Mercedes Mejia

The vast woods, rivers, and wildlife of Northern Michigan captured Hemingway’s heart and imagination early in life. 

“Michigan always represented a great source of freedom for Hemingway. Everything that he’s associated with – outdoorsmanship, hunting, fishing, that all came from his time in Northern Michigan,” says Chris Struble, president of the Michigan Hemingway Society.

Mercedes Mejia

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton and I were in Havana to cover the connections between Cuba and Michigan and opportunities for the future.

The Michigan Agribusiness Association has been wooing Cuban officials for years now, hoping to sell Michigan-grown produce in a new market.  

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba last month was a major milestone in the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana.

It was the first visit to Cuba by a sitting president in over 85 years.

This ongoing thaw has many people wondering what's ahead for the island and its people.

Mercedes Mejia

Gardenia Valdes Navarro greets visitors as they stroll through the streets of Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

She's wearing a colorful 18th century style dress and head piece and she let me take a picture of her, but usually people who work in this field appreciate a tip if you snap a photo of them.

“The dress represents a mix of African and Spanish culture, which is what we have here in Cuba," she said.

Valdes works for a division of the Cuban government called La Oficina del Historiador  (Office of the Historian).

Cuba, Pure Cuba, cars
Mercedes Mejia

All around Cuba, vintage American cars from the 40s and 50s are still in use, mainly because newer ones are hard to come by. The majority today are used as taxis.

Locals and visitors get around in the almendrones (almonds), as they are called because of their shape, and ride sharing is common.

Mercedes Mejia

Internet is being introduced in Cuba (slowly) and while people are rapidly embracing the technology, many still can’t afford it.

For about $2 per hour you can surf the web. It costs more at hotels. At the hotel Havana Libre, Wi-Fi use is $5 per hour.

Just in the past year the Cuban government allowed Wi-Fi zones in Havana, which can be found around a few parks and main business districts.  Locals sit on benches or sidewalks as they text, send email and use social media to communicate with friends and family.

The streets of Havana, Cuba in December of 2014.
Nina Hale / Flickr -

President Barack Obama made history today when he became the first U.S. president to visit the island nation of Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

It's seen as an important step toward normalizing relations between the two countries. Many Cuban Americans, like Felix Sharpe-Caballero, are following the developing relationship between the two countries very closely.

Sharpe-Caballero was born in Cuba and moved to Detroit when he was three years old after his father, who worked at the Guantanamo Naval Base, won political asylum and moved his family to the U.S.

In the decades since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, there has been wide gulf – literally and figuratively – between those who stayed in Cuba and those who left.

Ruth Behar was one of the latter. She is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. As an academic and a researcher, she was able to go back and forth to Cuba when so many others could not.

Twenty years ago, Behar edited Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba. It’s seen as a landmark anthology of Cuban voices, including the works of artists, writers and scholars on the island and in the diaspora.

DarkRoomIllusion / flickr

The Cuban Chamber of Commerce has chosen Troy, Michigan, as its third location and national headquarters.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dana McAllister says the choice was a natural fit because of affinities between Detroit and Havana, a significant presence of Cuban-Americans in Michigan, and support from the Oakland County government and city of Troy.


Michigan agriculture producers say it's time to lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

They say Cuba is an untapped market for Michigan's black beans, fruits, milk and other products.

Dave Armstrong is CEO of GreenStone Farm Credit.

"Foreign competitors like Canada, Brazil, the European Union and Argentina – which don't have such restrictions – are taking U.S. and Michigan market share," says Dave Armstrong, CEO of Greenstone Farm Credit.

Jim Byrum is President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

A sunset in Havana.
José Eduardo Deboni / Flickr

The United States took a major step toward establishing relations with Cuba after a deep freeze that has lasted over half a century.

A congressional delegation met yesterday with Cuban officials in Havana. Among the delegation was Michigan's senior senator, Debbie Stabenow, D-MI.

Ruth Behar in Cuba on the beach.
Ruth Behar

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.

Michigan’s agriculture industry may benefit from an opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced the U.S. would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. The decision is a step in the direction that may end with the lifting of a trade embargo with Cuba.  

There are still many steps before the embargo is lifted.  But people are already planning for that day.   

When President Obama announced last week that we would restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, it wasn’t that big a story in Michigan. For one thing, we were still waiting to see what our lame-duck legislature would do about the roads. And there aren’t many Cuban-Americans here.

The Cuban hip-hop group Obsesion is in Ann Arbor this week.

Alexey Rodriguez Mola and Magia Lopez Cabrera mix African and Cuban rhythms with hip-hop and world beats. They will perform on Thursday, October 6 at the Michigan League Underground.

Here’s a song titled Tu con tu ballet from their current album “El Disco Negro de Obsesion."

Rapper Magia Lopez says her Afro-Cuban culture is what inspires her.

“The hip-hop culture is very much rooted in the 'barrios,' and in Cuba the majority of people are black, although we have mixed races, so we talk a lot about race issues, what we see and our reality as Afro-Cubans," says Lopez.

DarkRoomIllusion / flickr

President Obama said earlier this month that he would lift many of the restrictions currently prohibiting many students from studying in Cuba.

The restrictions were established by the Bush administration in 2004. As a result, Michigan State University relocated programs based in Cuba to the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries.

Jeffery Riedinger is the Dean of International Programs at MSU. He says he looks forward to rebuilding the University’s programs in Cuba, but will need further guidelines from the Obama administration before moving forward.