriously considering spending all of next semester studying in Cuba, as my interest in the country has been deeply intensified through my work with the Peace Studies Mission so far. I look forward to our trip there in March, for I know it will provide an incomparable chance to finally experience first-hand what I have been learning this semester.

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