This semester, I learned a lot of things. I learned Rene Descartes never actually said “I think therefore I am.” I learned about Ibsen, Chekhov and Shaw’s influence on modern drama. I learned Cuban streets are paved with Massachusetts stones. I learned about anti-discrimination lawsuits against straight players on a gay softball team. Most importantly, however, I learned politics is really hard. The line between good and evil is not a line at all, but a vague, shapeless form that stretches and moves situationally. In learning about Cuban politics, I learned so much about my place in the world and my outlook on the world.
Growing up, I had very black and white beliefs. One of them was that America could do no wrong, and another was that Fidel Castro was a bad man. Taking this class, I was shocked to learn just how nuanced and complicated the issue is. I didn’t understand the trade embargo, I had no idea about the Platt Amendment or the Helms-Burton Act, and I had never consider the positive aspects of socialism. Simply put, I had way oversimplified Cuban-American relations in my mind. In preparing for my physical journey and traveling to Cuba, I took a kind of mental journey as well. I began to understand that they world doesn’t exist in blacks and whites, but many shades of grey.
What was most startling to me is the universal healthcare Cubans enjoy, and the quality of their preventative care. Though the medical supplies aren’t always easily or cheaply accessible, they still have a fundamental right that is denied to Americans by their legislators. When Richard Nixon refused to say the word “AIDS,” Fidel Castro was asking Cuban doctors to begin researching a cure. However, Castro then quarantined all infected individuals, effectively imprisoning them. Did he handle the situation appropriately? Moreso than Nixon?
What about the United States’s continuous involvement in Cuban affairs even though they’re a sovereign nation? Until recently, Cuba has been on the US Terrorist Sponsor list, making it difficult for other nations to trade with Cuba without facing trouble with America. Do we have the right to exercise control over them, even if they’re violating human rights codes? Are we really the better nation in this circumstance?
These questions haunted me at night. I thought for weeks about whether Obama was correct in taking away Wet Foot/Dry Foot after lifting the embargo. I felt immensely guilty for needing a class to begin paying attention to one of our closest neighbors to the south. But most importantly, I was thinking about them. For the first time in my life, I considered that socialism might be a good model, if implemented differently. The United States was not the benevolent power I once thought they were. I was beginning to question my views of the world, and therein lies the true meaning of college and a liberal education.
Preparing for this trip has changed my life. I have no doubt the trip itself will be even more impactful, and I can’t wait to take the physical journey I’ve been mentally on since January.