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Malcolm Gladwell speaks at Authors@Wharton Credit: Mi Jiang , Freda Zhao

This weekend, while President Barack Obama met Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday — opening diplomatic relations between the countries for the first time in over half a century — Penn students were engaging in discussions about the Cuban-American community on college campuses and as a whole.

On Saturday and Sunday, Penn’s Cuban American Undergraduate Student Association hosted a Cuban student conference. The theme of the event was InterCambio, change through exchange. In other words, through the exchange of ideas, Cuban presence and community can be changed in a positive way. Cuban high school and university students came together over the weekend to talk about Cuban presence in universities in the Northeast.

The theme is fitting in light of current events, as communication between the United States and Cuba has expanded under Obama. “It’s given us more limelight, honestly," event coordinator and College sophomore Sofia Medrano said. "Since it’s such a buzzing issue that’s going on right now in the U.S., people are paying more attention to Cuba. I still don’t think they’re paying enough attention, and there’s still a lot to be done and said about it. I think it is just moving the conversation along about what’s going on in Cuba.” 

One place where the conversation is lacking is on college campuses. Students from Dartmouth, Barnard, Boston College and Harvard were represented at the conference. Many campuses do not have the resources to support an organization for a vibrant Cuban community. Students who attended from other schools visited La Casa Latina and learned about the Latin@ Coalition and were impressed by the strong Latino presence and support at Penn. The students then discussed solutions to the lack of cultural centers at other universities, including possible ways to form such centers.

The conference also consisted of a series of cultural events. After a meet-and-greet session in the morning at the Upper Quadrangle gate, the students set out for a day of activities. The keynote speaker was Janelle Gueits, co-founder of and ambassador for Raices de Esperanza. The grassroots organization works on representing the youth in Cuba and helping students in the Northeast maintain a connection with Cuba.

Attendees discussed how they could be involved with social and political issues in Cuba as students on the Northeast. They believe that it is their job as Cuban and Cuban-American students to bring up this conversation.

Penn’s Latin dance group, Onda Latina, gave students a salsa lesson, which added an element of fun to the day’s events. Afterwards, there was a semiformal dinner to conclude the conference.

Medrano has high hopes for the conference's future. “We’re hoping that we will continue it each year and make it grow,” Medrano said.

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