Join us in supporting Cuba through travel, building meaningful connections across borders, and voicing our dissent to the inhumane blockade!

We are excited to invite you on our incredible New Year’s trip to Cuba to celebrate and learn about community, culture, and revolution. We still have a few spots available. Learn more and RSVP here.

Celebrate New Year’s and the 65th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution with us on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We’ll spend our days exploring and enjoying people-to-people exchanges with Cubans, visiting  community projects, meeting small business owners, exploring urban gardens, touring the fine arts museum, and celebrating the New Year and the Anniversary of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution with a lovely dinner and music!

On New Year’s Day, we’ll go to the Spanish Colonial town of Trinidad, a designated UNESCO Heritage Site. While in Trinidad, we’ll stroll the cobblestone streets and learn more about the island’s history, including its Afro-Cuban culture. We will then head to  Santa Clara and visit the site of the memorial to Che Guevara. We’ll also have a unique opportunity to visit a community gathering where we will meet with Cubans in their neighborhood to learn about how they organize at the local level to support one another.

Now is the time to travel to Cuba! Between the inhumane US blockade and the pandemic, the economic conditions have worsened exponentially, and travel to the island not only supports the local economy but also builds meaningful people-to-people connections. 

To view the itinerary for complete details, e-mail us at or call us at 415-575-5527.Register Today

P.S. If you can’t make it on this Cuba trip, plenty more will be added to our 2024 calendar in the next 2 weeks! Including this incredible Cuba Jazz Festival trip.

There are still spots remaining on this year’s annual Day of the Dead trip to Oaxaca, Mexico!  Join us from October 28th to November 5th, 2023 to experience one of the most renown Day of the Dead celebrations in the Americas.

Curious about what you might experience?  Here are some thoughts from a past participant, Catherine Suarez, a Spanish Instructor at Las Positas College in California who traveled with Global Exchange to Oaxaca. 


Our trip with Global Exchange to Oaxaca, Mexico was more than a typical educational opportunity. The participants were able to actively participate in many authentic aspects of everyday Oaxacan life associated with the preparation for the Days of the Dead. In addition, the group experienced social processes and was able to participate in meetings and workshops about sustainability, indigenous people’s human rights and the historical importance of corn in the Valley of Oaxaca.

Our group leader, Juan de Dios Gómez Ramírez, a Doctor of Sociology, provided us with much more than the basic information about the Valley of Oaxaca, its people and their social struggles. The level of information and the way in which it was delivered resembled a college-level course. I purchased a notebook in the Mexico City airport “in case I needed to take a few notes”. By the end of the study/travel program, I had completely filled the notebook with information that I cannot wait to incorporate into my lessons and future presentations.

We met with several authors and also attended a week-long Book Fair in the Zocalo where we were able to take part in workshops, presentations by authors from different states of Mexico, Cuba and South America, and search for rare and difficult-to-find books. For example, I have been researching Afro Caribbean Peoples, including Afro Cubans, Afro Puerto Ricans, Afro Dominicans and Afro Mexicans. I was able to purchase several books about Afro Cubans and Afro Mexicans at the fair. The Book Fair was dedicated to the memories of Mexican author José Agustín and Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez.

At around midnight on November 1st, while we were in the cemetery, one observer commented that he “will never view death the same way again.” I think that he spoke for many of the people in the cemetery that night. If I could edit his quote, I would add that our group will “never think about human rights and the importance of sustainability, especially corn, for the people of the state of Oaxaca the same way again.”

The following is written by Catherine Sagan, who participated in a professional educators tour in March 2013. Here she shares her perspective on visiting Cuba for the first time.

Catherine Sagan (middle with hat) dances at the Muraleando community project in Havana

Catherine Sagan (middle with hat) dances at the Muraleando community project in Havana

Going to Cuba has been a back burner dream of mine ever since my years in Guatemala in the 60s when I had worked among the poor in the Cuchumatanes Mountains, and then had to leave for political reasons. The 60s were the beginning of the Guatemalan Civil war, and a group of us religious, priests, and lay people got enthusiastically involved in wanting to make a difference in the lives of the oppressed poor. It was the era of John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII’s call to individual responsibility and response to the problems at hand.

