A Promising Reality

Reflections on Race, Gender, and Culture in Cuba

by Venessa Ann Brown (Volume editor) Menah Pratt-Clarke (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XX, 138 Pages


A Promising Reality: Reflections on Race, Gender, and Culture in Cuba is a compilation of the reflections of a group of chief diversity officers, faculty, and educators from the United States about Cuba. As part of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education delegation to Cuba in July, 2015, A Promising Reality represents a collection of voices, experiences, and perspectives about issues of race, gender, cultural identity, and the African experience in Cuba. Key themes explored include Cuban culture, the Cuban Revolution, politics, economics, education, equity, and social change. Utilizing narrative inquiry, some of the reflections are comparative with the United States, and some reflections focus exclusively on Cuba. The book takes readers on a journey of thought-provoking stories that reflect the excitement, uncertainty, complexity, and promising possibilities on the cusp of changing diplomatic, political, economic, and social relationships between the United States and Cuba. A Promising Reality seeks to broaden the perspectives of its readers regarding US-Cuban relations. This book is ideal for courses on international relations, international studies, international affairs, comparative cultures, political science, education, politics, sociology, history, race, gender, and social justice. It is a must-read for anyone traveling to Cuba as part of study-abroad, professional development, or personal adventure.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for A Promising Reality
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Foreword (Benjamin D. Reese, Jr.)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Venessa Ann Brown
  • Menah Pratt-Clarke
  • 1. Introduction (Venessa Ann Brown / Menah Pratt-Clarke)
  • Overview
  • References
  • 2. An Overview of Race, Class, and Culture in Cuba (Venessa Ann Brown / Sarah Walker-Leard)
  • A Brief History of Relations Between Cuba and the United States
  • Cuban War of Independence
  • The Rule of Sergeant Fulgencio Batista
  • Fidel Castro and the Revolution
  • Cuba and the Soviet Union
  • A Promising Reality
  • Race in Cuba
  • Gender in Cuba
  • Culture in Cuba
  • Cuba Trip
  • Hope for the Future
  • References
  • 3. International Cultural Exchanges as Professional Development Opportunities for Diversity Professionals (Archie W. Ervin)
  • References
  • 4. Cuba and Connections to Childhood (Venessa Ann Brown)
  • Cuba: The Chance of a Lifetime
  • My Story
  • Race and Gender
  • Education
  • Medicine and Community-Focused Perspectives
  • Culture
  • Art and Music
  • The Riches of Simple Living
  • Connections
  • The 1957 Chevy
  • References
  • 5. Transformation, Empowerment, and the Cuban Revolution: Reflections on Gender, Race, and Culture (Menah Pratt-Clarke)
  • Introduction
  • Creating the Context: Transformation and Empowerment of Women in Cuba
  • Creating the Context: The Literacy Campaign and Empowerment
  • Reflections on Race, Gender, Culture, and Revolutions
  • References
  • 6. Two Sides to Every Story: Lessons in Life from Cuba (Howard J. Ross)
  • Introduction
  • A Travelogue from Cuba: July 10–18, 2015
  • Havana Day One
  • Havana Day Two
  • Havana Day Three
  • Havana Day Four
  • Havana Day Five
  • Havana Day Six
  • Havana Day Seven—The Journey Ends
  • Postscript
  • 7. Two Wings of the Same Bird: Reflections of a Puerto Rican in Cuba (Diana Ariza)
  • Introduction
  • ¿Quien Soy Yo? [Who am I?] Puertorriqueña Hasta la Muerte [Puerto Rican Until Death]
  • El Encuentro [The Encounter]—People to People
  • Cuba Linda [Beautiful Cuba]—Here I Come!
  • Returning Home: [El Descubrimiento] “The Discovery”
  • Cuba Sigue Siendo Hermosa y Libre Como Puerto Rico [Cuba Continues Being as Beautiful and Free as Puerto Rico]
  • References
  • 8. Finding Home in Cuba (Na’im Madyun)
  • References
  • 9. Missing in Plain Sight: The Complicated Story of Race in Cuba Today (Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh)
  • Introduction
  • Preparation for the Cuba Visit
  • Arrival in Cuba: “Cuba, Here I Come!”
  • The Introduction of Blackness in Cuba
  • Communism, Religion, and Race
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 10. Dear Ché (Christine Clark)
  • Introduction
  • Postscript
  • References
  • 11. The New Cuba: Factors Supporting the Cultivation of Resilience (Sadie Burton-Goss)
  • Introduction
  • Preparation
  • Havana: Latin American Getaway for the Rich, Famous, and Infamous
  • This Far by Faiths
  • US Embargo and the Literacy Movement
  • Tiny Nation, Multinational Contributions
  • The “Special Period” and a Healthier Nation
  • The Denial of Race, Racism, or Colorism in Cuban Society
  • Women: Challenges and Expectations for Exchange
  • Potential Risk Factors
  • Potential Protective Factors
  • Final Reflections
  • Reference
  • 12. A Promising Reality (Menah Pratt-Clarke / Venessa Ann Brown)
  • 13. Postscript: A Story of Resilience (How I Came to the USA) (Jorge-Felix Morfa)
  • Contributors
  • Series index

| xi →


Figure 12.1. Malecón in Havana, Cuba.

Figure 12.2. Havana, Cuba Street Scene.

Figure 12.3. National Hotel of Cuba.

Figure 12.4. University of Havana Alma Mater Sculpture.

Figure 12.5. Church of Our Lady of Regla.

Figure 12.6. Afro-Cuban Religion.

Figure 12.7. Las Terrazas Community and Coffee Plantation.

