By SANOE KAUHANE*
HAVANA TIMES, February 21 – Since the United States began its trade embargo with Cuba in 1962, the country has become a place of mystery to many U.S. citizens.
It is a country that has supplied the world with rich musical and artistic culture, and is full of people that welcome visitors who are interested in exploring Cuba’s present culture and historical traditions.
In December, a number of Hawaii Island residents traveled to Cuba to take part in the 50th Annual Cuban Revolution celebration on Jan. 1 in Havana, where local poets and musicians performed in front of hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents.
Local Hilo artist Ken Charon commented on his personal experience while visiting Cuba. He said: “The celebration was really popular — there were thousands and thousands of people there from all over the world, from Europe to America and beyond. We were very warmly welcomed; they made it clear that even though our governments are having problems they do not have any problems with us. They really welcomed us.”
Aside from taking part in the celebration, the group visited the Garabaldi Museum in Old Havana where the Office of History for the City of Havana conducts classes for 9 and 10 year olds. While at the school the group from Hawaii donated hundreds of colored pencils, pages of paper and art supplies and conducted an art session with a number of students.
Hilo artist Tomas Belsky participated in conducting the art lesson and described his experience in the classroom. Belsky said, “We had three days for activities at the school and the kids were just wonderful, the children piled up their artwork one by one on the teacher’s desk and we told them that we would do an art show in Hawaii with their work. They were completely thrilled.”
Charon also assisted in the lesson and created a live portrait of one of the students. Charon adds: “As soon as we handed out pencils and paper to them, they all they went straight to work creating drawings from their imaginations, as I started drawing one of the students in the front row. The kids were so excited that we were there. It was so cute to see that they draw the same things that kids in Hawaii would draw, like a sunset, clouds, trees and birds. It was such an amazing experience.”
Charon also visited a school in the Vinales Region [in far western Pinar del Rio Province], an area that was badly hit by hurricane Gustav this past summer. Although the school was temporarily closed for restoration Charon persisted on, determined to share good will from Hawaii.
He said: “I asked a few locals where I could find the Professora of the school and they pointed to an apartment where she lived, located behind the school. We contacted her and she came out to greet us with her son. I informally presented her with the supplies that we brought all the way from Hawaii and although I did not speak very good Spanish, we managed to converse and she gladly accepted them!”
Jesus Sanchez is the owner of a book restoration shop in downtown Hilo. He has been to Cuba countless times and initially led the Hawaii group’s expedition to Cuba. While in Havana, Sanchez created another gift to offer by effortlessly binding a book that included pages of creative works from local Hawaii artists. The book was later presented by Belsky to the director of the Historical Library Museum in Havana. Sanchez said: “The director looked over each page and gave great comments on each page. This was the only book of its kind and was one of the newest books to be given to the museum, as many of the books within the library are very old. Overall our book was warmly welcomed by the museum and its director.”
The group also visited a lush community garden where they drew ideas and inspirations to bring back to Hawaii. Belsky found a direct correlation between Cuba and Hawaii: “Because of the embargo, they used the community garden as a way to sustain life within the community.
They formed these beautiful community gardens which supply enough produce for the area. As Hawaii currently ships in nearly all of its produce, we could really learn some great agricultural practices from these gardens; they are so organized and sustainable.”
By enthralling themselves in the cultural history of Cuba, these Hawaii Island residents saw firsthand what this country is really about. Aside from having a different form of government, Cuba is just an island in the middle of the ocean, with warm people and a rich culture that is strongly persisting into the future.
Ka Huina Gallery will be featuring an exhibit on Feb. 28 that will showcase art that was created by the students of the school within the Garibaldi Museum, as well as new art pieces by local artists that were inspired by their exploration to Cuba. For more information you can contact the gallery at 935-4420.
*This article was first published on Feb. 18 by the Big Island Weekly www.bigislandweekly.com under the title: Art brings U.S. citizens, Cubans together. Havana Times was granted permission to reprint it for our readers.