Hampshire College Cuba Exchange Program Marks 15th Anniversary with Eqbal Ahmad Lecture, Colloquium

This year’s Eqbal Ahmad lecture is titled “U.S.–Cuba Relations: Past, Present, and Future.” Speakers are former chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana Wayne Smith and the eminent historian and leading U.S. scholar of Cuba Louis A. Pérez, Jr. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held on Thursday, November 5, at 4 p.m. in the Robert Crown Center.

On Friday, November 6, the daylong colloquium “Cuba today: What will the United States encounter in Cuba in the 21st century?” will explore Hampshire’s longstanding ties with the island nation. There will also be tributes to Professor of Politics Carollee Bengelsdorf, who founded the Cuba program, and Professor of Film and Photography Jacqueline Hayden, who has been a key participant.

Since 2000, this exchange program has immersed Hampshire students in Cuban culture, connecting them with the creative community through ties with the Cuban Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC) and housing them with Cuban families. Students attend classes and complete independent projects while being tutored by Cuban professionals in their fields of interest. In return, the program brings Cuban artists and writers to Hampshire through the Visiting Cuban Scholars program.

“The Cuba program was kind of a people-to-people effort to go beneath the blockade and establish a relationship,” says Professor of Sociology Margaret Cerullo, an organizer of the Eqbal Ahmad lecture, who has long been involved with the Cuba program. “It’s always been a solidarity project, and unique among programs in that our students are paired with Cuban tutors and live with Cuban families, so they see what daily life is like and meet Cuban kids their own age.”

The annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture honors the teaching, scholarship, and activism of the late Eqbal Ahmad, a longtime Hampshire College professor and internationally renowned scholar, writer, and political analyst. For almost two decades, Professor Ahmad's colleagues, students, and loved ones from around the globe have joined to make the series a celebration of his life and work.

Event speaker Wayne Smith was in the U.S. embassy in Havana when the Cuban Revolution took power in 1959 and remained until it was closed in 1961. One of the State Department's foremost experts on Cuba, in 1977 President Carter appointed him first chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Author of The Closest of Enemies: A Personal and Diplomatic History of the Castro Years, he has worked unsparingly and intensively to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. Smith was head of the Latin America Rights & Cuba Project at the Center for International Policy from 1992 to 2015, and is currently retired.

The event’s other speaker is Louis A. Pérez, Jr., one of the most eminent historians of U.S.-Cuban relations. His work has focused on the tangled web of associations and interactions as they have evolved through the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the author of numerous books, the latest of which is his most recent, The Structure of Cuban History: Meanings and Purpose of the Past. Dr. Pérez is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and Director at the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Retiring Hampshire faculty Carollee Bengelsdorf and Jacqueline Hayden will be honored at colloquium events the next day:

  • A morning session with Eduardo Hernandez, the Cuban graphic artist and photographer; and Jaime Rodriguez, the chief architect in charge of the restoration of Old Havana. They will address Professor Hayden’s work in Cuba and her collaborations with Cuban artists.
  • An afternoon session focusing on Professor Bengelsdorf’s work on women in Cuba and the problem of democracy during the revolution.
  • Individual sessions with Professor Pérez; the artist Yillian Torres; the essayist, cultural critic, and Cuba program cofounder Alfredo Prieto; the novelist and literary critic Maggie Mateo; Smith College Professor of Economics Andrew Zimbalist; the feminist journalist Mirta Rodríguez Calderón; and the feminist film critic Danae Dieguez.


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