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By Norma J. Hernández Table of Contents

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By Norma J. Hernández

Table of Contents


1. Forward/Acknowledgements 3

2. To the Reader 4

3. Cuban Culture in the United States 5

4. Student Testimonials 24

  • Whitni Perry 25

  • Kaitlyn Bennett 27

  • Tykia Thomas 29

  • Leanne Watrous 31

5. History of Cuba 35

6. Cuba 38

7. Let’s Practice 44

8. Cuban History 45

9. Let’s Practice (Answer Guide) 46

10. Let’s Practice II 47

11. Famous Men: Cuba 48

12. Famous Men: Cuba (Answer Guide) 49

13. From Inside Cuba 50

14. From The Jiribilla, Nitza Villapol 52

15. Cuban Recipes 57

16. Culture Through Music 63

  • Lesson: Video, Buena Vista Social Club 63

  • #1 Oral/Visual 64

  • #2 Oral/Visual 65

  • #3 Oral/Visual 66

  • #4 Oral/Visual 67

  • #5 Oral Visual 68

  • #6 Oral/Visual 69

  • #7 Oral Visual 70

  • Lesson: Mr. Don’t Touch the Banana 71

17. Teacher in Service 72

18. En español 73

19. Línea histórica 74

20. Para practicar 76

21. Punto histórico 77

22. Punto histórico (Respuestas) 78

23. Para poner en práctica 79

24. Nombres de hombres: Cuba 80

25. Nombres de hombres: Cuba (Respuestas) 81

26. Una prueba geográfica 82

27. Una prueba geográfica 83

28. Una prueba geográfica 84

29. La jiribilla: Nitza Villapol 85

30. Cocina al Minuto 89

31. ¿Qué es? 91

32. Café cubano 92

33. Café cubano (Respuestas) 93

34. Una prueba de lectura 94

35. Proyecto y tema para ensayar 95

36. Recetas cubanas 96

37. Aperitivos 97

38. Ensaladas y sándwiches 99

39. Frijoles 101

40. Arroces y cazuelas 102

41. Carnes 104

42. Postres 105

43. Bibliografía 106


What an adventure! I used to think that Cuba was an island southwest of Puerto Rico (my ancestry) with a ruthless dictator. What I learned is that Cuba is an island rich with history, culture, and life.

This project made me realize how strong the Cuban people are, how much they have suffered and continue to suffer, and how much they have influenced our culture.

I have to thank my loving family for nurturing my thoughts and needs as I worked on this project. Thank you for the pillars that you are in my life. I must also thank my Professor, Gustavo Pellón. Thank you for being patient with all of my questions, cultural and historical, for your endless help, for being available, and always supporting this project. Your tireless enthusiasm is contagious! Your passion for Cuba is great, your knowledge endless. Also, thanks to Javier Sotolongo for inviting us to visit his church and visit with his loving congregation. Finally, I thank Juan and Miguel Salvat and Uva de Aragon for meeting with me and the girls in Miami, and for taking time out of their busy schedules. The information that you provided is priceless. God bless you all.

Norma J. Hernández

To the Reader

I began this project as a guideline for how I, as a Spanish teacher would teach Cuban culture and history to my students. What I found as I embarked on this journey is that there is so much information available, but little shared with our students in public schools today. This became my motivation, and from it a project that no one can ever say is complete, because there is so much more that can be added.

I learned a great deal from my students. They knew little about Cuba’s history, and were thirsty for more knowledge once the door was opened.

I have prepared an English language section for you to use as a guideline to teach from. This is particularly useful for the non-Spanish speaker, or the lower level Spanish classes. The Spanish section which follows is particularly helpful in the upper level Spanish classes.

I challenge you, the Spanish teacher, the History teacher, the Language Arts teacher, the Home Economics teacher, and others who may be interested in sharing this information with your students, to read through this project and teach from it, research for yourselves, and expand upon it. I offer this project as a tool from which you can teach, but more importantly from which you can learn.

I welcome your experiences as you learn and teach, and would like to hear how you decide to present the subject matter.

You may e-mail me at koki_me@yahoo.com. May you have a wonderful journey.

Norma J. Hernández

Cuban Culture in the United States
On Saturday, February 28, 2004 I along with four students; Kaitlyn Bennett, Whitni Perry, Tykia Thomas, and Leanne Watrous embarked on a trip to Miami, Florida. For the next seven days we would experience the Cuban culture in the United States.

Traveling with students, it was necessary to be very budget minded. I found a wonderful hotel only minutes from every activity that I had planned. TownPlace Suites by Marriott proved to be an excellent place to stay. The apartment/townhouse dwellings are secure, comfortable, and fairly inexpensive when traveling with a group. Our apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, living room with a queen sofa sleeper, master bedroom with a queen bed, second bedroom with a queen bed, and a bathroom. The property had a fitness center, a pool, and an outdoor grilling area with a gas grill, a patio, and table and chairs. It was our home away from home.

