10 Questions with John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco, PhD

1. For readers too young to even remember breaking off relations with Cuba. Can you give a brief explanation as to why America decided to sever diplomatic ties with Cuba and put in place the trade and travel embargo?

The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 because Washington was suspicious of Fidel Castro and feared that Cuba would become a communist nation. This was the period of the Cold War, when U.S. leaders and the general public were consumed with curbing the power of the Soviet Union, especially in the Americas. While initially Cuba was not communist, the nation opened trade deals with the U.S.S.R. and refused to bow to U.S. commercial demands and political expectations. President Eisenhower approved a CIA plan to remove Castro from power in what would become the Bay of Pigs in April of that year. Tensions mounted and U.S.-Cuban ties were cut.

2. After that, what have relations been like between the United States and Cuba?

Overall they have been rocky, at least in official terms. The October Missile Crisis in 1962 revealed that U.S.-Cuban animosity could escalate to near world war. The CIA continued attempted assassinations of Fidel Castro. By the late 1960s, there was a cool dynamic of non-communication and non-interaction. President Jimmy Carter attempted some form of reconciliation, but in the end this failed. There has been a steady stream of Cubans immigrating to the United States, to the degree that nearly 2 million Latinos claim Cuban heritage today. There also has been a history of Americans traveling to Cuba in defiance of the embargo for humanitarian, academic, or political reasons. Part of what my upcoming book shows is that Cuba was a resource-rich nation for Left politics in the United States during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Cuba – Photo – John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco
3. You traveled to Cuba multiple times as an academic while the trade and travel embargo were in place. What was that like?

It was interesting and fulfilling in so many ways. Without proper relations in place, things become much more difficult for Americans. Remember that there is still no U.S. banking in Cuba, so I had to do everything with cash – no travelers checks or credit cards. But these difficulties were not insurmountable and they made the human connections that much more important and heartfelt. People opened their homes, possessions, and knowledge to me. Most Cubans I came to know always had time for a conversation and coffee. The hospitality I received—from people with little to give—was at times extraordinary and showed that populations from countries at odds with one another still could have decent humane interactions.

4. What did it appear life was like for the average Cuban while living under the U.S. embargo?

For the average Cuban, life was (and still is) difficult. “No es fácil” (It’s not easy) is something you hear often around Havana. If one is able to work in proximity to tourists or has additional income from remittances from friends and family living overseas, then his or her life can be better. But for those relying on the government system alone, day-to-day life can be quite encumbering.

5. How did cultural exchanges, perhaps the best known being the Buena Vista Social Club franchise affect Cuba’s relationship with the West?

There has been a constant stream of tourism to Cuba, including from the United States, so when the film came out more tourists were requesting these songs. Cubans found this humorous because this style of music was older, from the 1930s and 1940s, but tourists wanted these songs. So Cuban musicians rediscovered these melodies in order to satisfy the tourist demand for them.

6. And how did academic exchanges, like your experiences and Cuba offering medical training to Americans, influence their relationship with the West?

Cultural and academic exchanges have been hugely important to maintaining some sort of link between countries. A lot of Americans do not know that some of their fellow citizens have trained to become doctors in Cuba. The academic friendships I made have been the foundation to my field of study and my current career. These are avenues of dialogue that have succeeded where traditional government channels have failed.

7. Now the Obama administration wants to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba, including a U.S. embassy in Cuba, and the recently opened Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. and a large portion of America flips out. Republicans, Democratic, progressives, and conservatives. What’s going on there?

Actually, for many years now most Americans have favored normalization of ties with Cuba and a repeal of the embargo. A recent Florida International University poll disclosed that now even the majority of Cuban-Americans favor reestablishing diplomatic ties and overturning the embargo. The issue is that the pro-embargo constituency is strong and well connected. They have reliable representation in Congress and still enjoy economic and political influence.

8. Do the guys flipping out have valid points?

Yes they do. One of the main points of contention is human rights violations in Cuba. Political imprisonment, limited access to free speech and information (like internet), political intimidation—there are many things Cubans have to live with that most democratic governments, the U.S. included, do not support. However, anti-embargo people say that the embargo has not forced the Cuban government to abide by U.S. standards of leadership. Normalizing relations has a better chance of doing this because the Cuban government realizes that it will have to make concessions in order to have a fruitful relationship with the United States and with other nations in the hemisphere. In fact, Havana has already made some favorable changes in recent years. Finally, by repealing the embargo, the United States will be conforming to the desires of the international community. In 2013 the UN General Assembly voted 188-2 in favor of the United States ending the embargo. Only the U.S. and Israel voted no. It was the 22nd year in a row that the UN has voted this way.

9. So seriously, where does this leave me with getting a bottle of Havana Club Rum at my local liquor store?

That might be some time, yet. However, people have been bringing back Cuban rum into the United States for years, so it depends on the connections of your local spirits guru.

10. Parting Shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Is there any room for Cuban food on this buffet?

Oh absolutely! Cuban Sandwich? So good! Frita, the Cuban hamburger sounds delicious. Always room for more food at this buffet!

About John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco:
John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco, PhD, became interested in Cuban history when he studied in Spain during his junior year in college. He entered the PhD program in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), and after his first (of four) visit to Cuba as a graduate student, decided to make it a part of his specialization. Toward the end of his graduate study, Dr. Gronbeck-Tedesco was awarded UT’s most prestigious dissertation fellowship.

