When you think of Cuba, the first things that come to your mind may be the “three C’s”: Caribbean climate, the Castro brothers, and Cohiba cigars; but that is by far not all that Cuba has to offer. Because of the United States’ foreign policy aimed at isolating Cuba (and therefore isolating us from Cuba), broad knowledge about the island and its people is limited. Many rely on exotic and stereotypical images of beautiful women on pristine beaches, Fidel Castro giving long-winded, animated speeches in front of the masses, and fine cigars to describe Cuba’s identity. But there are other aspects of Cuban life and culture that receive scant attention in the U.S. media, which only continues the mysticism and idealization of the island. While here at the LAWG we advocate for a complete end of the travel ban that would allow for more access to information and people in Cuba, we obviously have not reached our final goal. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is currently revising guidelines to implement President Obama’s January 14th announcement that intends to facilitate out-reach to the Cuban people. In addition to granting general licenses (no permission from or advance notification to the U.S. government required) for U.S. credit-granting academic programs and religious exchanges, an additional aspect of these new regulations would grant specific licenses for cultural exchange and non-credit-granting educational programs. The new regulations will provide opportunities for more U.S. citizens to discover our similarities, rather than emphasizing the differences, with Cuba and the Cuban people.
Two students from the University of Michigan’s newly-revived study abroad program in Havana did just that.
Miles Jackson and Lauren Bradley used their time in Cuba on this academic program in 2010 to get to know the country and its people. Being avid skateboarding fans, Jackson and Bradley fell into the Cuban skating community and haven’t left it, despite their return to the United States. Grateful for the friends they made in Cuba and their positive experience studying abroad and getting involved in the Cuban skating world, upon returning to the United States, they decided to start a humanitarian project called “Cuba Skate” that would support young Cuban skaters, while elevating the issue of broken U.S.-Cuban relations. Their motto, “bringing boards, resources, and better opportunities to Cuban youth” is unique and sheds light on the importance of the younger generation in shaping not only Cuba’s future, but the future of U.S policy towards Cuba.
“Although our focus is skateboarding, it's really about getting culturally connected with Cuba and the younger generations of our two countries,” says Jackson. The Cuba Skate Team began blogging about their cause last November and has raised almost $2,000 to bring to Cuba such items such as clothes, shoes, and skateboards.
Last December was their first trip back to Havana since their study abroad. They brought with them money they raised to rebuild Havana’s single skate park and the idea to host a skate competition after the park’s completion. Since U.S. citizens still are not allowed to travel freely to Cuba, readers may be wondering how Cuba Skate got permission from the U.S. government to conduct this type of humanitarian mission. The answer is simple: they didn’t—yet. While Jackson is in the process of drafting a license proposal to OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) and remains optimistic, he said that the Cuba Skate team will return to Havana regardless of receiving U.S. government permission or not.
Jackson and Bradley are continuing to raise funds in order to return to Cuba this May with considerable plans. They want to hold an even bigger skating competition, a “go skate day,” art exhibition and rock concert. Cuba Skate has also tapped into the Miami skating community, some of whom intend to travel to Cuba with the team this coming summer. Cuba Skate also hopes to go on a bus trip to Santiago de Cuba, at the far eastern end of the island, in order to get outside of the city life of Havana and distribute skate gear to those who don't have the luxury, or access to tourists, of skaters who live in Havana.
Their blog, which you can read here, is full of footage and photos from their time in Cuba. Check it out for more information!
*All photos are courtesy of Cuba Skate*