Conversation with Dr. Silvia Pedraza, the new ASCE president.
By Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), has just updated its biannual presidency. After the 2018 Conference’s sessions, we were able to speak to University of Michigan professor Silvia Pedraza, the institution’s new president. The organization was founded in the United States 28 years ago.
HT: You have dedicated a large part of your professional career to immigration issues, being a Cuban by birth, you stress that it isn’t only the ASCE, but all institutions founded by Cubans outside their country over the past 60 years that are at an important crossroads, why?
SP: After so long, new generations of Cuban-Americans have appeared who are more American than Cuban, as they haven’t grown up or lived in Cuba. Therefore, they don’t carry Cuba in their hearts in the same way and they don’t really identify themselves with the island. This is threatening the very existence of the ASCE and many other institutions with similar origins.
HT: You wrote in the report you presented when you took on the presidency that this had to do with a common immigration phenomenon.
SP: We have two basic concepts: One presented in the ‘50s by Oscar Handlin, about the UPROOTED, which emphasizes that immigrants suffer a great deal when they lose their country, family, culture, history and live an alienated existence with great nostalgia. The other concept appears in John Bodnar’s book, in the ‘80s about the TRANSPLANTED, emphasizing that immigrants take root again when they found hybrid institutions which they are able to defend their culture through. These institutions are a combination of their birth culture and the new culture in which they are being reborn: newspapers, churches, businesses, bookstores, schools, professional organizations… We can see that these are gradually disappearing today.
HT: Now we are witnessing a new chapter in this long history, the wave of immigration seems to have stopped. People say the Cuban Adjustment Act has been revoked.
SP: President Johnson’s law signed in 1966 hasn’t been revoked. We had a very interesting session at the ASCE about this and we invited lawyers from three legal firms specializing in immigration law (Wilfredo O. Allen, Juliana Lamardo and Marisa Casablanca). The thing you can’t do now is enter illegally and apply for residency as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy has been revoked, which governed Cuban immigration after the Cuban rafter exodus in the summer of 1994.
HT: Even though it hasn’t been explicitly stated (which is normally the case in politics), Obama’s decision regarding Cuba was driven by political motives.
SP: Without writing it down in those words, I remember Obama saying: when people aren’t sure about their country’s internal system, they shouldn’t leave but stay and try to change the reality that surrounds them. However, Cubans are desperate, this is a situation that has endured throughout time and everyone has a loved one, a relative on this side of the Florida strait, there’s also the American dream, all of these factors come together and they want to come.
HT: Something else that differs from what used to happen decades ago is that the opposition today travel but they don’t stay, they are returning to their country.
SP: That’s true. Their commitment to Cuba and efforts to bring about change from the inside are admirable.
HT: I repeat, the majority of those who “escape” is counter-productive for those who try to encourage, organize and mobilize their fellow countrymen around a line of independent thought.
SP: The critical point is both here and there, although for different reasons. Some Catholic priests have told me that after several years of bringing a different community together, with their own way of thinking, these people suddenly leave and then they have to start all over again!
HT: Let’s get back to talking about your dear ASCE. Pablo Milanes sang, “time goes on, we are getting old.” How can we tackle this problem?
SP: Yesterday, I put forward my own suggestions: take a chance on our youth, expand our participation base, university degrees for future guests and the countries where they live, although of course, Cuba is and always will be our focus. Every one of us, in the US, can try to bring a new member to the meeting next year. If we do this, we will double the number of people who were here.
HT: In Cuba, such invitations are frowned upon by university and political authorities because our entire system is politicized. There are real tensions and preconceived ideological barriers.
SP: This isn’t a new challenge, but there are already many Cuban intellectuals and academics who do come and present their ideas, their research. There has never been impertinence or a lack of respect. I remember a few years ago that someone with a pro-Cuban government stance on the island didn’t accept our invitation because we invited others too, the dissidents. We replied that we invite everyone, from every point of view, to share and exchange with everyone and for the wellbeing of everyone. I don’t need to tell you who said that, do I?
HT: How can you remain an independent organization?
SP: I must admit, it’s easy to receive support from the US Department of State, government bodies with just a written request, but we prefer to self-finance our work and that’s why we have such limited resources. That’s also why we can tell everyone we invite that they are welcome without any kind of discrimination, because the program isn’t set by the Cuban government or its opposition, it’s set by the ASCE.
Vicente Morin Aguado: Mardeleva@gmail.com