Peninsula professor brings Cuban streets alive at talk
By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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This is Havana, Cuba, and Reina Barreto, a Peninsula College professor for eight years now, took people there from Port Angeles on Saturday morning.
You might take a walk into a city park, Barreto said, to get away from the traffic. There, you find a bench, perhaps with a statue of Lenin beside it.
But no, it’s not Lenin, it’s Lennon. You’re in Havana’s Parque John Lennon, where the statue stands with the inscription from the song “Imagine”: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
Cuban President Fidel Castro had banned the Beatles back in the 1960s, calling them a distraction from the revolution. But after Lennon was murdered, Barreto said, Castro decided that he and the late Beatle were kindred spirits — “both dreamers,” he thought.
Dreamers — artists — like Lennon enjoy a special status in Cuban society, Barreto continued. The professor, who traveled to Havana this past spring, gave the Washington Community College Humanities Association conference’s keynote lecture, “The Art of Difference: An Overview of the Arts in Cuba Today,” at Maier Hall on the Port Angeles campus.
Peninsula College associate dean Bruce Hattendorf noted that Barreto, a Spanish instructor here since 2005, brings to the conference not only the credentials — including a Ph.D. from the University of South Florida — but also a rare and joyful spirit.
She’s been known to demonstrate Latin dances during a class, and to beam throughout her lectures about culture. It’s these arts and humanities, Hattendorf said, that allow us to connect with one another as human beings instead of as members of this or that political faction.
In Cuba, politics have been highly untidy, with post-revolution strife, poverty and flocks of people fleeing, Barreto acknowledged. But for artists, especially the young ones, the island is a fertile place. Dancers, musicians, painters, sculptors: They’re regarded as cultural producers, important people who earn more than the average medical doctor.
She visited many cultural showcases across the island: the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the Instituto Superior de Arte; artists’ homes and galleries.
Then there was the Havana district of Jaimanitas, where Jose Rodriguez Fuster lives. It’s painted with murals, populated with sculpted figures — all made by Fuster and his neighbors.
“It’s a place you really don’t want to leave,” said Barreto. “It’s a playground . . . covered with art everywhere.”
The people of Jaimanitas have all become artists, all become “extraordinary,” as Fuster says in a video.
“My participation is popular and democratic,” he adds.
Yet artists of all types still are leaving Cuba behind, Barreto noted. A group of dancers from the Ballet Nacional defected last April while traveling in Mexico. And Barreto, who grew up in the United States with a mother who had left Cuba, found herself “more perplexed” after this year’s travels.
She saw how the nation’s artists play with the outsider’s view of Cuba. “You see something on the surface, but there’s something really different in the background, behind the scenes,” she said.
“The artists are very eager to show [visitors] their Cuba.”
And in Cuban society, “things are changing. . . . Cuba is an exciting place to be right now. It’s possible to imagine a Cuba without the Castros,” both Fidel and his brother Raul, now president.
Meantime, said the professor, “There is so much to learn.”
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: October 21. 2013 6:32PM