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Reconnecting with Cuba, and Cubans, was a joy

Havana musiciansThis past weekend marked a milestone in Cuban-American relations as Alaska Airlines began the first regular commercial service from the West Coast to Cuba. I was deeply honored to be invited on the inaugural flight to Havana, where I was born. I’m still processing the trip, but wanted to share a few of my impressions with the UW community along with some photos from that beautiful city.

It was a whirlwind of a trip — just two days — but astounding to realize that Cuba, the country my parents fled and were never able to return to, is now just a 4Havana pedicab½-hour flight from Los Angeles. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to help build the connections that will surely grow between the city and country of my birth and Seattle and Washington state, which is now my home.

In just the short time our delegation was there, I got so much enjoyment and met with so many wonderful people. From Jeffrey DeLaurentis, U.S. Ambassador to Cuba; to Cuban civic and cultural leaders like music historian Rosa Marquetti, author of Desmemoriados; Victor Manuel Quijano Castiñeiras, founder of Cuban visual arts project “La Escalera” (the ladder); and David Camps, a recent fellow at UW School of Law through the Barer Institute for Law and Global Human Services, this trip was filled with moments of cross-cultural understanding, friendship and fun! And with the commencing of regular air travel between our countries, I know these relationships will only deepen.

The United Havana sunsetStates and its people have a vested interest in that transition — we can exert far greater influence through engagement with the Cuban people than through isolation, as the overtures to date clearly show. Important work is happening in Cuba in many fields, especially public health, and we have much to learn from each other. But for me, it’s ultimately all about the people, who were warm, welcoming, curious, and incredibly creative. What a joy to be together and I hope to be back for another visit soon.