EMDS Goes to Cuba: Discovering “Chino”

USF ID

Jazlynn Pastor
Communication Studies Major
Public Service and Community Engagement Minor
Asian Pacific American Studies Minor

Named after the University of San Francisco’s late and great Esther Madriz, Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) living-learning community focuses on Hip-Hop and its use for social change. To me, being in EMDS means learning how to become a better activist through our own strengths and passions. A part of our experience includes going on a transborder travel experience during winter intersession.

This year, our Cohort, EMDS’ 10th Cohort, traveled to Cuba — with support from the Leo T. McCarthy Center — to meet with different community resources and builders in the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba. We learned about Cuba’s social problems and how the people are working together to create solutions. We also reflected on how we can apply what have learned back home. The best way to describe my Cuban experience is through the words of our tour guide from a community organization called Muraleando: “See what happens when you look deeper into a community?”

My most meaningful takeaway from our trip to Cuba was being able to find my Asian identity within a Latin country. Our main tour guide, Sara Daisey, said there was an Asian population but I did not see it until my cohort and I went deeper into the communities. As we met with different centers and escaped the tourism, I finally saw the Cuban “Chino” narrative. I saw the art of Cuban artists like Wildredo Lam, passed by Havana’s Chinatown, heard the Chinese trumpets in the congo music, read names like “Sebastian Herrera Chan,” and of course, met some of Cuba’s Afro-Chinos. My favorite moment was a community party hosted by Committees for the Defense of Revolution.

That night, EMDS met people of all ages and complexions. As we danced to son, the heart and music of Cuba, an elderly gentleman started to dance with me. We did not need language to communicate but instead, we did what I do and love best, dance. Like an abuelo (grandfather) teaching his nieta (granddaughter) how to salsa, we shared a moment that did not require us to speak.

After my salsa lesson, EMDS’ Advocate for Community Engagement, Mary, helped translate the gentleman’s words. He shared how I was the first person he danced with that night and how he is the eldest member of the community being 99 years old. I learned that his name was Miguel, and he learned that my name was Jazlynn. Curious to why he had chosen me to be his first dance partner, he simply touched my eyes and said “camarada,” meaning comrade in Spanish. From that experience with Miguel, I discovered and embraced what it meant to be a Chino in Cuba. What “Chino” means in the US does not compare to what it means in Cuba. Here in the US, it is a derogatory term that carries a painful history, but there in Cuba, it is an identifier and something to be proud of.

After a couple more salsa lessons, I had to say goodbye to my new compañero (friend). He concluded our farewell by saying, “do not forget this place, and do not forget me.” I intend to keep my promise to Miguel and overall to the members of the API community, by continuing my work in social justice and pursuing my studies Asian Pacific American Studies and Public Service and Community Engagement.

By “crossing borders and discovering home” in Cuba, I am able to continue my step towards change by telling others: “See what happens when you look deeper into a community.”

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