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August 8, 2017 > Cal State East Bay students share unique experiences from Cuba visit

Cal State East Bay students share unique experiences from Cuba visit

Submitted By Kimberly Hawkins

A group of Cal State East Bay students recently returned from a trip to Cuba where changing rules about travel to the Communist island nation are likely to come soon. In September, President Trump is expected to tighten the restrictions on American travel.

The 25 students led by Associate Professor and Department of Communications Chair Mary Cardaras and Lecturer Casey Beck were tasked with simulating the lives of journalists and telling the stories of modern-day Cubans.

ÒItÕs just 90 miles of ocean but worlds apart in terms of our two countries,Ó Beck said. ÒYou hear about communism and what communist countries look like -- one of my students put it best when she said to me, ÔItÕs so interesting to be here and use my own eyes and ask myself, do I think the same thing as what IÕve been told about communism and whatÕs been portrayed in the media where I live?ÕÓ

Beck said she feels very lucky because she got the opportunity to see Cuba through 25 sets of eyes and 25 different projects, including the two profiled below.

Name: Daniel Arevalo
Project: Family Ties

For Daniel Arevalo, a liberal studies major and second-generation Cuban, the trip abroad was personal.

ÒMy grandfather came by boat from Caibarien, the town I visited while I was there,Ó Arevalo says. ÒHe left basically straight from his house, which was on the beach, and was at sea for three days and was caught by the Coast Guard -- luckily it was the U.S. Coast Guard because at that time if it had been Russian, he would have been sent back and either jailed or executed.Ó

ArevaloÕs grandfather became a refugee in Miami, and found help from the Catholic church. When he couldnÕt secure a job in Florida, he turned to some connections he had in a small town in Northern California: Hayward.

Through a photo essay, Arevalo captured the experience of reuniting with his Cuban relatives, none of whom have seen each other since his grandfather, now 95 years old, took to the ocean all those decades ago.

ÒItÕs been on my bucket list [to go to Cuba] since I was a young kid listening to stories about Caibarien and my grandfather working in the tener’a (the tannery),Ó he says. ÒMy family was all very excited I was going, but given all the memories, they were also scared. Coming back and showing my grandfather the pictures was incredible. HeÕs too stubborn to ever go back and heÕs probably too old now, but he actually sent me for this old bike horn. He just wanted this piece of his past in his hands again, and [our family] had kept it for him for 50-something years.Ó

Arevalo said he hopes to return to Cuba again and again, if he can.

ÒThe Trump administration changes are pretty frustrating,Ó Arevalo says. ÒItÕs targeting people like me who have family that they can visit there. IÕve heard many different things [about what the restrictions mean] and I just hope it doesnÕt impact the family ties and our ability to keep in touch with future generations.Ó

Name: Daniel Larios
Project: Baseball

Given his love of sports, when Danny Larios landed in Cuba, he had a single goal: To talk with local people about the Cuban legacy of baseball and their feelings about defectors -- those who denounce their home country and claim asylum abroad, all for the chance of glory on the diamond.

Baseball, which had been the most popular sport in Cuba, was prohibited at the professional level during Fidel CastroÕs revolution in the 1950s, cutting off opportunities for players who aspired to the Òbig leagues.Ó The first player to defect from Cuba was Rene Arocha in 1991. His career with the St. Louis Cardinals was short-lived but he inspired scores of future players to follow in his footsteps and defect to the worldÕs largest baseball markets -- the U.S., Europe and Japan.

ÒWhatÕs interesting about Cuba is that everything ties back to the politics, even baseball,Ó Larios said. ÒWe went to a central park area and you could easily pick out the guys sitting around talking about baseball. I started lightly, but then I hit them with it: ÔHow do you feel about your Cuban players defecting?Õ Almost everyone had the same response. TheyÕre so happy that their players are being represented on this big stage and making money for their families, but itÕs sad that they have to leave home and they canÕt come back.Ó

Over the course of the two-and-a-half-week trip, Larios, with the help of fellow students Mitchell Stover and Cameron Scorza, managed to capture a dozen hours of live footage, which the trio has turned into a short documentary for their final project.

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