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ub's cuban odyssey
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UB's Cuban Odyssey
José Buscaglia-Salgado, 33, director of Cuban and Caribbean programs at the university and assistant professor of Spanish, hopes to recruit about 30 students for next year's expanded program, one that would include a four-week intensive study program for undergraduates interested in learning Spanish as a second language and learning about the "target culture." Also envisioned are graduate studies in Caribbean literature and an "architecture in Havana" program and Afro-Caribbean culture course for teachers in grades K-12. (UB will have to reapply to the Treasury Department to secure the rights to conduct the 1998 program.)
"Havana has a very rich architectural background that has been preserved for a variety of reasons up to this date," says Buscaglia-Salgado, a native of Puerto Rico who holds a M.Arch. degree from UB and is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. "Stylistically, you can find anything you want, architecturally speaking, including examples of 16th-century Spanish architecture and Islamic-influenced architecture in a Caribbean context. But a city is more than just its architecture. When you understand architecture from the point of view of a city, you begin to understand the way people live, the way they create their built environment. Havana, as the capital city of the Caribbean, is an urban environment full of contradictions and potentials. It is a very energetic, very human and very livable city that is facing some very big challenges that require immediate attention.
"In Havana, the necessity to implement political reform is only surpassed by the urgency to address the tremendous decay of the city's infrastructure and the need to address the future development of that metropolis. But, of course, it would seem that true and sustainable economic development will not take place as long as real political reforms are not instituted. Havana is hanging on-but for how long? That is the question."
The time is right for formal study in Cuba, he says, pointing out that 1998 marks the centennial of the U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence or, as it is referred to in the U.S, the Spanish-American War.
"When our students go to Cuba, they find an extremely generous and sincere people who are showing their need to communicate with the outside world. There is no doubt that Cuba is a totalitarian society where the most efficient sector of the economy is basically the repressive apparatus of the state. Paradoxically, Cubans in general are great conversationalists and they seem to feel free to speak frankly about anything but two major topics: Fidel Castro-the man himself-and the racial question in Cuba."
The race issue-Cuba's population includes the descendants of 750,000 African slaves-is as problematic in Cuba as it is in the United States, he says. "The real weight of the totalitarian repressive apparatus is not so much evidenced in the fact that people are not willing to talk; indeed, they are very talkative. It is, however, found in what seems to be a common inability on the part of most Cubans to be able to imagine a future without Fidel Castro, even given his age and the fact that there is no clear replacement for him, and given that most people don't want him there.
"There is reason to think that relations between Cuba and the United States will be changing sometime during the next decade. When that happens, we will need-both in Cuba and in the United States-a critical number of young people who will have learned to understand each other's respective countries and cultures, so that the errors that have been committed in the past-and these errors have been on both sides of the relationship-will be overcome when relations are reestablished. And that's the importance of a program like this."