He is currently an Associate Professor and Convener of American Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey. Dr. Gronbeck-Tedesco has presented at several conferences outside of the United States and is among the growing number of scholars committed to international and transnational studies.

He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930-1975” (Cambridge University Press, October 2015) and has been published in academic journals and different online forums including Journal of American Studies, Journal of Latin American Studies, Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, American Quarterly, CounterPunch.org, TheHill.com, Truth-out.org.

Start Where You Are

We just got done looking at Goldie Hawn’s “10 Mindful Minutes: A Journal” and here I am back, BAM, with “Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration” by Meera Lee Patel. Trust me, these two journals are totally different from one another, so you’re going to want to keep reading.

Patel’s journal comes from a unique, but familiar perspective. How often have you put change on hold because things weren’t where you thought they should be for you to make that change? I’ve done. Patel, the author, has done. Odds are good that you’ve done, or maybe you’re doing it now. “Start Where You Are” encourages you to stop looking, and waiting, for that other day, and to instead start where you are. Her journal asks probing, thought provoking questions to help you find out more about yourself: what you really love, your motivations, how see yourself and how you feel others perceive you, and more. However she does mix it up. Sometimes the journal will just ask a question for you to answer, but other times you’re drawing pictures, or filling in circles or other shapes, or coloring in a drawing.

Along with her journaling exercises, Patel includes inspiring quotes from a variety of sources. Since she’s an accomplished artist, with lines of stationary sold in boutiques, the quotes are presented in colorful, whimsical fonts, suitable for framing (if you’re willing to cut them out of the book).

It can be difficult to think about yourself and your desires, particularly if you think they’re unattainable. Artist and author Meera Lee Patel does her best to make the journey a painless and playful one.

Now guess what? My friends at Perigee have agreed to send one lucky Magical Buffet reader a copy of “Start Where You Are” by Meera Lee Patel! It’s worth owning so you’ll want to get in on this one. This contest is open to folks residing in the United States that are 18 years-old and up. Contest runs 08/10/15 – 08/14/15 midnight eastern. Don’t worry international readers, I’ve got some contests coming up that you’ll be able to enter. So without further ado, may I direct attention to the Rafflecopter contest form below?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Geek Month in Review: July 2015

By JB Sanders


Touching Holograms
Remember that scene in Iron Man or Avengers where someone moves holograms around like they’re real, physical objects? Yeah, we’re not that far away from having that.

Star Trek Bluetooth Communicator
So sure, it’s nothing more than a bluetooth headset in a weird form, but it does look freakin’ cool. How odd is it (for those of us above a certain age) to see something like this and think “that’s retro-future nostalgia tech”.

TWA Terminal in Time Capsule
It’s a view back to the Jet Age, when the wealthy travelled by jet airliner and smoked in their designer finery. It’s like a posh version of the Jetsons.

Super Camper Van
Planning an expedition to the arctic? Or that trackless wilderness that hides a pyramid? Then this “camper van” is your ideal companion. It’s something the company in the movie “Congo” would have bought. It has everything.

Blade Runner Prop Photos
See the miniatures created for all the effects in Blade Runner. You know, because there was a time before CGI.

Underground Drone Video
Not just for high-level aerial footage anymore — now drones are flying around the tunnels under London.

LEGO Queen Mary
Yup, an ocean liner model made entirely of LEGOs. It’s 25-feet long, has over 250,000 bricks, and weighs 600 pounds.

Giant Arrows from a Bi-plane Age
Obsolete infrastructure can be found all over the place — just look out the train window in the Easter US and see the telegraph cabling. There used to be arrows all over the US guiding early flyers to the nearest airport.

Healing With Ultrasound
Scientists are working to heal wounds with ultrasound, sci-fi style. Not instantly, mind you, but the technique appears to work on chronic wounds which won’t otherwise heal normally.

Plastic Roads
Like giant LEGO(tm) bricks, Plastic Roads are being developed in the Netherlands, and are designed to be modular.

The Tree That Bears 40 Different Fruits
Yeah, really. It’s not some weird genetic hybrid that might have tentacles if someone slipped a digit somewhere, this is straight-up ancient-as-hell hybridization. Or more specifically, grafting. Some joker grafted 40 different varieties of fruit-bearing tree limbs onto one tree, and then repeated the idea in several dozen locations. The article has a link to a map, if you want to see these trees in person.

World’s Largest Vertical Farm
Kickin’ it scifi-style in New Jersey with the indoor, sunlight-free, aeroponic farm. The facility will be capable of producing 2 million pounds of produce a year when it’s finished, and it doesn’t use nearly the resources of regular farming.

EM Drive May Actually Work
When it was originally announced, the EM space drive got a lot of scorn. Thrust from “nothing” (no reaction mass)? Yeah, lots of doubt. However, several independent scientists have now tentatively confirmed that there is something going on there. Space travel, ahoy!

Quietest Rooms in the World
Soundproofed, shielded from electromagnetic noise, and isolated from pretty much any odd earth movement, these rooms in Switzerland are great places to mess with particle physics.

Lamp Runs on Sea Water and Metal
Two Phillipine geniuses (genii?) have invented a lamp that can run on salt water and electrodes that only need to be replaced once or twice a year. It even has a port to charge cell phones.


About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog:http://www.glenandtyler.com/