Figure 12.8. National Museum of the Literacy Campaign.

Figure 12.9. Museum of the Revolution.

Figure 12.10. Rainbow over Cuba.

| xiii →



Editors’ Note: Dr. Ben Reese is the immediate past president of National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and is Vice President of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University and Duke University Health System. Before assuming this role, he was the Assistant Vice President for Cross-Cultural Relations within the same office. For the last 40 years, Dr. Reese has served as a consultant to educational institutions, profit and not-for-profit corporations, and healthcare organizations in the areas of organizational change, conflict resolution, race relations, cross-cultural education, and diversity.

Visiting Cuba and getting a better understanding of their culture has been an idea that has been floating around in my head for more than 30 years. Actually getting there was the culmination of both a personal quest and an important step for the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). In 1983, my wife and I returned from an educational visit to Haiti. As psychologists, we were invited to offer a series of mental health lectures, mostly about behavior therapy, to groups of “mental health professionals” from across the country. A few psychologists and psychiatrists, and a larger number of lay counselors, newspaper writers, and voodoo priests gathered in Port-au-Prince for our translated talks. In retrospect, I’m not sure how much of the theory we espoused was really relevant to the complex social, economic, and mental health challenges of the country, but audiences were polite and welcoming. What was most impactful during that experience, and upon my return to the States, was the cultural education.

There were obvious differences from the United States in housing, food, and transportation. The brightly painted vans, “Tap Taps,” as they were called, served as both taxi and a sort of mini-bus for the residents. But the more profound differences were in the interpersonal cultural norms, the roles of family ← xiii | xiv → members, religion, and customs. As a psychologist, I was both excited and perpetually curious about the people—their day-to-day habits and way of life, as well as the way they conceptualized self, “other,” family, and certainly their notions and treatment of mental illness. This brief, but powerful, trip helped stir my interest in visiting other parts of the Caribbean, not the typical tourist islands, but places that offered insights into cultures and political systems different from the United States. Cuba was at the top of my list!

Cuba, for so many years, was only known to Americans through the filter wrapped around the island as the result of decades of accusations, fear, anxiety, apprehensions, and unwavering US policies. Trickles of religious, educational, and humanitarian organizations were permitted to take charter flights to the island. My wife and I explored a possible trip to the island in the early 1990s, but the “bar was just too high.” There were too many restrictions, and we wondered whether the rumors of IRS scrutiny might actually be true. But, upon reflection, I really regret that we never made the trip. I can only wonder what the Cuban culture must have been like 20 plus years ago, without the influence and the intrusion of hordes of tourists. A deep interest and passion in better understanding the seemingly limitless cultures of our planet has led my wife and I to travel to almost 50 countries. Many of them are in locations visited by few tourists: Iran, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, multiple trips down the Amazon, and a number of Indonesian islands. I had to somehow experience Cuba.

When I began my second term as president of NADOHE, I had a series of conversations about internationalization with board members, as well as colleagues in other roles in the academy. I shared my interest in deepening my understanding of other cultures. We discussed the importance of chief diversity officers (CDOs), not only understanding the cultural context of their international students but in terms of our organizational mission, engaging with professionals in other countries in roles similar to the CDO. In the 21st century, it’s imperative that higher education professionals be, at minimum, cognizant of parallels to their roles in other countries. More than mere awareness, it is also important to foster engagement across cultures and share best practices and knowledge. I believe that this is critical as our campuses become more diverse with students from an ever-widening range of countries and cultures.

The Board of NADOHE agreed and was strongly supportive of my recommendation to form a Committee on International Affairs. During the Board discussion of my proposal, it was clear that the recognition of the importance of NADOHE focusing on international and global issues in higher education shouldn’t come at the expense of long standing “US diversity issues.” Rather, ← xiv | xv → the effort should be complementary. With a clear consensus, NADOHE began taking steps that led to our educational mission to Cuba.

Key among the charges I gave to this new committee was the creation of our first educational mission abroad. As I reflected upon my visits to Haiti and other destinations across the globe, my expectation was that NADOHE members would enthusiastically sign up for a trip that was, of course, educational, but was to a country where the historical context of diversity might provide a unique learning opportunity. South Africa surfaced early in our discussions. Deepening our understanding of pre- and post-apartheid and how a nation struggles with transforming racial and power dynamics sparked an interest in those of us who had visited the country. We were yearning for a second or third visit to measure progress against our expectations and hopes. This possibility also garnered excitement among would-be first time travelers to this unique country. It certainly was high up on my personal list of destinations.

But, in early 2015, negotiations in Washington and Havana began to point toward a significant shift in the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Increased travel to the island shed light on broad stereotypes and revealed a nation undergoing a slow, but steady transformation. Although clearly a country committed to the structure of socialism, there was a growing number of private businesses. In addition, there was an expansion of US visitors, beyond the traditional religious and volunteer service organizations, creating exciting educational and cultural exchange opportunities. The NADOHE Board had two CDOs who had recently visited the island on a formal educational visit organized by Dr. Siri Brown.


XX, 138
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 138 pp., 10 color ill.

Biographical notes

Venessa Ann Brown (Volume editor) Menah Pratt-Clarke (Volume editor)

Venessa A. Brown received her PhD from Clark Atlanta University. She is Associate Chancellor for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion; Chief Diversity Officer; and Professor of Social Work at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Menah Pratt-Clarke received her PhD and her JD from Vanderbilt University. She is Vice President for Strategic Affairs; Vice Provost for Inclusion and Diversity; and Professor of Education at Virginia Tech.


Title: A Promising Reality
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