By Kim Burgess / Journal Staff Writer
Monday, May 9th, 2016 at 12:02am
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A few days after President Barack Obama’s historic March visit to Cuba, a group of Albuquerque high school students also made a trek to the island nation long closed to the U.S.
It was an eye-opening experience for the 11 teens, who got a glimpse of Cubans’ daily lives through visits to a medical school, mechanic’s shop and artist studio during the March 24 to April 1 trip organized by New Mexico Human Rights Projects.
They also took in cultural sights like Ernest Hemingway’s home; the Old Havana arts and crafts market; Museum of the Revolution; and the Christopher Colon Cemetery, one of the oldest in Latin America.
“The way of life there was really memorable,” said Daniel Gugliotta, a Manzano High School senior. “The way people live in the communities and the landscapes, the old cars – it’s really something I had never seen before. There is nowhere else like it.”
Gugliotta read about Cuban history before the trip to get perspective on the incredible transition the country is experiencing as the United States eases travel restrictions.
Under the new rules, announced March 15 by the Obama administration, educational groups can tour independently around Cuba if they have a full itinerary of activities that “result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba,” according to a news release from the U.S. Office of Public Affairs. Commercial air service from Miami to Cuba was also reinstated, though currently the only available flights are charters.
Amali Gordon-Buxbaum, a Sandia Preparatory School junior, said she felt very lucky to be one of the first New Mexicans to take advantage of the changes.
A veteran traveler who has visited Israel, Ecuador, Benin, Vietnam and Egypt, Gordon-Buxbaum went to Cuba from Mexico in 2003 with her family but can’t remember much of it.
“I was only 3 then,” she said. “I should have taken pictures from that trip to see if we went to any of the same places.”
The budding journalist particularly enjoyed watching children paint at a cultural arts center and was generally impressed by the Cubans’ friendliness to Americans.
Regina Turner, founder and executive director of New Mexico Human Rights Projects, agreed that the country seems eager to open up to new opportunities.
She recalled meeting a 16 year-old Cuban girl who dreams about studying in the United States.
“It is the younger generation, the ages of the students we took on the trip, who want the changes and who will be involved in the changes,” said Turner, one of five chaperones who went on the trip.
“They all have smartphones – you can see them hanging out across the street from the tourist hotels so they can connect to Wi-Fi. On the Internet, they see what’s happening in the rest of the world and they want it, too.”
Link to the story: http://www.abqjournal.com/770642/duke-city-highschoolers-tour-cuba.html