Even though the parish in Guatemala in which I worked as a Maryknoll missionary sister had many excellent social programs: a coffee cooperative, a credit union, literacy classes for adults, courses on better farming methods, and an ungraded school for children from distant villages where there were no schools for them, the priest and sister that I was working with at the time became convinced that our efforts were only helping a minimally few people, that the vast majority of poor Guatemalans, in particular, the indigenous people, were being sucked dry by the exploitative system prevalent in Guatemala then, practices to a certain extent that continue to exist today.

Prior to these events, I had been hearing about the Literacy campaign in Cuba via Guatemalan radio and the gossip that happens among foreigners. In Fidel Castro’s speech of 4 hours at the United Nations assembly in 1960, he vowed that Cuba, in one year, would become the first Latin American country to be totally alphabetized, that is, literate – capable of reading and writing in Spanish. This boast intrigued me. Our efforts with the ungraded school and the literacy classes we were providing in Guatemala were successful, but only to a point. Those poor children and adults who had attended our classes did learn, but what about the hundreds of thousands of others? Our efforts were really just a drop in the bucket of need.

The successful Cuban literacy campaign of 1961 was what I was most interested in and wanted to learn more about. For Cuba to go from a 60-76% literacy rate to 96% literacy rate in one year was a marvel that seemed to belong in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”

Reflecting on this recent trip to Cuba, viewing the country and its present challenges, I saw many areas of progress, for example, in the area of education. Everyone has access to a free education and is guaranteed a job after graduating. In order to avoid degree glut in some professional areas, some of these academic opportunities to pursue are limited, so that there is not what is now happening in the United States, too many lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses, etc. and no jobs in these fields. Coming from our ingrained individualism as Americans, we might say that the Cuban government is interfering with free choice. Yet, it is something to consider that American graduates in many of the above mentioned fields of expertise are worried about how they are going to pay back their huge student loans on a salary of minimum wage.

Would I ever go back to Cuba? Yes, in a heartbeat! The times I had an opportunity on this recent trip to visit Cubans in their homes or in a relaxed environment have convinced me that there is something special about Cuban people. I admire their resilience in making lemonade with rum when the United States gave them sour lemons through the blockade. Perhaps it could be said that they thought “outside the box” of how to survive in their given social system, a little, little country only 90 miles from the shores of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Thanks Catherine for sharing your thoughts with us!

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As we start the final month of Summer, now is the time to plan your meaningful, socially responsible travel experiences for the rest of the year and beyond. Many of our travelers like to plan for their Reality Tours at least four to six months in advance, so, with that in mind, we’ve highlighted some of our staff picks to help you choose where to go next. Where will you be this Fall?

Reality Tour participant with women students in Afghanistan. - Photo by Zarah Patriana

Reality Tour participant with women students in Afghanistan.

October 1-10, 2013. Afghanistan: Women Making Change. Join us on this inspiring delegation to meet with Afghan women activists and grassroots organizations working for change. Visit with recently opened girls schools, vocational training centers, literacy programs, and more. Read former participants stories.

GX.DiaDeLosMuertos25thLogo_colorOct. 30-Nov. 7, 2013. Celebrate Day of the Dead in Oaxaca with Global Exchange! Help us celebrate Global Exchange’s 25th anniversary with our special Reality Tour celebrating Day of the Dead. Highlights of the trip will include meeting with indigenous leaders and community organizers, artists, healers, and participating in Day of the Dead ceremonies.

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Nov. 1-Nov. 11, 2013. India: Rights of Nature with Dr. Vandana ShivaWe are proud to offer this one of a kind opportunity to learn from and visit with one of the world’s leading pioneers in the ecological sustainability movement, Dr. Vandana Shiva. Join Dr. Vandana Shiva and Global Exchange’s Shannon Biggs, Director of the Community Rights program, to explore India’s sacred seed saving work. Highlights will include spending four days on Dr. Vandana Shiva’s farm in Dehradun, cooking a meal of ancient “forgotten foods” together, participating in a sacred water ceremony on the banks of the Ganges, visiting seed banks, food co-ops, and more. Join us for this rare opportunity.