Our first full day in Miami, we went to the Flagler Dog Track Flea Market. This was a cultural experience for all. Upon walking through the gate, a Cuban couple was selling “ceviche”, a seafood salad in a citrus sauce. The girls tried the ceviche, which they had never tasted, and weren’t sure they cared for. Some say it’s an acquired taste. Later the girls purchased gifts and souvenirs for themselves and family and friends, as they glanced through the aisles of many items, dancing to the beat of Latin music. They purchased clothing with a Latin flair, Spanish playing cards, baseball coin purses, colorful sunglasses, and memorabilia displaying the Cuban flag. The sun was scorching hot, and after the flea market it was time for a swim back at the hotel. The sun had beaten us dry, and we were ready for the cool water. We went back to the hotel after a day of shopping and enjoyed the pool for an hour, and having already made a grocery-shopping list, we went to the grocery store. This too proved to be a cultural experience. The many foods that are not offered in our hometown were foreign to the girls, but they were willing to try some new things. Each of the girls bought empanadas for the road, and all were quite satisfied. In fact, this became the daily trip to the Latin market and “Don Pan”. The girls tried empanadas with just about every filling that they were offered in. We went back to the hotel and made chicken with fresh vegetables and served that over rice. The girls said it was the best food out they had ever had. After dinner and cleanup, I took the girls to a local Baptist church run by an old friend. The entire service was in Spanish, and after the service, they had a fellowship. Empanadas were served, as were “mariquitas”, and a fruit beverage. There were people playing pool, others talking, and some listening to music. The girls conversed with the young men of the church, and found that some of the guys had recently arrived from Cuba. Other people became involved in their conversations when they discovered that they were studying the Cuban culture. One young man, “Julio” told us that his father came to the United States with the Pedro Pan missions. People who had a story to tell soon surrounded us. Everyone wanted us to hear what they went through, what their father went through, their mother, their sister, their brother, their aunt, their uncle, their grandparents, etc., went through before they got here. This had proven to be a fruitful day. Little did I imagine that the girls’ lives would be so impacted by what they heard. We went back to the hotel and talked about the experiences. Some one said that it sounded like something you would hear about on television or watch in an adventure movie, not something they would ever hear from someone they had just met.

On Monday, We went to Florida International University (FIU) for a 10:00 tour. The campus is beautiful and is truly an international university with more than 35,000 students from around the globe. FIU’s student body boasts the largest number of undergraduate students of Cuban origin of any university (including the University of Havana), as well as the broader academic community and the Greater Miami area. Upon our completion of the campus tour, we met with Uva de Aragon, associate director of “CRI”, the Cuban Research Institute. The Cuban Research Institute (CRI) is the nation’s leading institute for research and academic programs on Cuban-American issues. Founded in 1991, it is a major resource of the Greater Miami community. The CRI produces an exceptional level of research and public programs related to Cuba and its dissidents. CRI’s mission is to create and disseminate knowledge on Cuba and Cuban-Americans. Since its foundation, the CRI has maintained a program of academic exchange and research collaboration with Cuban scholars, supporting trips to and from Cuba by FIU faculty and students and colleagues on the island. This program is vital to the institute’s standards of excellence in research and teaching. Uva de Aragon’s interview was pivotal to our trip. Not only was Uva able to talk about CRI and its mission, but she too had a story to tell.

Uva de Aragon was born in Cuba. Her father a gynecologist, died when she was nine years old. Having instilled in her a love and desire for learning, Uva was well educated in Cuba’s schools. Her mother later married Dr. Carlos Marquez Sterling, a noted intellectual, a politician. He was a loving second father, and continued to instill those values of life and learning in his new family. Uva told us that she was fortunate to have had two loving fathers. Dr. Marquez Sterling was a presidential candidate for the Cuban Republic in 1958, the government’s favored candidate. Dr. Marquez Sterling was imprisoned on a conspiracy that he had committed crimes against the government and Cuba’s financial institutions. Carlos Prio won the office and a military coup led by Fulgencio Batista removed him from presidency. Batista became Cuba’s dictator and ran the country for several years. Fulgencio Batista was ousted by Fidel Castro during another military coup, and on January 1, 1959 Fidel Castro became Cuba’s dictator, and the period which is called the revolution began.

When asked how long she’s been in the United States, Uva told us that she has been here for 40 years. We were to hear it many times over by other Cubans that we spoke with. It was the magic number. The political turmoil in Cuba forced her and her family out of Cuba, and later her stepfather was exiled. Uva gave us an untiring account of what it was like to have to leave Cuba, what it was like to fear one’s country. She was tireless, and we could have listened to her all day. She told us that ALL Cubans have one thing in common; they all know the date they left Cuba. As Americans who have never had to suffer under a dictator, we don’t think about what other cultures have had to go through to attain freedom or to “get here”. When asked what she missed the most about not being able to stay in Cuba, Uva said she missed not being able to study and develop educational interests in her own country.

