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NMSU professor to share experiences about U.S.-Cuba relations

New Mexico State University Assistant Professor Alison Newby was in living in Cuba when President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations and opening an embassy in Havana, thawing a nearly half-century chill between the two countries.

NMSU Assistant Professor Alison Newby and her two children, Ayanna and Thomson, spent six months in Cuba last year. (Courtesy photo)

Downtown Havana (Courtesy photo)

Rumba players on Hamel Street in Cuba. (Courtesy photo)

?I hope that people will gain some knowledge about Cuban society and people, as opposed to just seeing the island as representing a political system that our country doesn?t agree with,? Newby said. ?Cuba is not at all like what most people believe.?

Newby will share her insights as part of the continuing College of Arts and Sciences? ?Global Connections? lecture series. Her talk, titled ?Sun, Sand, and Socialism: A Family?s Adventures in Cuba,? will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11, in the Gerald Thomas Hall Auditorium, Room 194.

An NMSU assistant professor of sociology, Newby spent six months living on the island conducting research on the developing private sector. Her two young children attended school in the country as well.

Newby has traveled to Cuba six times in the last 15 years. Her most recent visit led her to examine the Cuban government?s legalization of certain types of businesses residents can now start, and where the funding comes from.

?From a U.S. perspective, people would tend to think that the opening of private enterprise is the answer to Cuba?s problems,? said Newby, who is looking at the demographics of entrepreneurs. When you read it in the press, you think, ?Everything?s going to be good now.? But it?s a little more complex.?

?The most incredible thing was to be living in Cuba when three of the Cuban Five returned and the announcement was made that the U.S. and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic relations. It was so unexpected and many people were very emotional. Some are very optimistic, while others are more cautious about what changes may bring.?

During her presentation, Newby will not only discuss her research and experience, but also what she observed of Cuba?s education system. Her two children attended an elementary school she describes as very strict and competitive.

?It was especially interesting to see things through my kids? eyes. Kids have an incredible amount of freedom they don?t have here,? she said. ?It?s an urban environment. There are kids playing with friends in the street, going to the store by themselves, running errands. As a kid, that makes you feel important.?

Newby has previously published papers on the racial identification of Cubans, including the use of elemental mercury in Afro-Cuban religious practices.

She plans to show photos of her trip during the presentation.

The ?Global Connections? series features faculty members? trips around the world. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for members of the campus and surrounding community to listen and ask questions of NMSU professors about the kind of global first-hand experience they might otherwise never encounter.

Over the last two years, lectures have explored places such as Australia, Germany, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Columbia, Eastern Europe, the Falkland Islands, Ireland, Italy and Southeast Asia. All lectures are open to the public at no charge.