Indigenous group in Ecuador

Dec. 27 -Jan. 4, 2013-2014. Ecuador: New Year’s on the Equator. Spend this coming New Year’s on the equator learning about and celebrating the work of indigenous leaders, healers and activists building ecologically and socially-sustainable alternatives to the corporate global economy. Visit with indigenous leaders and healers in the Amazon, rural communities working towards self-sustainability in the high Andes, and hike through protected lowland cloud forest to visit coffee cooperatives.

November 16-26, 2013 Venezuela Vive: Community Development and Popular MovementParticipants will have the opportunity to travel to Venezuela with Global Exchange to dig past the headlines and explore the changes occurring in Venezuela, Latin America and the hemisphere as a whole. On a Global Exchange tour to Venezuela the delegation will meet with human rights activists, rural agricultural workers, labor unions, community activists, journalists, and government officials and opposition figures, giving participants the opportunity to see for themselves the unprecedented social change that is occurring at this historic time in Venezuela and the region. There will be additional delegations to Venezuela in January, March, May and November of next year.

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The following guest post is written by Reality Tours summer intern Bryan Weiner. Every summer, Global Exchange hosts a robust intern program, where interns work closely with a staff member and participate in a weekly workshop to gain knowledge and skills. This past Wednesday, the Global Exchange interns joined the Reality Tours staff for a “local” Reality Tours in the Mission, SF.

Mission Dolores Park.

Mission Dolores Park.

Have you been interested in going on a Reality Tour? Do you think that all reality tours require a plane ticket to far away countries? Have you ever thought of doing a Reality Tour in your own neighborhood? This past week, the Global Exchange Reality Tours staff prepared a short and informative “local” Reality Tour so that we could learn more about the social, political, and historical aspects of the diverse, vibrant neighborhood we work in, the Mission District of San Francisco.

The tour began in the Global Exchange conference room where Professor Mike Stanfield of the University of San Francisco gave us an overview of the history of California, San Francisco, the Mission system and the Mission District in particular. While the indigenous tribes of the region mostly avoided the San Francisco peninsula because of the gloomy, foggy weather, the Mission District, being the sunniest part of the city, attracted many diverse people from all walks of life including missionaries and people seeking their fortune in the Gold Rush. Unfortunately, many indigenous groups were brought here against their will and quickly succumbed to European disease, causing the Mission Dolores to live up to its name (Dolores means pains in Spanish). The neighborhood has always been a vibrant, dynamic crossroads that has continued to bring waves of immigrants, shaping the constantly changing face of the community.

The group entering Arriba Juntos - photo by Bryan Weiner

The group entering Arriba Juntos – photo by Bryan Weiner

After the introduction, we ventured out to Arriba Juntos, a community organization that primarily serves the local immigrant community. Marilyn Bunag, Programs Manager, gave us a tour of the grounds and an overview of the various services that they offer. Arriba Juntos has assisted many people get up on their feet, find a job, gain skills, learn English, get off the street and find a place to live. She shared many touching success stories such as the story of John, who was homeless and now has a full-time job at a high-end San Francisco restaurant.

The group of interns walking up Clarion Alley. - Photo by Katie Koerper

The group of interns walking up Clarion Alley. – Photo by Katie Koerper

We left Arriba Juntos and walked down Clarion Alley to see the amazing display of street art that covers the entire alley. Upon arriving to our next destination, the Women’s Building, we saw and received and in-depth explanation of what is probably the most remarkable mural in the city. After pointing out all of the key female leaders depicted in the mural, Development Director Tatjana Loh gave us a tour inside the historic building and told us about all of the important community services offered at the center, such as low cost and free legal services, computer literacy classes, and a food pantry for immigrant families. Upon arriving to the third floor, we were greeted by the throne that dates back to when the building belonged to the Sons of Norway (the building has always been used for community organizations).

