It wasn’t at a fancy Calle Ocho hangout or even at a Cuban restaurant that the ten travelers on Cuba One Foundation’s next voyage met. It was at the childhood home of poet Richard Blanco, one of the guides who will be leading the literary trip to Cuba alongside anthropologist and writer Ruth Baher.
The participants, all Cuba-American storytellers of some kind, came to the Westchester home where Blanco grew up to meet each other before leaving early Wednesday morning on a five-day birthright trip to the island. The packed itinerary includes a meeting with "Cuba’s Maya Angelou," poet Nancy Morejón, and a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home, among other activities meant to explore the island's creative world with a focus on literature.
In the tidy home, the drinks were flowing and the Cuban music was floating from the glass doors of the Florida room out to the yard, where it was met by Spanglish and laughter. But the appetizers were anything but traditional.
Read more: Personal Essay: A Cuban's First Time in Cuba
Cuba One organizers are making some of the dishes Blanco enjoyed as a child, which he wrote about in his memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos.
Trip leader Lili Ashman was at the stove, making a pot-full of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (which she would later add lechón--pork--to, just as Blanco's grandmother did).
“As someone who was stranded between being American and Cuban, he [Blanco] wanted to be eating the American foods that his best friends in school were eating, like Easy Cheese and Easy Mac and Pop Tarts," Ashman explained as she poured the milk onto the moist elbow pasta.
The ten travelers did get to enjoy some authentic Cuban cuisine and most gobbled it up, some after enduring a nervousness-induced fast throughout the day.
“I didn’t have breakfast ... I’ve just been a nervous wreck," said Michael Ruiz-Unger, a 31-year-old filmmaker and comic book writer from Miami.
Also on the trip but feeling more excited is Alex Fumero, who works in New York City doing creative development for HBO. He said he wants to connect with Cuban artists in the way his non-Cuban peers have been able to, and see what creative projects can come from that.
“Doing what I do for a living, I hear a lot of not-Cuban people say, ‘I’m going to Cuba! I’m doing this, I’m shooting that," he said, "And those of us who are Cuban-Americans are going to be left on the sidelines without relationships and an inability to tell our own story if we don’t start forging relationships with artists there.”