This classic cartoon on U.S.-Cuba relations from 2004 pretty neatly illustrates 50 years of a relationship frozen in place. That’s done. A chapter from the Cold War has come to a close, but what comes next? There are many questions that are getting attention in the news right now. These questions also offer opportunities for high school classrooms to explore and follow in the coming months as history unfolds. Will the embargo continue? How will this affect the 2016 presidential race in the United States? Will there be an economic transition in Cuba? Will it be more like the ones in the Soviet bloc or more like China? What will Cuba’s political future be?
A dimension worth considering is what kind of future the people of Cuba want for themselves. Change is coming, but Cubans have very different opinions about their country and its history—this affects how they think about the future. A curriculum unit from Choices, Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future, helps students step into the shoes of ordinary Cubans and consider what comes next.
This curriculum helps students gain a broader understanding of the country that has often occupied the attention of the world since 1959. Besides offering an overview of Cuban history, the unit focuses on the legacies of Cuba’s relationships with Spain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Although most recognize Cuba’s role in the Cold War, recent research suggests that Cuba often marched to its own drum, and not that of the Soviet Union. The readings trace Cuba’s history from the country’s precolonial past to its recent economic, social, and political changes. A central activity helps students recreate the discussions Cubans on the island are having about their future.
Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future contains lessons (listed below) and Scholars Online Videos that complement the readings and lessons. The curriculum is also available as an IBook for the Ipad.
José Martí and His Legacy
Using a variety of primary sources as well as a timeline and map, students assess the contested legacy of José Martí among Cubans.
The Dance of the Millions
Students analyze economic data from Cuba’s “dance of the millions” in 1920 and compare Cuban sugar to commodities in Germany that same year.
Using a variety of Cuban, U.S., Russian, South African, Angolan, and European sources, students assess competing perspectives of Cuba’s foreign policy in Angola.
The Special Period
Using numerous sources from the 1990s, including literature, hip-hop lyrics, jokes, and art, students explore the relationship between politics and popular culture.
Role-Playing the Three Options
Working collaboratively to present different options to a group of fictional Cuban citizens, students clarify and evaluate various political and economic options.
Students create their own working definitions of “democracy” and explore a variety of media sources to assess claims that Cuba is a democracy.
Cuban American Experiences
Using excerpts of Cuban American memoirs, students create characters representing a wide array of Cuban American experiences and points of view.