The Afro-Cuban Reality

June 8-15, 2018


Sponsored by Virginia Tech

In collaboration with

The Center for the Study of Cuban Culture + Economy

Scope & Purpose:

To provide an overview of contemporary economic and social changes in Cuba, particularly as they pertain to Afro-Cubans.



At least one lecture by Dr. Scarpaci delivered in person or online to provide background on contemporary economic and social changes in Cuba. A detailed reading list will be provided in advance that draws on the work of 20th century social anthropologist Fernando Ortíz, and contemporary writings on race and literature by Harvard Professor Alejandro de la Fuente.


Day 1

Depart from Charlotte-Douglass International Airport, TBD, non-stop, to Havana. Transfer to B+B accommodations in Old Havana where the group will be allocated to rooms within a two-block area of each other. Lunch at Los Nardos private restaurant, operated by the Austurian Society of Cuba. Later, a walking tour of Old Havana by Dr. Scarpaci. Dinner at leisure.


Day 2

Optional gentle yoga, 7 a.m.

Visit the Bamboo Center to understand their business model and the challenges and opportunities its co-owner, Carlos Martínez, confronts as an Afro-Chinese Cuban entrepreneur. Lunch at leisure in Havana’s “Chinatown,” which is where Martínez’ bamboo showroom and production facility are located.

Afternoon lecture by a leading author, social commentary, and literary clinic, Dr. Tomás Robaina. Visit to Afro-Cuban Musical Workshop for a hands-on lecture and performance on the island’s various musical genres: guaguancó, rumba, son, cha-cha-cha, salsa, merengue, and bolero.

Afternoon and evening at leisure.


Day 3

Visit to Matanzas city, with an early stop at an organic gardening cooperative in eastern Havana. Onward to Matanzas for a walking tour of the historic center. Lunch at the Methodist Seminary followed by a brief lecture about religious training and expression in Cuba. Next, a private concert by the Matanzas Choir, with an emphasis on the influence of 19th-century Baptist and Methodist church music brought by North American and British entrepreneurs and missionaries, who melded their music with Afro-Cubans and U.S.-inspired Gospel music

Return to Havana with a stop at Jibacoa Beach for a swim and a brief service-learning project consisting of picking up litter or other post-Hurricane Irma efforts.

Arrive back at Havana around 6:30 PM. Group dinner at private restaurant.


Day 4

Optional gentle yoga, 7 a.m.

Visit to U.S. Embassy for a briefing on U.S.-Cuban foreign relations. Then, off to a neighborhood ‘workshop’ called the Integrated Neighborhood Workshop, and quasi-nongovernmental organizations tethered to Cerro county government. They will discuss their community outreach programs in the area of teen engagement, environmental and waste issues, employment, senior-citizen programs, and related efforts. Situated in the neighborhood of Atarés, the once working-class Afro-Cuban neighborhood of longshoremen and fishermen is facing challenges as Havana Bay port activities become increasingly mechanized, and containerization of off-shore/on-shore activities get transferred to modern port of Mariel, some 60 miles west of Havana.

Lunch at travelers’ expense at local restaurant recommended by the Atarés workshop.

Afternoon visit to the Santería Museum back in Old Havana.

Lecture by Mayra Pérez, long-time Cuban Foreign Service staff member stationed in Washington D.C.

Balance of afternoon and evening free, with optional walking tour (Part II) of Old Havana with Dr. Scarpaci


Day 5

Travel west to Viñales in Pinar del Río, the prime tobacco-growing district of the island. First stop will be at the Soroa Botanical Garden for a brief tour of this exceptional plant/botanical collection. Onward to Viñales for an exquisite lunch at an organic restaurant that has a breath-taking view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Valley of Viñales.

After lunch, a visit to a tobacco farm to understand the stages of tobacco production, rolling, preservation, and marketing in Cuba and overseas.

Return to Havana 7:30 PM. Evening at leisure.


Day 6

Optional gentle yoga, 7:30 a.m.

Ten a.m. visit to the fine-arts museum with a guided tour by an English-speaking docent who will lecture on Afro-Cuban expression and production in the 20th century Cuban art scene.

Noon lecture by Professor Ricardo Torres on the changing Cuban economic model.

Lunch at leisure.

Walk to the Vicariate of Santiago to hear about their entrepreneur training program (Carlos Martínez, our bamboo friend, is a graduate).  Continue on to the Rum Museum to understand who the history of sugar, slavery, molasses and rum production were part and partial to the island’s social and economic history (even though today sugar is relatively insignificant).

Afternoon visit to the San José Art Market with an architectural and urban design walking lecture along the way.

Evening farewell dinner at local private restaurant.


Day 7

Return late morning to Charlotte, non-stop on American Airlines (exact flight schedule TBA).