Leaving FIU, we were able to take in the fresh air. The breeze made us realize the freedoms we so often take for granted. We stopped at “Pollo Tropical” and enjoyed lunch, after which we decided to relax for the afternoon. Later in the evening we stopped at the Dolphin Mall, a mile from the hotel. We noticed that “Havana Nights”, a movie based on true accounts that occurred in Cuba had just opened. We decided to go back to the hotel, rest, have dinner, and return to the mall for the 10:00 show. The movie was perfect. The girls already felt like they were in a different country, and the music and dance on screen added to our emotions. The girls danced their way out of the theater. It was the perfect ending to a great day.

I had planned for us to go to South Beach on Tuesday. The girls were excited about our trip to the beach, and they were anxious about working on their tans. We felt as if we were back at home. South Beach with its modern flair and numerous hotels, not to mention American restaurants made us feel like we were back in the States. The beach was refreshing, and it was a perfect day with the winds coming across the ocean. We spent the day there, sunning, tanning, and enjoying the sun. We enjoyed a late afternoon lunch at La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant. We enjoyed Cuban Sandwiches, mariquitas (fried green plantain chips), fufú de plátano (a plantain mash with garlic and fried pork), and arroz con pollo.

I awoke on Wednesday to the girls noisily sharing Tuesday’s leftover lunches. They had decided to enjoy these for breakfast rather than eat the typical breakfast fare. There’s just something about pork sandwiches and chicken and rice that doesn’t entice my taste buds in the morning, but they were happy as ever munching on their Cuban leftovers. Our day began with a trip to the Librería Universal Salvat who with its subsidiary, Universal Distribution is a business that since 1965 is dedicated to the distribution and writing book editions in Spanish and especially of Cuban and Latin-American authors. Located at 3090 SW 8th street, it is in the heart of calle ocho, the strictly Cuban district. Eighth Street, better known as calle ocho, runs through this area called Little Havana like an artery. Calle ocho is the culture and life of Little Havana. Since the early 1960's this 25-block enclave became home to Cuban restaurants, small shops, tobacco factories, botanicas or herb/homeopathic shops, record shops, and auto dealerships which have lined its sun washed sidewalks. The aroma of Cuban coffee fills the air as palm trees sway in the breeze. The sound of dominos clashes almost indistinguishable to the music, which is seemingly everywhere you turn. Calle ocho caters to its Cuban exile community and ever increasing Latin American population as well as a growing tourist clientele. Librería

Juan Manuel Salvat, founder of Librería Universal Salvat and his son, Manuel Salvat.

Universal Salvat is family owned and operated, and has edited more than 1000 books since 1965. It serves as a voice for many Cubans who once thought that they would never be freely able to express their experiences, feelings, and thoughts. We were greeted by Miguel Salvat, son of Juan Manuel Salvat, founder of the bookstore. Miguel gave us a tour of the facilities and the office spaces. The girls were stunned that such a complete operation could be housed in one building. The girls had never seen a press conference room, and they were amazed to be standing where many famous people had once stood. After our tour we met the rest of the Salvat family.

Everyone was hungry after our busy morning, so we had lunch at a small Cuban luncheonette. We ordered empanadas and mate, a tea like beverage. The food was delicious and inexpensive. We noticed the men who entered wearing Guayaberas, beautiful Caribbean linen shirts and sat on tall stools and sipped on a cortadito, Cuban coffee. The girls were amazed at how well dressed the women were in their high heels and skirts and dresses. Some wore pantsuits, and everyone was tastefully dressed. We saw few jean clad people, and almost no one wore shorts. We left the restaurant and drove down a few blocks to the cigar factory. Here one can see the daily operations as men and women sit at their stations and either gather tobacco, roll tobacco, cut the ends off tobacco, wrap tobacco, or package tobacco. After lunch we had time to stroll down calle ocho, browsing through the shops and buying souvenirs. Kaitlyn bought a sun visor that proudly states Cubanita (Little/cute Cuban). She wore it on the trip and brings it to school occasionally. She is neither Cuban nor Spanish heritage.

As we continued our stroll down calle ocho, we arrived at the domino park. Here, men and women play dominoes as 4 people play in sets of 2 partners to a group. The game is taken very seriously, and there is fierce competition amongst the players. There is much talk about Cuba, and everyday life. We heard men and women interchange compliments with their partners and insults about Castro with their competitors. As we approached the many games that were taking place, some of the men noticed we were tourists. One man quickly asked us to take his picture, but asked us to hurry; he apparently had a great play. The men tapped the table twice if they chose to pass on their play, and eagerly laid down their prize pieces. It was obvious to us that the game meant a lot to these men and women. This game is in their blood. A couple of the girls asked if they could be next to play the winners, and the man who had eagerly asked us to take his picture spoke up and said, ahí se acabó (no way). Now we knew how serious they were about the game. There was one other thing that we noticed about the dominoes, they were not double sixes as we know of here in the states, but double nines.

