A delegation from Washington state recently visited Havana, on the first Alaska Airlines commercial flight to Cuba. Among the group of elected leaders and other dignitaries was University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce.
Cauce’s family was forced into exile from Cuba when she was 3 years old. This wasn’t her first time back, but she says returning never gets any less special. And she’s a staunch supporter of engagement with the island nation, which has been estranged from the United States for nearly 60 years.
We talked with Cauce at her office, after she returned, about the trip and the benefit she sees in a relationship between the United States and Cuba.
On Being Back In Cuba: “The first time I went back I visited my old house. I’d seen lots of pictures in family albums. I stood there waiting for the epiphany, and I don’t have any memories. I certainly can tell you lots of stories about that time, but that’s because other people told them to me.”
On Engagement: “I think we’re trying to figure out what it means. We will create the meaning as time goes. We need to engage with folks, especially governments that are different than you are. The way to get to mutual understanding and to change is through engagement. Universities can play a particularly positive role that way. It’s not about politics. It really is about surgeon to surgeon, dancer to dancer, artist to artist. Universities can cut through [politics] and get people to engage on a very human level.”
On Anger Toward Cuba: “I understand. It’s not just that my parents were forced to leave. I sat in school with kids who had parents in Cuban jails. I understand why we started the blockade and the embargo. I just think history has shown us it didn’t work. It didn’t force the change. If you look more broadly, engagement works better than isolation.”