Castellanos teaches lessons of family through school trip to Cuba


Submitted by Rolando Castellanos

Castellanos reunited with his Nanny while visiting his hometown in Cuba on the school trip this summer.

Isabel Saavedra-Weis, RubicOnline Editor

During the school-sponsored Cuba trip in June, 28 students practiced their Spanish, strolled along the colorful streets, and learned how to dance traditional Cuban dances.  They were able to soak in the Caribbean way of life for the first time with trips to Santa Clara, Camagüey, Trinidad and Old Havana.

This was an important trip. US Spanish teacher Rolando Castellanos, who coordinated it, wanted to show the students how much Cuba has changed in the last decade.  Just last year, the U.S. embargo against Cuba was lifted. The embargo, imposed in 1960, prohibited any trade between Cuba and the U.S., not including food and medicine. Since the embargo lift, the economy in Cuba has slowly been improving.

“For me, it’s important that my students can see and feel how people live in a Communist country with a dictator, and to see the effect it has on the lives of people and the economy,” Castellanos said.

“When we went on this trip in 2000; you couldn’t buy fruit on the street. Today, 16 years later, you can find people selling fruits and chickens because now they can. And now you can see a change in the economy. There is now a change in the market economy. It’s small, but you can notice it. There is now a little more freedom and interest in work.”

He noticed a difference in the attitude in Cuba: “Cubans don’t blindly believe what the Cuban government says about the United States. And it was really nice to see that Obama’s visit opened the eyes of many young Cubans,” he said.

For Castellanos, this trip meant more than just tourism. Castellanos left Cuba in 1978 and didn’t return until 2000, the first time he travelled to Cuba with students. He coordinated that annual trip with students until 2002, and then didn’t return until the summer because SPA didn’t go on the trip. This summer, he was able to go visit his hometown and see the house he grew up in again after 14 years.

All it takes is to return to your roots and look in the eyes of someone and everything is there.

— Rolando Castellanos


“Emotionally, it was very special. I went to my house with all of the students and colleagues. And the students could see where I grew up and lived, meet my cousins and neighbors,” Castellanos said about going back to his hometown and seeing his house again. “At the same time, it was very sad. The house is in very bad shape and that’s a shame.”

Visiting his childhood home and being flooded by memories caused Castellanos to go through a very personal realization while visiting where he was born.

“My parents have passed away, my grandparents have passed away, and now I’m the older generation. And I always remembered that in that house, that’s where my grandparents and parents lived, and I was the little kid. Now everything has flipped around and now I’m the old one. And that’s a strange change in someone’s life.”

Although emotionally taxing for him, Castellanos hopes that the students he brought with him take away a crucial life lesson.

“[When we were at my house] I spent most of the time crying, so I didn’t really get to see the reactions of the students. But I think the students could see the emotional effects of separation. They could also see human values, and that family and friends are always there. It doesn’t matter the distance or political difference. All it takes is to return to your roots and look in the eyes of someone and everything is there. It was never lost,” he said.

Although emotional, and perhaps painful to see his old life changing without him, Castellanos wants his students to return from Cuba with an understanding of his experience with long-distance relationships.

At the end of our visit at my house, I told my students ‘I can’t say much because I can’t talk because of my emotional state, but I hope you could see the value of friendship and the value of family. It doesn’t matter what happens, they are always there.”