A serious game of dominoes is played in Domino Park.

As we left the domino park, we walked to the left. There is a McDonald’s restaurant that bears a walkway with stars for famous Latinos. We sought out many of the well known Latinos, Gloria Estefan, Willie Chirino, and Celia Cruz were among the many.

We drove back to the hotel for dinner and rest after a full day of education, culture, and fun.

It was Thursday and the week was winding down quickly. Today’s plans included the Waterfront Walking Tour, the Freedom Tower, Elian Gonzalez’ house, and a Miami day cruise. We climbed into the SUV after breakfast, and headed east. We exited onto Flagler Street, and continued down to 2nd Street. Here we asked several people to direct us to the house where Elián Gonzalez had lived with his relatives. We met a man who was selling fruits and vegetable on the hood of his car in front of his home. The man was eager to sell us mangoes before he would give us directions. We bought 4 mangoes and a salchichón (Spanish salami) from him. He asked us what we were doing here, and after we explained our purpose in Miami he began to tell us his story. Julio Suárez has lived in Miami for the last 40 years. He came to Miami after being exiled from Cuba for hating what the revolution stood for. He told us that he loves this country more than Cuba, because Cuba would not stand by him when he needed her, and the United States has given him more than he could have ever dreamed. He had some choice words and comments about Fidel Castro, and then broke down as he told us how much he had longed to remain in his country and be free as he has been for the last 40 years. Julio asked us to return another day and have coffee with him. We were unable to do so, but hope to return and visit on another trip. We arrived at the house where Elián had lived, 2319 NW Second Street. The street was quiet, and there was no one around. The home is humble and small. Pictures of Elián, his mother, his swing set, and several prayers are posted outside the home. The house is open for tourists on Tuesdays. It now serves as a mini-museum.

The house where Elián lived.

After visiting the site of the house we drove downtown. We parked in a lot next to the Freedom tower. It is a large tower, modeled after Spain’s Giralda tower in Sevilla. Constructed in 1925, the tower is often referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South”. It is here that the floods of Cuban refugees were processed in the 1960’s and 70’s. The tower was closed during our visit, however the information I received states that it is a museum similar to the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. The tower was most recently opened last summer for the viewing and funeral of Celia Cruz.

We crossed Biscayne Boulevard and walked about another block. We would now begin our waterfront walking tour. We began in Bayfront Park. Here we saw the monument to the Torch of Freedom. Many disks along the wall represented each Latin American Country. We noticed a space in the wall following the disk that represented Costa Rica. The girls quickly pointed out that Cuba should naturally follow. It saddened them to see it missing. We also saw monuments to Senator Claude Pepper, John F. Kennedy, the unknown Cuban rafters lost at sea seeking freedom, Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and the Challenger astronauts. As we continued into Bayfront Park, looming ahead of us was the AT&T Amphitheater. This outdoor theater has been the site of many entertainment and cultural events. Brittany Spears would be performing at the Amphitheater the following week. The girls were glad they would miss her.

The smell of the salt air and the sound of passing ships were unmistakably present. As we walked and followed the path to the right, we arrived at Bayside Marketplace. The open air feeling of the Marketplace was inviting to even those who hate to shop. One can pose for a picture with a tropical parrot, enjoy a cortadito or a café cubano, or even Latin food from the many eateries. We saw many gifts exclusive to Miami, countless souvenirs, and if one wanted to do some real shopping, there are many retail stores usually found in malls to choose from.

As we continued our walk and souvenir hunting, our taste buds were teased by the many smells coming from the impressive offering of restaurants. This was a great place to have lunch. Two of the girls chose Italian food, Kaitlyn and I chose Cuban food, and Leanne chose seafood. It was all delicious.

After our meal, we walked towards the water. A series of boats and boat offering excursions were ready to whisk us away. We boarded the Island Queen for a tour of “Millionaire’s Row”, and a brief cruise around Biscayne Bay and Star and Fisher Islands. We saw houses owned by the rich and famous, some of which included Rosie O’Donnell, Tommy Hilfiger, Gloria Estefan, and Julio Iglesias. We noticed that many of the homes had “his and Hers’ yachts. The Hilfiger yacht seemed to be in preparation for a cruise. We noticed the helicopter aboard the vessel. Maybe we could live here some day. The girls told me that if they ever live on “Millionaire’s Row” I would be able to visit.

Walking away from the Island Queen, we came to Pier 5. Here we saw the real spirit of Miami. Local artists displayed their paintings, home decor, fashions, and jewelry. Many street performers displayed their talents; music, painting, and song. It was difficult to leave this lively place.

