Labrador-Rodriguez sparks dialogue on future US-Cuban relations within New College

In Ybor City, the historic factory where Jose Marti gave a speech known as “Con Todos, y para el Bien de Todos”  (“with all and for the good of all” in english) to cigar workers has been transformed into a church of Scientology. But that won’t stop Sonia Labrador Rodriguez from creating a dialogue with the community about the historical importance of Cuban-Americans in our own backyard and the future of Cuban-American relations.

Labrador-Rodriguez’s tutorial at New College is part of a larger traveling exhibition which has appeared so far at the Selby Public Library, the Manatee County Public Library and State College of Florida’s library. It is scheduled to appear at the Jane Bancroft Library at New College of Florida on April 25.

The exhibition was funded by the Cubano American Community Project through a Florida Humanities Council Grant. It features bilingual posters discussing the role of the establishment of the Cuban cigar industry of Ybor City, and the future of U.S.-Cuban relations. The tutorial at New College of Florida was a piece of this exhibition designed to teach students about the history, but also to inspire them to think about these issues in this harsh political climate.

“I thought New College could play an important role in bringing the community together to talk about these ideas and I wanted to combine knowledge from New College classes with this subject,” Labrador-Rodriguez said.

In the tutorial, 11 students spent the first half of the semester learning about the history of Cuban American influence in Tampa and the Cuban diaspora over time in Tampa.

“I briefly described the early phases of the Cuban migration but I focused on the post 1959 Cuban exodus in Tampa and particularly Ybor City, which is the most significant in terms of numbers. I’ll try and explain some of the similarities and differences in some of the various waves of Cuban emigration, and then finally I was asked to talk about changes in post-war Cuba especially the opening of relationships in the summer of 2015,” Jorge Duany, director of Cuban Research and Anthropology professor at Florida International University (FIU) who was a guest speaker in the tutorial and the exhibition, said.

In the second half of the semester, students created an activity that could act as a follow up to the exhibition in the library, including drawings for children to color and a puppet show on the subject which they premiered at the New College Child Care center.

“The fact that we would eventually be able to go out and take the information that we learned and go out and present it to people was really cool. We actually went and did the puppet show at the Child Care center towards the end of last semester, which was really cool, everyone liked it,” second-year Paola Baez-Parez said.

At the end of the tutorial students visited Ybor City, and the Cuban cigar factory where Jose Marti gave his famous speech.

“And then we visited the cigar factory,” second-year Camila Vallejo said.

“The original cigar factory, but now it’s a scientology church thing. So we were on the steps taking a picture where Jose Marti was and the people from the church were like, ‘oh you guys wanna come in?’ And we were like ‘No don’t talk to us.’”

“Yeah, but that was nice. And we saw the houses of the cigar factory workers and we visited one of the houses of the cigar factory workers and it was exactly the same and it was amazing,” Vallejo said.

The posters, which Labrador said were the hardest part of the project, are bilingual and cover the story of Cubans in Ybor City and West Tampa. The exhibition ends with five profiles of local Cuban-Americans, including a horticulturist at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and an Afro-Cuban business owner based in Bradenton, ” the Herald Tribune said in an article about the exhibition written by New College student and Catalyst staff writer Cassandra “Cassie” Manz.

The article also goes into depth of the events surrounding the exhibition, such as a talk from from Jorge Duany on March 3 and a community party on April 29 when the exhibition comes home to New College which will feature a workshop on Afro-Cuban dance and a reading of poems by Jose Marti.

“We were happy to have the exhibit on [FIU] campus last weekend and we sponsored 45 panels from all over the world. I think that this will give this particular chapter of Cuban history a broader exposure. There are people that are eager to learn about this which is I think very interesting in itself,” Duany said.

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