York professors host Toronto’s Cuban community in discussion on culture and identity

Toronto’s Cuban community gathered on July 7 for a Community Conversation, hosted by two York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LAPS) professors, to address issues of culture and identity surrounding their island nation.

Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano
Julio Fonseca

Spanish language and culture Professor Julio Fonseca from the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, alongside the department’s Chair, Professor Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano, invited the community to attend “Cuba en el Siglo XXI: Cultura e Identidad en movimiento/Cuba, XXI Century: Culture and Identity in Motion” at the Lillian H. Smith Toronto Public Library.

The professors led the debate about stereotypes and preconceived notions of Cuban culture and identity, as well as constructs of Cuban identities before and after 1959, and the implications of the Cuban Revolution in the development of a new culture that is inclusive and participatory. The dialogue provided an opportunity to discuss these important tenets of Cuban society, beyond the typical attributes, such as salsa, rumba, cigars, rum and sunshine.

The Ambassador of Cuba to Canada, Julio Garmendia Peña, addressed the challenges Cuba faces today, among which he cited the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed on the island since 1962 by the U.S., which limits the potential of the country to develop, and therefore negatively affects the quality of life of the most vulnerable sectors of the Cuban society.

These are elements of a complex geopolitical conflict the U.S. has with Cuba since 1959, which has affected the development of the rich culture of the Caribbean island, said Fonseca.

Comments from community members highlighted the U.S. occupation of a portion of Cuban territory in Guantanamo since first leasing it in 1903, an occupation which the post-revolution Cuban government considers illegal and sees as having inhibited the sovereignty of Cuba.

“The discussion was fruitful, thought-provoking and the Cuban community complimented us for this great initiative,” said Iannacito-Provenzano. “I was delighted to work with my colleague Julio Fonseca to organize this event that saw the participation of over 30 people.”

In addition to the ambassador of Cuba to Canada, guests included Tania López Larroque, the consul general of Cuba in Toronto; Professor Emeritus Keith Ellis, University of Toronto; and his wife, Professor Emerita Zilpha Ellis, Department of French Studies, York University, among others.

Community Conversations continues to encourage stimulating, inspiring and inclusive dialogue among different communities across the Greater Toronto Area on topics that are relevant and meaningful to the community. The goal is to actively and authentically enhance public engagement on a wide range of topics and to create inclusive spaces to exchange ideas.

The Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies is currently accepting applications to host Community Conversation for the upcoming Fall and Winter semesters. Interested faculty members and community partners can apply to host future Community Conversations and share their creative ideas.