Driving away from Biscayne Boulevard, we entered a section of town that made a lasting impression on us as we approached the highway. Here we saw countless numbers of homeless people making themselves comfortable on cardboard boxes for the long evening ahead. Leanne spoke up and said that we had now seen the homes of the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor in Miami. How ironic! This sight is one that took our breath away as we drove under the monorail. We returned to the Townhouse for a leisurely and relaxing dinner. After dinner we drove to a local establishment for a night of dancing and salsa lessons. It was lively and fun. The girls wanted to remain all night long.

Our final full day in Miami was going to be a busy one. Our plans were to visit the Cloisters Spanish Monastery, lunch at a Cuban cafe, a final stroll along calle ocho, and a night at the Improv theater. We drove to the Cloisters after breakfast. Officially known as The Ancient Monastery St. Bernard de Clairvaux, the Ancient Spanish Monastery is the site of many movies filmed in South Florida. This Miami Spanish Monastery is the oldest building in the western hemisphere. The Spanish Monastery is a tourist attraction, a historical landmark, a place for weddings and other events, and an active Episcopal church. The Ancient Spanish Monastery is mystically hidden in the heart of the busy downtown area of North Miami Beach, located behind a shopping center and tennis courts. The Ancient Spanish Monastery has a long history. It was originally erected in 1141 in Segovia, Spain when it was named the Monastery of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels. After the canonization of the famous Cistercian Monk, Bernard Clairvaux, it was named in his honor. Cistercian monks then occupied the monastery for nearly seven centuries. In the 1830’s a social revolution caused the monastery's cloisters to be sold and it was used for storage. In 1925, the wealthy William Randolph Hearst purchased the cloisters and the monastery's surrounding buildings. Hearst had experts make precise diagrams of monastery. He had the cloisters disassembled, numbered, and carefully packaged with hay in crates to be sent to the United States. Unfortunately, upon arrival in the U.S. and due to a hoof-and-mouth disease scare, all the numbered crates were opened, the stones washed, the hay burned because of fear of contamination, and the stones were then haphazardly returned to the crates and shipped to a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York. Hearst suffered some financial problems and most of the pieces of the monastery had to be auctioned off. Due to the disorganization of the stones and the stock market crash of 1929, the stones remained in Brooklyn for 26 years. Upon Hearst's death in the mid 1950's, Raymond Moss and William Edgemon purchased the Cloisters and shipped the boxes to a small nursery site in northern Miami-Dade County. It took several years to sort out the pieces and put the monastery back together again. It is an impressive site.

As we left the Cloisters after having enjoyed the hot sun in the gardens, and the coolness of the stones in the inside corridors, a bride and groom entered with their photographer for pictures. We thought it would be a great place for a wedding. On the way back to the Townhouse we stopped at La Covacha for lunch. The food was delicious and inexpensive.

After dinner, we drove to the Science Museum for Just the Funny, an Improv show. The show boasted 12 local actors with multiple talents and varying backgrounds. Many of the skits portrayed Latino life. There was the calle ocho skit, the cafecito or coffee skit, and the tabaco or cigar skit. All were very funny. Many audience participants were called to help out throughout the 3-hour show. The final skit was the “Dating game”. Kaitlyn was chosen to be the girl looking for a date. After interviewing the actors, Carlos from calle ocho, Ben from Utah, and Les B. Anne from San Francisco, Kaitlyn chose a date with Carlos. Her prize was a free ticket to return to the Improv theater. The show was a perfect finale to our weeklong stay. We returned to the hotel to pack and reminisce about our trip.

No one wanted to leave Miami the following day. We drove to Ft. Lauderdale after a stop at Don Pan. As we waited for our 12:44 PM flight, the girls searched for a Cuban lunch at the airport. They found some empanadas but said they weren’t as good as those they had eaten in Miami.

The trip was a wonderful success. We had a wonderful time, tolerated each other and enjoyed the numerous activities. I would like to take this trip again perhaps next year with a larger group of students.

Whitni Perry

My name is Whitni Perry, a 10th grade Spanish 3 student at Northumberland High School. When I first heard Mrs. Hernández talk about taking this trip to Miami, I was thrilled. I thought of it as a way to try out the Spanish language and culture. I never dreamed that I would use as much of my Spanish as I did. I also didn’t realize that going to Miami would be like stepping into Cuba without the repressive government. I learned how many Cubans arrived here and what many of them thought of Cuba’s dictator, Fidel Castro. Many of the Cubans that we had an opportunity to speak with said they endured many years in a Cuban prison for voicing a difference of opinion, before coming to Miami. Many miss Cuba but value their rights to express themselves. Many say they will return to Cuba when Castro dies. It was evident to me how they tried to replicate their country in Miami. The other phenomenal thing that I noticed was that even with all of their hardship, the people always seemed to be happy, have a smile on their faces, and a sweet thing to say. They appreciate the things that many of us tend to take for granted. One older gentleman said he has been here for 15 years and doesn’t intend to return. It is just so amazing to see how other people suffered and worked so hard to say they have freedom.

