October 2012


This winter, Associate Professor Alex Saragoza of UC Berkeley will return to OLLI @Berkeley to teach a course describing the economic and social aspects of post-Castro Cuba and their impacts on both Cuba and the United States.

Dr. Saragoza says: "What we will be doing in this course is basically raising the questions: What are the reasons? What are the consequences? What are the implications of the relationship between Cuba and the United States? Why do we still have an embargo despite the fact that we have diplomatic and economic relations with many countries with authoritarian regimes?"

Besides his University and OLLI classes, Professor Saragoza has led a group tour to the island with OLLI. He was a main consultant to Paradigm Productions for a two-hour documentary for PBS on the Mexican Revolution and has been a panelist on ABC News. He is a member of the system-wide UC-Cuba Initiative and of Berkeley's Cuba Working Group. Dr. Saragoza is researching the tourist industry in Mexico and Cuba and coediting a volume on tourism.

Professor Saragoza says that he grew up in a migrant worker family and graduated from Fresno State College. "I was inspired by the Sidney Poitier movie To Sir with Love and that idealism brought me to the Graduate School of Education at Harvard and my Master's paper was on the impact of the Mexican revolution on the educational system in the Caribbean islands. Then I went back to my undergraduate major, which was history, and went to study under a great Mexican historian, Ramon Ruiz at the University of California, San Diego." It was there that he obtained his Ph.D. in Latin American History with a specialty in Mexico and Cuba.

The course will begin with a thorough discussion of the 1959 revolution in its historical context. The class will then study the tremendous changes in Cuba today and what they will mean for Cuban society and culture. Of particular interest is the government's change in economic policy, a concerted effort to privatize the economy, such as by seeking to reduce the proportion of governmental workers from upwards of eighty percent to less than sixty percent. He states that a major source of private employment will obviously be a growing tourist industry where many Cubans are going to develop independent entrepreneurial opportunities, businesses and enterprises generating money to be spent in the private sector where ownership of private property will now be allowed.

The course will pay a great deal of attention to questions of racism in Cuba which is still a factor in social life which the Government has tried to eliminate since the revolution. The class will discuss the cultural implication of the government attempts to develop a "Cultural Project" to redefine notions of what it was to be Cuban, or "Cubanidad," consisting of radio, TV, music, and dance and to what extent it has been successful. Also Regionalism, as there are areas where despite its small size, there are economic variants as well as differences in the situation of women on the island.

Another aspect of the course will be Cuban music and dance including the resurgence of the famous Buena Vista Social Club and its music in Havana which promises to be an intriguing aspect of the class.