The mural on the front of the Women's Building. - Photo by Katie Koerper

The mural on the front of the Women’s Building. – Photo by Katie Koerper

We said goodbye to Tatjana and made our way up the street to our final destination, Mission High School, where a bright and outgoing junior, Connor, showed us the community garden that the after-school program has been working on to promote a healthy lifestyle amongst the students. He also gave us an in-depth description about the school community that has worked together to turn a struggling and often-violent inner-city school into a nurturing place that has become a destination for students all around the Bay Area.

Before heading back to Global Exchange we made one last very important stop… ICE CREAM! At Bi-Rite Market. It was an exciting, informative, and fulfilling day. I recommend you take the time to give yourself a Reality Tour of your own community! You will be surprised at what is just around the corner.

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The following guest post is the final post in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which just ended. Read parts I, II, III, IV, and V of the story.

This Land is Your Land

Stage at Annual Woody Guthrie Festival.

This evening I am writing the last installment for the Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour from the Pastures of Plenty, just about stage center.  Right now at the 16th annual Woody Guthrie Festival, we’re listening to Griffin House from Springfield, Ohio, singing a song about who & where he comes from.  This is something Woody taught all of us to be proud of.  Sitting here tonight, after two days full of Okemah, in the long glow of a wide sunset, it’s easy to be proud of Oklahoma.

The last two days have been a whirlwind of song.  Hot as it is during the day, folks walking up and down West Broadway here in Okemah are pretty much bound to smile as they pass you on the sidewalk.  All the volunteers that make the festival happen, from urban hipsters to local old timers, love to stop and talk about the man who has inspired it all.  Musicians gather on the streets and play their hearts out.  This festival makes everyone feel good, like they belong, just like Woody would have wanted.

During the festival, the small town of Okemah swells with musicians, folk aficionados, unionists, and Okies from all over the country, both actual and honorary, who come to celebrate the life and legacy of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.

Site of Woody Guthrie's childhood home on W. Birch St., Okemah, Oklahoma. Tree sculpture by Justin Osborn.

Site of Woody Guthrie’s childhood home on W. Birch St., Okemah, Oklahoma. Tree sculpture by Justin Osborn.

Another stop on the Okemah pilgrimage is the site of Woody’s childhood home, on a hill at the intersection of South 1st Street and West Birch.  The house is no longer there, but some of the stones from its first story still stand.  There is an effort to get the home rebuilt, but as it is, this spot, shaded by trees that were in the yard when Woody was a boy, seems to be a perfect and simple tribute.

Local folk artist Justin Osburn lives across the street. He is the artist who carved the only landmark on the home place’s site, a cedar tree trunk inscribed with Woody’s initials, “Okemah,” and “This Land is Your Land” along with a musical staff.

His yard, across the street from the Guthrie home place, is filled with woodcarvings for sale. Justin is full of local knowledge, everything from who-owns-what to god-knows-where.  He can point at any tree and tell you what kind it is, where it comes from, and how it got here.

That’s the kind of knowledge that comes from paying close attention to place, to the lives, histories, landscapes, and cultures that make a particular space happen. Oklahoma is its own set of stories, multiple narratives about and from the same swath of land.  Spending these last few days in the Indian Territory Triangle has taught us to look closer, past what we are told to see, to let go of what we think we know, and marvel at what we don’t.  If you think Oklahoma is homogenous, fly-over country, with little cultural or political relevance, you’d best think again.

Tonight, sitting stage center and listening to the music inspired by Woody Guthrie, I feel that it just might be the most important spot on earth– at least for me.

Rachel Jackson is a PhD Candidate and Dissertation Fellow at the University of Oklahoma in the Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Program, Department of English. She researches and theorizes the impact of suppressed local histories of resistance on Oklahoma’s current political identity. She is from Oklahoma.


The following guest post is Part IV in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which is happening now.

The last two days we’ve been living on Tulsa time. Today we rolled into the Brady Arts District where the brand new Woody Guthrie Center is located.  The Center is an interesting collection of biographical information, historical & geographical context, archival material, commentary on Woody’s life and work, and – of course – Woody’s music.  The crowning jewel of the Woody Guthrie Center is his archives, purchased from the Guthrie family by the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa.

