BY LEE ANN SANDWEISS
‘As the plane approached the runway, I saw the royal palm trees—the national tree of Cuba—that dot the landscape. I remember, as a child, going on road trips through the countryside and being mesmerized by the beautiful trees that seemingly appeared every- where. The day was bright, hot, and humid—just as I remembered. I walked into the terminal at the José Marti Airport in utter disbelief —it had been 50 years since I last touched Cuban ground.’ —Gerardo Gonzalez
Last May, the Indiana University Alumni Association (IUAA) made Gerardo Gonzalez, Ph.D., an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“They called and asked me if I would be interested in taking a group to Cuba. I didn’t hesitate,” he says. After half a century, Gonzalez, 61, dean of the Indiana University School of Education, was going back to the country he had left as a boy.
In 1962 young Gerardo, his parents, and his little sister Maritza, penniless and with little more than the clothes they were wearing, fled Fidel Castro’s repressive communist regime in hope of finding a better life. They were among the last in Cuba to receive immigration visas and enter the United States as political refugees.
Now he would be going back. “The IUAA had been granted a special people-to-people license by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to offer educational trips to Cuba,” says Gonzalez. “This was made possible by the Obama administration’s broadening outreach efforts to Cuba. Licenses are now granted for purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel. The stated purpose of our visit was to study the culture, people, and arts of Cuba.”
While IUAA-sponsored tours are always led by professional guides, Gonzalez’s presence was an unexpected bonus for the 16 IU alumni on the trip.
“The group appreciated having someone fluent in the language and familiar with the culture,” he says. “They also realized it was an emotional trip for me.”
Gerardo Gonzalez had a some fun singing “La Bamba” while visiting Cuba. And it was caught on video.