Cuba comes to the U

Students, adults and children alike gathered to experience a taste of the tropics during “A Week of Cuban Culture.”

The annual festivities, hosted by the Federacion de Estudiantes Cubanos, or Federation of Cuban Students, embraced the vibrant rhythms, traditional foods, dances and diverse history of the Caribbean island.

“This week is FEC’s way of saturating the campus with our love and enthusiasm for our rich heritage while educating students about its every aspect,” Elena Smukler, event committee chair, said. “Whether it is through the flavor of our spices or the color of our arts, we want to leave a mark on the university community.”

FEC kicked off the celebration, expanded this year from three days to seven, with its opening ceremonies at the UC Rock, where the group honored several prominent Cuban-American leaders for their accomplishments and service within the community.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, NBC 6 anchor Jackie Nespral and artist Xavier Cortada were presented with the student organization’s Young Urban Cuban-American, or YUCA, award. Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, also an honoree, was unable to attend due to a death in the family.

Alvarez, who emigrated from Cuba when he was eight, emphasized the significance of holding on to one’s culture and praised FEC for its efforts to connect a younger generation of Cubans to their culture despite the difficulties.

“You should never forget your roots,” Alvarez said. “It’s easy for me. However, it’s more challenging for those of you who were born in this country.”

Nespral, the first Hispanic to anchor a network news program, echoed similar sentiments. She explained how as a young girl growing up in Miami, she questioned why her father would constantly correct her Spanish.

“It’s important to be both bilingual and bi-cultural,” Nespral said. “Now I know and try to pass that along to my children.”

This year’s theme “Connecting U to Our Culture,” also transformed the UC patio into a tropical carnival of exotic sights, sounds and flavors. Lines grew long, as FEC members served Cuban coffee, pork, yucca and other traditional cuisine, while other students participated in salsa dancing, caricature sketches and fortune telling.

“I think its great how I was able to be a little adventurous,” Emily McCollum, a sophomore, said. She held a plastic coconut in her hand and sipped on a nonalcoholic mojito. “It was interesting trying and learning new things.”

Young and old also gathered to watch an evening of entertainment from Grammy-Award winning recording artist Jorge Moreno.

“I wanted to see a vibrant part of the Cuban culture,” Sabrina Taldone, a freshman, said. “It’s amazing to be exposed to such a talented musician who celebrates his background.”

Moreno, who studied film at UM for a short time, shared the experience in the presence of his family who clapped and sang along with him.

“Vamos gente! [Come on everyone!],” Moreno said with a laugh as students formed a conga line and danced around the array of decorated tables.

However, FEC’s efforts for cultural promotion reached beyond the Coral Gables campus. At the Jose Marti Day of Service, FEC teamed up with other student organizations to provide a field day at Tropical Park for youth from Little Havana’s Abriendo Puertas Community Center. The UM students brought the Hurricane spirit to the center’s low-income children through activities, such as color wars, and encouraged them to consider pursuing a higher education in their own backyard.

“We [FEC] really went out of our way to make our events very personal,” JJ Flores, a freshman and FEC member, said. “It’s the little things that gave them that extra touch and work very well with our culture.”

Joanna Suarez may be contact at