The entry way to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK.

The entry way to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK.

Unfortunately, there is some local controversy surrounding the Woody Guthrie Center’s location in the Brady Arts District.  The arts district itself is a hip area of Tulsa that has been recently developed and is home to a wide variety of restaurants, bars, art galleries and coops, concert space, and museums.  The trouble is, it’s named after Tate Brady, a “founder” of Tulsa who happened also to be a leader of the local Klan.  What an irony that the Woody Guthrie Center, built in honor of a man who spent his life dedicated to unionism and civil rights, should have an address on Brady Street.  Here’s the good news: there is a strong coalition of determined folks urging the Tulsa City Council to get the name changed.

The Tower of Reconciliation by artist Ed Dwight.

The Tower of Reconciliation by artist Ed Dwight.

Adding fuel to the fire is that part of the Brady Arts District is located within the boundaries of the historic Greenwood District, a thriving African American portion of the city proudly built while Jim Crow still reigned supreme.  The Greenwood District was utterly decimated in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, referred to by Greenwood residents who lived through it as the Race War.  It was a massacre.  Tate Brady was front and center as racist whites organized into militias, killing many hundreds of African Americans, looting property, and burning homes and businesses to the ground.  It’s a shameful, painful part of Tulsa’s past.

Thursday’s tour stops were devoted to understanding Oklahoma’s African American history, the Greenwood District and All Black Townships, the 1921 Race War, and the state and city’s efforts at reconciliation.  We started in the morning with a stop at Reconciliation Park, located in the Greenwood District, just a few blocks north of Brady Street and the Woody Guthrie Center.  In the midst of the ugly facts of the 1921 Race War, this patch of earth offers reassurance that humanity can confront its mistakes, admit painful truths, and move forward having learned from them.  The park is a result of the Oklahoma legislature’s Tulsa Race Riot Commission findings, and the hard work of many committed politicians, historians, activists, and artists.

GX Tour participants, with Jef Kos (Secretary of the John Hope Franklin Center of Reconciliation Board), feeling deeply satisfied after lunch.

GX Tour participants, with Jef Kos (Secretary of the John Hope Franklin Center of Reconciliation Board), feeling deeply satisfied after lunch.

Much of the work uncovering the truth about the “Tulsa Race Riot,” is inspired by the life and work of pioneering African American historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin. We were fortunate enough to get to visit with Jef Kos, the Secretary of the Board for the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, and former student of Dr. Franklin’s.  After our time in the park, he accompanied us on a leisurely tour through the Greenwood Cultural Center, and then to lunch at Dr. Franklin’s favorite barbeque joint in North Tulsa – Oklahoma Style BBQ.  Yum.


Hickory Grounds

Hickory Grounds, near Henryetta, OK. GX tour group pictured with Mekko George Thompson and his brother Tim Thompson.

The following guest post is Part II in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which is happening now.

Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour: Day 3 (July 10th 2013)

Yesterday was a full day, rich with questions, conversations, and revelations, all the more intensified by the increasing summer heat.  Today we hit the road early to drive through the Cookson Hills, home to numerous historic Cherokee communities. 

In these hills stands the cabin of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary that enabled a nation of people to become fully literate within a decade.  They have also been the hideouts for many an outlaw, including the notorious Belle Starr and Pretty Boy Floyd. Folk heroes abound in these parts.

We first stopped at Hickory Grounds, Oce Vpofa (pronounced O-je Uh-bo-vuh in the Muscogee language).  Hickory Grounds is unspeakably sacred to the Muscogee Nation.  It was the last ceremonial grounds to leave Alabama when the Creeks were removed on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. We learned about the history and ongoing struggle to protect this important land.

Hickory Grounds was the site of the 1909 Crazy Snake Rebellion, a complicated series of events that resulted from many years of Muscogee resistance to land allotment. In order to open Oklahoma up for settlement and statehood, the federal government had to accomplish two things: 1.) abolish tribal governments and jurisdiction, and 2.) divide tribal land held in communal tenure into individual holdings.  The Dawes Act of 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898 accomplished these two goals.  Chitto Harjo, leader of the so-called Crazy Snakes, resisted the process of allotment via multiple means across almost two decades.  