The Spanish food is delicious. A simple food like a cheeseburger has so many flavors when it is given that Cuban kick. My favorite restaurant was “Versailles”. Awesome food selections were offered here. The food is not spicy and has just the right amount of seasoning. The music is special too. The music is so beautiful that when you pair it with the language it creates a passion that provides great entertainment.

I learned so much about the Cuban and other Latin American cultures. My favorite part of the entire trip was talking to the people. Listening to their stories and feeling each word and expression of pain, anger, or joy was so incredible. I had never given much thought to other countries and the struggles that people face. I, like most Americans take so much for granted. Each story was special and significant in many ways. They all touched me in a way that I will never forget. After visiting Miami I had a new appreciation for the Cuban culture and the excitement that it brings. I hope to go back again soon.

Kaitlyn Bennett

I am so glad I was given the opportunity to go to Miami, Florida with my teacher, Sra. Hernández. I was totally shocked when I got off the airplane. What was truly astonishing to me was the sense of nationalism shared by Cubans.

Cuban nationalism is something to be desired. IN my opinion Americans don’t have the same sense of nationalism for America that Cubans have for Cuba. Americans take for granted that they “live in the land of the free and home of the brave” and ‘the land of plenty”. Americans don’t have to worry about trying to escape from a regime that might try to take away their civil rights and liberties, and yet they are not always proud to be Americans. It wasn’t until a terrorists group’s activities on September 11, 2001 that Americans began to care about what America is about. Cubans however have suffered through revolutions and are still faithful to their Cuban heritage that they so love, even if Cuba does not love them back.

Because of their Cuban nationalism, Miami felt like Cuba. Many Cuban flags waved in the wind, I heard Cuban slang, and people who talked about Cuba or Fidel Castro. Even the Improv show that we went to had jokes about Cubans and Cuba. I volunteered to be a contestant for the game show “The Dating Game” at the Improv Theater. One of my possible dates was Carlos the Cuban and I chose him at the end of the game. It was a lot of fun.

Who would have thought that I could have learned so much from this trip? It was all worth it. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Tykia Thomas

My name is Tykia Thomas. I am 16 years old and a rising junior at Northumberland High School. In the beginning of 2004 Mrs. Hernández offered me the opportunity to travel Miami with a small group of students. From the moment she talked about going to Miami I was excited and ready to go. Going to Miami included many new experiences for me. For example, I had never been on an airplane, and just the thought of traveling away from home was exciting to me.

I immediately fell in love with the climate and the beautiful scenery when I arrived. I couldn’t get over how many Cubans lived in Miami and the amazing stories that we heard. We heard stories about how some people escaped Cuba and Fidel Castro. Listening to their stories made me even more proud to be an American citizen. I was grateful that I didn’t have to fight to get here.

To come to the United States many Cubans suffered hardships beyond our understanding. Many people make home made rafts. Sometimes they make it and some of them drown. Their stories gave us a lot to think about. Some Cubans had to change their identity to escape Cuba. Some people had spent time in prison for voicing their opinions, something Fidel Castro would not tolerate.

Miami made me feel like I was in Cuba because of the beautiful climate and because everyone was speaking Spanish. Now I understand why it is so important to practice my Spanish. I know I am guaranteed to use it right here and I’m guaranteed to use it when I return to Miami, which I hope to someday soon. Everywhere we went in Miami people were speaking in Spanish. In the restaurants, the malls, the shops, the hotel, the grocery store, and all over Miami everyone spoke Spanish. It was a fun learning experience to order my food in Spanish and it was great to practice with others in their native tongue. Visiting Miami was great cultural experience for me, which I will never forget. I will keep it with me and have told many people about my experience.

Leanne Watrous

When I found out that I would be traveling to Miami Florida with my teacher, Sra. Hernández and three other students, I was excited. In Spanish class we had learned about Cuba and Miami. We had learned that Miami is also referred to as “Little Havana” because of the large number of Cuban residents.

When we reached Miami, it was amazing how different it was from the Northern Neck of Virginia, which is where I live. The signs, the menus in the restaurants, and the advertisements were in Spanish as well as in English. It was hard for me to believe that I was still in the United States.

Calle ocho is known for being very Cuban. When I first heard that we would be visiting this area, I expected a tourist attraction like China Town in some of the cities I have visited. When we visited calle ocho I was very surprised and at the same time happy to see that while there were many restaurants, it was a place where many Cuban families live and work. It was then that I truly realized that I was visiting a different culture.

