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UM professor and daughter of Cuban exiles on new policy toward Cuba

Jan 19, 2015

President Obama’s decision last month to overhaul our policy towards Cuba has pushed our Caribbean neighbor to the forefront of our attention.

Ruth Behar is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and the daughter of Cuban exiles. She was born in Cuba and her family left in the 1960s. Behar has recently published pieces in the Washington Post and Huffington Post about what President Obama's decision means to her and her family, and what to expect when traveling to the country.

Behar's parents have not visited Cuba since leaving almost fifty years ago and they share different outlooks on the decision to re-establish diplomatic ties. Her father refuses to visit until the Castro family is out of power. While her mother is more sentimental, but is afraid if she were to return it wouldn't be the Cuba she remembers.

Cuba has been the center of elaborate fantasies of leisure for many Americans. It is often seen as a place stuck in time, free from Westernization. Behar says these perceptions aren't exactly true. Cuba is a place of complexities and like anywhere it has gone through many changes since the embargo was first enacted.

While Cuba lacks many of the chain restaurants and mega resorts we're used to, Behar says it isn't completely free of Westernization either. She cites a friend who goes through many obstacles to get a few hours on the web with a dial-up connection. This time is used to see what's on sale at Target and update Facebook. 

While Behar's parents are divided about the decision to re-establish diplomatic ties Behar herself says, "If it is going to be the best for the Cuban people then it's the thing to do."