In 1909, a lynching of a man in Henryetta prompted many African American men and boys to flee.  They sought refuge at Hickory Grounds, where they erected tents and lived outside of town for many months.  Local racists could only abide the perceived threat of this situation for so long.  They raided the grounds, instigating a fire fight with these men and boys, and came after members of the Snakes at their homes as well.  Chitto Harjo was wounded but managed to escape into the Kiamichi mountains where he died two years later.

Today the Mekko at Hickory Ground, George Thompson, faces a new resistance struggle.  His position as Mekko (translated as “king,” but understood as “chief”) makes him responsible for the ceremonies that occur at the ground.  Though the details of his ceremonial knowledge and duties are deeply private, Mr. Thompson maintains the fire at Hickory Grounds.  He is only the fourth Mekko at Hickory Grounds since it was removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s, and he acts on behalf of not only current members of the grounds but also on behalf of ancestors long associated with the grounds, including past Mekkos.

Currently the Poarch Band Creeks in Alabama, a group that managed to gain federal recognition in the 1980’s by establishing descendancy from the Muscogee Nation, is actively desecrating the former site of Hickory Grounds in Wetumka, Alabama. 

In order to build a casino complex, they have dug up the remains of seven former Mekkos and approximately 60 others, including the bodies of women and children, along with ceremonial objects associated with the burial.  This is an ethically reprehensible act on the part of a group that promised to protect the former grounds as a condition of their federal recognition.  Perhaps worse, in Muscogee tradition, the removal of these remains disrupts ceremonies associated with the grounds today.

We were honored by the chance to talk with George Thompson and his brother Tim about the history of Hickory Grounds, some of the practices of the grounds, and the current struggle with the tribal government of the Poarch Band Creeks.  Read more at Be sure to check out the resources page where you can view an excellent short film on indiegogo and read a statement from Mekko George Thompson.

Read Part 3 of the Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour next!

Rachel Jackson is a PhD Candidate and Dissertation Fellow at the University of Oklahoma in the Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Program, Department of English. She researches and theorizes the impact of suppressed local histories of resistance on Oklahoma’s current political identity.



The following guest post is Part III in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which is happening now

Creek Council House, downtown Okmulgee, OK. GX tour group pictured with Muscogee Nation Museums Director/Curator John Beaver and Assistant Director Justin Giles.

Creek Council House, downtown Okmulgee, OK. GX tour group pictured with Muscogee Nation Museums Director/Curator John Beaver and Assistant Director Justin Giles.

After a full morning, we met the Muscogee Nation Museums Director and Assistant Director at the Creek Council House in the heart of Okmulgee.  The Council House was built in 1878 by Creek hands and served as the site of tribal government until the federal government abolished it during the allotment period and took the building from the Muscogee Nation, deeding it the City of Okmulgee, in 1919.

Justin and Josh – both Muscogee Nation citizens, trained anthropologists, and former interns with the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian – were fantastic conversationalists.   They are both clearly pumped about their role in restoring the Council House to its former, original glory.  The building was finally returned to the Muscogee Nation through purchase from the city in 2010.  Talking to these young men, it’s obvious the resistance continues.

We ended our day at the Muscogee Nation Tribal Complex, where tribal government (finally reinstituted in 1971) and associated departments and offices are located.  William Lowe and Brian Underhill of the Muscogee Nation Tourism Department led us through the Muscogee Veterans Museum and the central administration building.

Muscogee Nation Vets MuseumThe Veterans Museum is a fantastic tribute to Muscogee veteran’s participation in all U.S. wars, including a well-designed tribute to the fallen among them.  It is also the only tribal veteran museum of its scope in Oklahoma.  Muscogee Creeks, as our day taught us, have always been fierce fighters.

After dinner, we wound our way back through the Cookson Hills, wondering at the impact this expansive tribal history and culture must have had on Woody Guthrie as he grew up in Okemah, not too far away.  And as the hot sun set behind us, we knew it would never set on the proud tradition of resistance and cultural continuance in the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma.

