When Donald Trump was making his announcement about reversing steps his predecessor — Barack Obama — took in normalizing relationships with Cuba, Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin had just returned home from a trip to the island to talk with women there.
Valentin, who was first elected as a City Councilor for Ward 4 in November 2013, is a senior academic advisor at Holyoke Community College. She left for Cuba on May 28 — her first trip there — pretty much as soon as the semester came to a close.
She spent her time in Cuba speaking with five women who are or were female professors involved with activism and women’s studies.
“I had amazing interactions with the five women,” she said. “They connected me with their own people, including a reporter for the longest running women’s magazine in Cuba — Mujeres — published since 1965.”
Valentin, a lesbian of Puerto Rican descent and a mother of two, was born in Connecticut and spent 15 years growing up in Puerto Rico. She said her response to Trump announcing a restoration of the 50-year travel ban to the country typified much of her experience with his announcements.
“My thoughts on this were the same as my thoughts on everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth, which is ‘Really?’” Valentin said.
Valentin pushed back on Trump’s argument that normalizing relations with Cuba only benefited the Castro regime — not the Cuban people.
“Speaking to the people of Cuba on what it has been like since the Obama plan came into effect in 2014, they see the local economy growing because of it,” she said. “Locals are able to have a part of the growing economy.”
When Obama visited in 2014, he brought the founder of Airbnb — Brian Chesky — with him, according to Valentin. This is something that is directly helping the Cuban people participate in the increase of money coming in from American tourists.
“Airbnb is completely legal and functional in Cuba, which is insane after all these years of this embargo and everything being blocked,” Valentin said. “Here’s this American-owned company doing this business where locals in Cuba are putting up their properties so folks can use that as a lodging option, which is a whole piece of the economy that is growing and benefiting locals.”
Valentin stayed in an Airbnb for the majority of her time in Cuba, she said.
For Valentin, the trip to Cuba offered her a chance to connect with women, activists, and residents of a country she had never before visited.
“Trump’s decision is taking us backwards as usual,” she said.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at email@example.com.