Series to Explore Changes in Religion as Cuban Politics Evolve
West Shore Community College continues its Humankind Series focusing on Cuba with a presentation by Cuban-American Silvia Pedraza on Oct.1, at 7 p.m., at the Ludington Public Library. Pedraza will trace the changes in the relationship between church and state during the 60 years of the Cuban revolution,
“Pedraza has a fascinating history for us, and it begins with her own story,” says Dean of Arts & Sciences Brooke Portmann.
Born in Cuba, Pedraza left the island with her family when she was 12. Soon after Castro took over, her parents concluded they could no longer live the life they wanted for themselves in Cuba, nor was it one they wanted for their child. Like other Cuban parents, Silvia’s feared she would be taken from them and sent to Soviet Russia to be educated.
Pedraza attended a Quaker high school in Maine after arriving in the U.S., and she left the East Coast for college where she pursued sociology and especially immigration. She earned her undergraduate degree and her master’s at the University of Michigan. Then after earning a doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago, Pedraza returned in 1988, to the University of Michigan, this time as a member of the faculty, where she continues today.
Pedraza’s writing and teaching focuses on the immigrant experience. She has written a book about the four waves of exodus out of Cuba from 1959-2004.
“It’s fascinating to hear why some people, from the same family, left Cuba and others did not. Or they did, but only after other kinds of changes, not to their liking, in Cuba. It is much like the stories so many of us have about our families taking different routes from each other over a single generation and over multiple generations,” says Portmann.
At the start of the revolution, Catholicism had the largest community of believers among Cubans. But, Portmann pointed out, “There were other religions as well in Cuba. There was a small but thriving Jewish community. And there were multiple ‘small and vibrant,’ as Pedraza describes them, Protestant communities. Many supported the revolution under Castro, including the Catholic Church. Early on the revolution was undertaken to restore political democracy.
But then Castro’s revolution took a communist turn.
“Pedraza’s work highlights that it was at this point in time that Cuba became officially an atheist nation. There were enormous changes for the practice of religion. As Pedraza will explore, for some 30 years few Cubans practiced religious faith. The negative costs to them could be severe. As she will also explain and her slides will show, this is when ‘Santería’ emerged, a practice that combines Catholic and West African beliefs. It continues to be popular today.”
“Pedraza will unfold for us another layer of the Cuban story that most of us haven’t had a chance to hear. That’s why this particular presentation will be so interesting,” Portmann noted.
WSCC’s Humankind series will hold more events in October:
An exhibit of political as well as film posters will open on Oct. 10, in the Manierre Dawson Gallery, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., and evenings when there are performances in the Arts & Sciences Center.
On Oct. 15, “Before Night Falls,” the award-winning movie about Cuban writer and playwright Reinaldo Arenas, played by Javier Bardem, will be shown at Vogue Theatre in Manistee with a discussion following. Refreshments will start at 6 p.m. and the movie will begin at 7 p.m.
The exploration of life in current Cuba will continue on Oct 30, at 7 p.m., in WSCC’s Center Stage Theater, with “Artists & Culture in Today’s Cuba.” Political scientist Yvon Grenier will discuss how Cubans have been able to speak and express themselves more freely since the departure of both Fidel and Raúl Castro.
All Humankind Series presentations are free and open to the public. For more information about the series, contact Brooke Portmann, 231-843-5866, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out humankindWSCC.org and facebook.com/humankindWSCC.