Rachel Jackson is a PhD Candidate and Dissertation Fellow at the University of Oklahoma in the Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Program, Department of English. She researches and theorizes the impact of suppressed local histories of resistance on Oklahoma’s current political identity.


The following post is written by Reality Tours Summer Intern Bryan Weiner. Bryan traveled to Cuba with Global Exchange and the Monterey Institute of International Studies for a graduate studies class.

San Francisco Pride Celebrations. Photo by Cary Bass.

San Francisco Pride Celebrations. Photo by Cary Bass.

Last week was marked by landmark Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States. These decisions have been celebrated around the United States during the gay pride marches that typically occur in the month of June. But what is the state of the LGBT rights movement in the rest of the world? Through a Global Exchange Reality Tour to Cuba with the Monterey Institute of International Studies, I had the unique opportunity to look at the complicated situation of gay rights in this complex Caribbean nation.

Bryan Weiner in Cuba

Bryan Weiner in Cuba

When I was preparing for my trip to Cuba, I heard many different, contrasting viewpoints on the status of the LGBT community, which seemed to fall in line with the very diverse opinions that I heard about every other segment of Cuban society after the Revolution. Many, both within and outside of Cuba, have held up the LGBT movement in Cuba as an example for the rest of Latin America to follow, while others have claimed that homosexuals are still facing extreme levels of discrimination and abuse. I knew that, like everything else that I had heard and read about Cuba, the truth of the matter probably fell somewhere in the middle of the highly polemical rhetoric.

The persecution of homosexuals began immediately after the Revolution and lasted for a number of decades. The revolution came in to restore the dignity of the Cuban population, including the excesses they were subjected to from brash Americans coming down to the island looking for a good time often in gambling casinos and houses of prostitution.  Gay and lesbian people were seen as tied to loose morals and the anti-revolutionary spirit of this period prompting an immediate crackdown on this community by the Castro regime. Many Cuban homosexuals were sent to re-education camps, in a period that was described in detail by famous gay Cuban exile author, Reinaldo Arenas in his groundbreaking work, Before Night Falls. This period however, was also a time where homosexuals all over the world, including in the United States, were experiencing active persecution on the basis of their sexual identity. As attitudes began changing around the world, they did so in Cuba as well.

gaycubaflag copyHomosexuality was officially decriminalized in Cuba in 1979 and gay liberation attitudes started to emerge in the 1980s. This began the process that was to end with Cuba being one of the countries at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement in Latin America. One of the most significant advances was the 1993 release of the extremely popular movie, Fresa y Chocolate. This movie dealt with the relationship between a gay Cuban and a straight young revolutionary. While its take on homosexuality seems dated when looked at from a modern perspective, it was historical not only because the socialist Cuban government allowed its production, but because the film argued that the LGBT community was an important part of revolutionary Cuban society.

Now, Fidel Castro has officially apologized for the abuses that the LGBT population faced during the early decades of the Revolution and there is an active gay community and LGBT rights movement on the island. Cuba signed on to the historic 2011 United Nations Resolution calling for the declaration that LGBT rights are human rights. The most well-known leader of the Cuban LGBT movement is Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel Castro. She  is also the director of CENESEX (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual). She has been a gay rights activist who has received awards and acclaim in Cuba as well as in the international community. Among her notable accomplishments is the fruition of a state sponsored sex reassignment surgery program for those who want the procedure. She has also been advocating for the legalization of  same-sex marriage in Cuba, but the government claims to be waiting for ”the right time.”

While Cuba has had a mixed history with regards of its treatment of sexual minorities, it has in many ways gone much farther much faster than many other countries. Cuba is constantly looking for ways to demonstrate that the government is a progressive regime that respects the basic rights of the Cuban population, thereby making the US embargo/blockade of the island  even more ridiculous and outdated. Perhaps now that so many other Latin American countries have legalized or are moving towards same-sex marriage, the time is finally right and Cuba can use same-sex marriage as another stab at US oppression?

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