Cuban-American to visit Cuba for first time as part of new study abroad program
This summer a new study abroad program will send 15 students from Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and Portland State University to Cuba for two weeks.
For Tawny Garcia, the experience will will have a special significance. Garcia is a Cuban-American and an OSU senior. She will visit Cuba for the first time as a part of the Oregon University System program.
Garcia, who is Cuban on her father’s side and Mexican and Puerto Rican on her mother’s side, said she was raised by her mother in California. She came to Corvallis to attend OSU.
“I haven’t had much of a real connection with the Cuban side of my family in a long time,” she said. “It will be nice to see where they come from; where I come from.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited, and students in educational programs are one of just a handful of exceptions to travel restrictions.
“It’s pretty amazing because not many Americans get to go to Cuba, and to be part of that small percentage (who) get to go there legally is pretty incredible,” she said.
The students in the program are studying Cuban politics, society and culture through film during this spring term, and will explore a different topic each day of the trip. Garcia, who majored in sociology, has a minor in political science.
Dwaine Plaza and Amy Below from Oregon State are teaching the class, which the students from other universities are taking online.
“I’m really looking forward to (experiencing) the culture,” Garcia said.
She will be leaving on the exchange program just two days after she walks for graduation during OSU’s commencement ceremony June 15.
Garcia, who has never before left the country, also will visit Puerto Rico for a family reunion five days after she returns from Cuba. She said that the impact of this hasn’t really hit her yet.
“It probably won’t hit me until mid-July, when I get back from Puerto Rico and I’m like ‘Did all that just happen? Did I just graduate? Did I just go to Cuba? Did I just go to Puerto Rico?’”
After the journeys are over, another kind of quest begins, she said: Job-hunting will be her priority, and she is interested in law enforcement.
She said she hopes to gain insight onto Cuba from the trip.
“I feel like (Cuba) is not talked about as much as it should be. It’s a neighbor; it’s not that far off the coast of Florida,” she said.
She said Cuban-Americans have more negative opinions of Cuba than the Cubans who still live there.
“I’ve only heard one side, and I’d like to go in with an open mind, because I feel like the truth lies somewhere in the middle.”