I was shocked to realize that everyone spoke fluent Spanish. It was not just in certain areas or shops, or in Cuban restaurants, it was everywhere. Even at the mall a saleswoman spoke to me in Spanish. It was not what I was used to hearing, and when she realized that I wasn’t fluent she quickly switched to English. It was really amazing to see that almost everyone in Miami was bilingual. Being able to speak and understand Spanish is a must if you live in Miami. The part of the trip that I loved was being able to try Cuban food. One day I had platanos or fried bananas. These were very different from what I am used to, but the more I ate them the more I liked them. I also liked the bread that we were served everywhere we went. The bread was crusty on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside. My absolute favorite food was the empanadas, meat, cheese, or fruit filled turnovers. I had these stuffed with meat, with meat and cheese, with cheese, with ham and cheese, with guava, and with chicken. They were yummy. Our first full day in Miami, Sra. Hernández bought some beef empanadas at a bakery. After eating just one I was hooked and looking for them the remainder of our trip. When we got back from our trip we made them as a class project. I make them for my family occasionally and they like them too.

It was very inspiring to hear the stories of how the Cubans or their families came to the United States after Fidel Castro became dictator. We visited a Spanish bookstore in Miami that was family owned and operated. The father had started a small bookstore when he arrived from Cuba. Now that bookstore has grown to be a large establishment. The company also publishes books written by Cubans. These writers would not be allowed to publish their works in Cuba.

On another day we visited a Cuban cigar factory. Since the United States is not allowed to purchase anything from Cuba, I was interested in how the cigars could be called Cuban. I learned that the cigars are made with Cuban tobacco, but the company does not purchase the tobacco from Cuba. Cuba sells the tobacco to Nicaragua, and then the cigar company purchases the tobacco leaves from Nicaragua. All of the cigars are hand made, and we were lucky enough to be able to see the process. The cigars are 100% tobacco. The inside tobacco is grown differently than the tobacco that is used for the outer covering.

On another day we went on a boat tour and saw famous peoples’ homes. There are many wealthy people in Miami. Driving back from the tour, just a block or two from the water we saw groups of homeless people setting up their cardboard beds for the night. This made me sad and it made me realize that not only are there lots of success stories in Miami, but many failures too.

It was wonderful to be able to experience the Cuban culture in Miami. I learned so much and I know that it will stay with me for the rest of my life. You can read about the culture all day long for months, but you cannot really understand it until you have seen it and experienced it for yourself.

History of Cuba




  • Christopher Columbus

  • Spain’s Catholic Kings

  • Indigenous peoples of Cuba (Indians): Siboneyes, Taínos, Arahuacos


  • The English take Havana

  • Slaves brought to Cuba

  • The Scottish invention of the horizontal sugar press makes slavery more economical

  • Rebellion of the slaves on part of the island


  • The Ten Year War begins on October 10th

  • Declaration of freedom for all Cubans: Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

  • The war destroys Cuba’s oligarchy

  • There is talk about separating from Spain

  • Cuba does not reach seek its independence out of fear of a slave revolt


  • Spain continues to govern Cuba

  • The Peace of Zanjón

  • Freedom from slavery as a result of the Ten Year War

  • Abolition of slavery


  • The War of Independence: Spanish American War

  • José Martí: famous poet, leads the war, most famous exiled Cuban, exiled for writing about liberty, died in 1895

  • The modern literary movement begins


  • The Platt Amendment


  • May 20th, Independence day

  • Tomás de Estrada Palma, first President

  • Beginning of the Republic (1902-1959)


  • Gerardo Machado is president

  • The army up rises against Machado

  • Machado leaves Cuba

  • Fulgencio Batista who was president during WWII is well loved by the poor


  • The New Constitution

  • Dr. Grau San Martín founds the orthodox party

  • San Martín guarantees reforms and rights for workers


  • Year of elections in Cuba

  • The people have lost interest in Fulgencio Batista (one of three candidates for President)

  • Much prosperity in Cuba

  • Carlos Prío wins presidency

  • Coup d’état: Batista’s military coup removes Carlos Prío from presidency

  • Batista becomes dictator

  • Repression begins in Cuba



  • Bay of Pigs


  • Fidel Castro is dictator of Cuba. Cuba continues as a communist country. It is difficult, if not impossible to leave Cuba. Poor relations exist between Cuba and the United States.


General Information

Despite the best efforts of the United States, the sun still shines on Cuba. It's the Caribbean's largest and least commercialized island and is a communist state. The island's political isolation has prevented it from being overrun by tourists, and locals are sincerely friendly to those who visit. Cuba's larger towns are pretty relaxed. The huge finned American cars line the streets along with taxi bikes and horses and buggies. Cuba's private beaches are beautiful and reserved for visitors.


The Cuban flag, designed by exiles in the mid-19th century was carried into battle against Spanish forces. It was adopted on May 20, 1902. The stripes were for the three military districts of Cuba and the purity of the patriotic cause. The red triangle was for strength, constancy, and equality, and the white star symbolized independence.


