Social sciences plans program for Cuba

By Elizabeth Toy

The Social Sciences Department is coordinating the Interdisciplinary Cultural Immersion Program in Cuba for spring break from March 31 to April 8, 2016.

Dr. Rin Kahla, Professor of Sociology,  Dr. Anthony Samad, Professor of African American Studies and Dr. Natalina Monteiro, Professor of Political Science invite both ELAC students and community members to join the program and experience the culture and community of Cuba, an opportunity that has not been available until recently.

The complicated history between the US and Cuba restricted Americans from traveling to Cuba for tourism since 1960, when President Eisenhower placed an economic embargo on the country, but circumstances have changed since.

“We’ve been talking about it for years, especially in light of the fact that Obama was looking into the sanctions,” Samad said, referring to Obama’s announcement in January to increase the categories of authorized travel, now including participating in educational activities.

This will be East Los Angeles College’s first trip to Cuba. “It’s very exciting.  There’s a vibrancy about Cuba that exists and this is a really cool trip because it’s not tied to a class.  It’s open to the community too,” Kahla said.

“I think a lot of people have never been exposed to the richness of Cuban culture,” Professor Monteiro said, “We want to be the first group to bring students to learn on a not-for-credit trip.”

Samad feels it is important for students to experience both the cultural and the political side of the country.  “Cuba is the one place that has been under the sanctions of the US, yet has a very popular culture and has managed to survive the sanctions.  It has played a significant role in the advancement of the humanity of the Africans.  It was Cuba that basically defeated the Angolans and started the apartheid revolution,” Samad said.

The interdisciplinary program will focus on the culture, history, sociology and politics of one of the largest Afro-Latin nations in the world.

The professors hope to expose students and community members to the successes and advancements of Cuba as a society, “They do not have the advantages of the latest technology and are still able to produce first-class education and health care systems in the western hemisphere,” Samad said.

With one of the highest populations of Latinos in ELAC, Monteiro feels the program would be beneficial for students, as it would allow them to study from a different perspective and successful model..  “They have one of the highest literacy rates and also the third highest number of women in legislature in the world,” Monteiro said.

The Cultural Immersion Program will take participants on a tour of Havana, encompassing the various aspects of culture, including art, history, business, sports, cuisine and agriculture.

“We want to get there before Cuba opens its borders,” Kahla said, emphasizing that a society can change once it becomes a tourist destination.

Samad agrees, “Before commercialization and capitalism come, we want to let (students) see a culture that developed in a vacuum.”

With a culture that relates to jazz and salsa music, “Cuba is well known for its music artistry and Cuban jazz is popular all over the world,” Samad said.

Kahla hopes participants will “absorb the culture through the music.”

The program itinerary also includes visits to various sites, such as coffee and tobacco plantations, local food industries, wildlife reserves and many more.

While the tour will plan the agenda for each day, participants will be free most evenings to explore Havana on their own, leaving plenty of time to experience nightlife and other leisurely activities.

The cost of the program is $3565 per person, which includes all flights and transfers, hotels, trip insurance and most meals.  This special price will only be good until November 30, 2016.  Participants who sign up afterward will have to pay an additional $155 for trip insurance.

Though the cost of the program may deter students from applying, Monteiro ensures that “traveling with the school is the least expensive way to go.”  After comparing airfare and hotels, they found that those traveling with the ELAC would spend about $1000 less than what one would spend on an independent trip.

ELAC Students for Political Awareness (ESPA) has been fundraising for the trip and Monteiro is also applying for matching funds. “I understand (the cost) is a lot for students.  The coordinators are trying all the avenues to defer the costs for the students,” Monteiro said.

All travelers must have a passport valid at least 6 months after the trip.  Those planning to go should apply for a passport if they do not already have one.  Enrollment ends December 11, 2015.

Program details can be viewed at efcst.com.  For further information, contact Professors Kahla, Monteiro or Samad of the Social Sciences Department via email found on the ELAC faculty website.  For more information about the details of the trip, visit efcst.com or call EF Tours at (877) 485-4184.

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