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Picture courtesy of Dr. Victor M. Rodriguez, Professor in the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach

CSULB Department of Chicano and Latino Studies (CHLS) Professor, Victor M. Rodriguez Ph.D., has the Caribbean in his blood. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he graduated with a major in history from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, then went on to earn a graduate degree from Louisiana State University and doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, all focused on the Hispanic Caribbean of Spanish-speaking Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

“I began to organize trips to the Caribbean the year I began at CSULB,” Rodriguez said. “The first trip was to Puerto Rico in the summer of 2001, with only seven students. In 2002, we joined a people-to-people trip to Cuba that travelled from Puerto Rico.”

After a series of trips through-out the Hispanic Caribbean from 2006 to 2010, Rodriguez had to forego Cuba as a result of the federal government’s restrictive travel measures. Throughout this time he worked to cultivate a relationship with the Cuban Institute of Philosophy, a member of the Cuban National Academy of Sciences responsible for granting academic visas for travel and in 2012, he organized CSULB’s first trip under the sponsorship of the Institute.

“Working with Claire Martin and Bonnie Gasior from the Spanish Department, we recruited 33 students from both the CHLS and Spanish departments, and four faculty and staff volunteers,” he said. “The trip was a success. It coincided with the visit of Pope Benedict and the experience motivated us to begin organizing another trip.”

In March, 34 participants which included a large number of faculty, left for a 9-day short-term study abroad program to Cuba. The course, CHLS 430: Latino Transnational Experience in the Caribbean: Cuba, examined the history of the interaction of Cuba with the United States and included workshops, lectures, and trips to art museums, local political organizations, a famous medical school, and historical sites.

“There is no other society like Cuba that has been cut from relationships with the U.S. and has developed a very vast healthcare system, free education from elementary to medical school, and at the same time faced the challenges of a poor society,” Rodriguez added. “Changes will take a while to develop, but we are poised to experience social change in a very intriguing way.”

In the future with the support of CCPE, as well as the benefit of the new study abroad scholarships from the partnership between the Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) and CCPE, Rodriguez envisions semester-long study abroad programs to Cuba.

“A [University of Charleston] semester program enables students to stay in Cuban homes, travel on their own, and explore much more of Cuba than we are able in nine days. The student consensus is that this should be a goal for CSULB.”

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