Education professor journeys to Cuba with local contingent
Evans is a visiting scholar at the University of Havana
A group of CSULA faculty, students and local teachers—led by CSULA Professor Stephanie Evans—traveled to Cuba this past fall to attend its International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and explore the culture, landscape and history of Cuba.
According to Evans, who teaches in the University’s Division of Applied and Advanced Studies in Education, “It’s easier to get into Cuba when there is a film festival, because Cubans want the world to see and know their work. Luminaries such as Harry Belefonte, Francis Ford Copolla, Danny Glover, Jonathan Demme and Woody Harrolson also attend the festival.”
This recent trip, Evans was joined by CSULA Professors Enrique Ochoa and Michael Siler, 10 CSULA students and two Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) educators. In previous years, CSULA Professors Sabrina Mims and Fernando Hernandez also went along on the adventure.
Traveling under the umbrella of the Pastors for Peace organization, the group toured the Cuban Museum of the Revolution, the Capitol Building, John Lennon Park, Hotel Sevilla, the Old Fort in Havana, and various Ernest Hemingway sites.
Evans noted, “Ernest Hemingway wrote the Old Man and the Sea in Cuba, at an estate that is about 15-20 miles outside of Old Havana. All over town you see signs about Hemingway. However, the highlight of the trip for many of the students was to visit the Museum of the Revolution to see the Cuban side of the Bay of Pigs conflict!”
Evans began traveling to Cuba in 1999 when she and David Sandoval, formerly of the Educational Opportunity Program at CSULA, were invited to speak at the University of Havana. After that visit, Evans has continuously been invited by the University of Havana as a visiting scholar to speak to the pedagogical institute where teachers are trained to work with gifted students.
“The Cuban teachers always want to know why the U.S. doesn’t have government-supported education,” said Evans. “In Cuba, everybody has the exact same education, the same books, and the same content. Here, I could visit a Montebello Unified school and City Terrace Elementary in Los Angeles, which are just a mile apart, and find that students are learning different material at each location.”
Evans shared that, prior to her first trip to Cuba, she had always wanted to visit Cuba because her dad was a manager for a few Caribbean performers before the revolution in the mid-1950s. So when the opportunity arose, she went, and has been for 14 years, bringing others along with her to discover and explore the country’s wonders.
CSULA Professor Stephanie Evans in Havana, Cuba.
CSULA’s Latin American Studies major Arturo Zepeda, who expressed great admiration for the history, traditions, music, and culture of the Cuban people, said, “I decided to go to Cuba because it was a country that I have been eager to visit. They have always been the vanguard for social and economic changes in Latin America. ...The diversity and unique characteristics of the Cuban people made me feel welcome. What I learned from the Cuban people is to always stay positive and enjoy life.”
“I found Cuba to be an amazing country,” said Emily Dixon, a LAUSD assistant principal, who also joined Evans in her recent Cuba trip. “To visit the Hotel Sevilla, see historical pictures of those who stayed at the hotel, walk through the rooms where they walked, and see actual structures—that are over 100 years old—are still in the hotel as the historical figures viewed them. ...Cuba also has year-round activities for tourists, such as the annual Latin American film festival, the jazz fest, the dance troupe and more.”
Stemming from the connection with the University of Havana, CSULA’s Latin American and Pan African Studies departments recently hosted two Cuban medical students on campus to discuss their experience and education with CSULA students. The panel was coordinated by CSULA Professors Donald Bray, Evans and Ochoa.
Evans, who hopes to continue the educational exchange with the University of Havana, will be heading back to Cuba in July to prepare an itinerary for the upcoming trip in December. With a few CSULA students who have already signed up to join the next journey to Cuba, Evans indicated, “There are currently 14 confirmed spots for CSULA students, two LAUSD teachers and two teachers from Bell Gardens.”
Italo Marroquin, a TESOL (Teaching English To Speakers of Other Languages) M.A. student at CSULA, said, “My trips to Cuba with Dr. Stephanie Evans were life changing. Not only did the country inspire an upcoming children’s book, The Spirit Child, but I also met one of the loves of my life. If you get the opportunity to travel with Dr. Evans, expect to be dazzled, by her beauty as a human being, and by Cuba itself.”
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