Four Questions with Riana Good, Teaching Spanish with a Cuban Flair
Riana Good’s students are in for a treat this year. The Spanish teacher at the Boston Teacher’s Union School will incorporate into her lessons her summer experience studying AfroCuban dance in Cuba. I asked her about her travels, spending time with the island’s Jewish community, and some tips for others interested in making similar trips.
So, what did you do on your summer vacation?
I went to Cuba! I spent two weeks in Havana studying AfroCuban dance with the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional culminating in a performance, and then spent two weeks traveling to six cities and towns, including beaches and National Parks and Santiago de Cuba for their Carnival.
And were you able to spend time with the Jewish communities of the country?
I spent each Shabbes at a different synagogue. When I went to inquire about services in Havana, I got the low-down from 88-year-old Solomon, the only surviving Romanian emigree to Cuba. He told me that prior to the Revolution in 1959, there were 25,000 Jews in Cuba, and today there are about 1,500. In Havana, I attended services at Synagogue Beit Shalom and at the Sefardi Hebrew Center. In Camaguey I took a bici-taxi to services at Tiferet Yisrael, where we watched the Cuba vs. Brazil women’s volleyball game while waiting for a minyan. In Santiago, I went to Comunidad Hebrea Hatikva.
You actually got a grant to do this trip. How did that work, and what advice would you give for other people who want to do similar projects?
I am grateful to have received a study grant from Fund for Teachers, which allows teachers to pursue opportunities around the globe that will impact their teaching practice, the academic lives of their students and their school communities. I will be teaching some of the dance and chanting that I learned to my Spanish students and incorporating what I learned about AfroCuban identity into our unit on AfroLatinos.
Extensive research to write the proposal and connections with organizations in Cuba helped me to get funding, though often it’s at least as much about the writing as the ideas. I always send a copy to friends or family who are willing to read for clarity and offer editing suggestions.
What was the most memorable moment from your time in Cuba?
While watching rumba at Callejón Hamel in Havana, dripping sweat with those around me, a woman asked if I’d like to buy a CD. I got a reduced ‘student of rumba’ rate, and she went off to make change for my $10. She returned drinking a beer, explaining that she had to buy it in order to make change. I said, “Okay, then I guess that’s our beer. Let’s share.” So we shared, I learned her name is Mirta, that she has a daughter and granddaughter in Virginia. We later danced together and then went off to eat peso pizza on the street with her brother. This moment sums up a lot of my Cuban experience: dancing, sweating, and getting accustomed to folks who have to hustle since the low monthly wages and double tourist economy means that most folks have a way to earn some extra money on the side, or “por la izquierda.”
Learn more about Jewish communities around the world.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!