Cuba’s climate is semitropical, the mean annual temperature being 77 F. There are extremes of heat and relative humidity, which average 81 F and 80%. The annual rainfall averages about 52 in. The wet season, extends from May to October. The island lies in a region that is occasionally traversed by violent tropical hurricanes during August, September, and October.


Cuba is the largest and westernmost island of the West Indies. The average width is about 50 mi, with extremes ranging from 22 to 160 mi.

Currency and Trade

The monetary unit of Cuba is the peso, issued by the National Bank and composed of 100 centavos. All Cuban banks were nationalized in 1960.

Sugar and sugar products make up about 75% of annual Cuban exports. Tobacco, nickel ore, fish products, and fruits are other important export commodities. Major imports include fuel, food, consumer goods, medicines, raw industrial materials, motor vehicles, and machinery.

Prior to 1959 and the Castro regime, most Cuban trade was with the U.S. In 1960, however, the U.S. declared a complete embargo on trade between the two countries. For the next three decades, most of Cuba's trade was with the USSR and its allies. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuban trade suffered a severe setback. Russia, China, Spain, and Canada are Cuba's leading trade partners.


School attendance is compulsory and free for children in Cuba between the ages of 6 and 11. All young Cuban men are required to serve in the military for four years. The nation's adult literacy rate exceeds 95%, one of the highest in the world.


Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion before the country came under Communist rule; however, the number of Roman Catholic priests has dwindled, while the number of Protestant (chiefly Pentecostal) congregations has increased. In anticipation of Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in January 1998, Christmas was celebrated as a public holiday in 1997 for the first time in nearly three decades. Among the Afro-Cuban population, Orishas are deities that are worshipped and called upon for aid. Changó, the god of thunder and war is a popular one.


The primary language of Cuba is Spanish.


The revolutionary government that gained power in 1959 nationalized about 90% of the production industries and some 70% of the farmland of Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, depriving Cuba of its leading aid donors and trade partners, dealt a crippling blow to the nation's economy.

Population Characteristics

The estimated population in 1993 was almost 11 million. More than 70% of the population is classified as urban.


The Cuban population is a melting pot of ethnic mixes from every corner of the world. In the early days slaves cross bread with masters creating the mulattos of today. Later, people of Russian, Chinese and European decent created the make up of today's Cuba. Nevertheless, three dominant chief roots remain, giving shape to the Cuban nation and its current ethnic society. First of these roots is that of the aborigines inhabitants; their ethnic contribution was reduced by the impact of the conquest and colonization process. It is for this reason that the more significant roots in the Cuban nationality are Spanish and African. During the first centuries, after conquest, most groups came from Castile mainly from Southern of Spain. Later, massive migration arrived from Canary Islands, Galicia and Catalonia. More recently and during the last century Eastern European and Chinese immigrants have further enriched, what is, the unique racial mix that makes up Cuba today.

The African roots also left a very particular mark in the process of the formation of Cuban culture. Coming, primarily, from five different ethnic groups (yoruba, mandingas, congos, carabalies, bantu) as arriving slaves worked at the plantations giving place to new cultural associations among the African communities themselves, and bringing with them the deities whom they worshipped, the Orishas. These roots shape the basis of traditions, culture and popular beliefs.


Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Cuba on Oct. 28, 1492, during his initial westward voyage. The island eventually became known as Cuba, from its aboriginal name, Cubanascan.

Notable events occurring after this are:

  • The Colonization of Spain. 1511- 1894

  • The push for Independence 1895-1898

  • Growing Instability 1924-1948

  • The Batista Regime.1952-1959

  • Cuba under Castro.1960-Current day


Cuban cuisine is a mix of Spanish and African techniques, using local produce. Dishes like Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians; black beans and rice), empanadas (meat or fruit filled turnovers), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and picadillo (minced beef and rice) are common, as are soups made with plantains, chickpeas or beans. There are, however, food shortages in Cuba and eating out is not a frequent activity.

Let’s Practice

Word search: look at the clues and fill in the blanks with the appropriate words to complete the information about Cuban history. Afterwards, search for the words on the next page.

  1. In 1933, this military leader was very popular among the Cuban people. ___________________________________________

  2. These people lived in Cuba when Christopher Columbus arrived on the island. __________________________________________

  3. Cuba gained its freedom from Spain during the Spanish _______ War.

  4. ________________________________________ is Cuba’s dictator.

  5. Democracy was reconstructed during the New _______________.

  6. The ______________________ of Pigs was an American disaster.

  7. Fidel Castro took over on January ____________________, 1959.

  8. 1952 was a year of great __________________________ in Cuba.

  9. _______ is the Spanish word for “amendment”.

  10. In 1762, the _______ governed Havana because of their interest in the sugar.

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