It was ping-pong diplomacy, the exchange of table tennis players between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in 1971, that marked a thaw in Sino-American relations and paved the way to a visit by President Richard Nixon to Beijing.
Before leaving office, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed regret that she was unable to restore normal people-to-people contacts between the United States and Cuba. Albright explained that in her view, the best way to hasten the demise of the Castro regime and to advance democracy in Cuba is to foster multilayered contacts between the peoples of the two countries.
As a result of the Cuban Democracy Act passed by Congress in 1992, an opening in the closed-door policy took hold. Hundreds of American academicians and students visited Cuba to do research, learn Spanish and familiarize themselves with its society.
Among the early participants of the cultural exchange programs was the College of William and Mary. Under the direction of Mitchell Reiss, at that time dean of International Affairs at the college, and Ann Marie Stock, the associate dean and a noted expert in Latin American culture, the college submitted to officials in Washington their ideas for developing educational programs in Cuba. A license to travel to Cuba and start the program was granted. It permitted students, faculty and individuals associated with the college to travel to Cuba.
“I went to Cuba for the first time in 1989, and have been back more that 60 times since then. A great deal has changed over the past quarter-century,” said Stock in an interview with the Gazette.
The extent of those changes will be the subject of Professor Stock’s Tack Faculty Lecture.
According to a W&M press release, “ Ann Maria Stock, professor of Hispanic studies and film and media studies, takes us behind the scenes of Cuba’s film world, introducing us to a vibrant cultural tradition through the lens of cinema.... To focus on moviemaking in Cuba is to track broader cultural and economic issues.
I asked Stock, in her view, what role the cultural exchange programs played in the restoration of normal relations between the two countries.
“I believe that over the past several decades, culture and education have participated in building bridges that wouldn’t exist if it had been left up to governments,” she said. “In other words, I think we see in the case of Cuba the power of culture and education to foster understanding and bring us together. Connecting on a personal level, despite many obstacles, these relationships, dealing with shared passion for education and culture, have paved the way for more diplomacy and engagement between our governments.”
Professor Stock’s talk is not intended to be a dry academic lecture. Her more that 60 visits to Cuba provided a plethora of memorable events. She was once invited to dine at Cuba’s Presidential Palace, she weathered a hurricane on the island, and this past August she helped W&M alumnus David Culvert of NBC-TV cover the flag raising at the newly re-inaugurated U.S. Embassy in Havana.
She is the author of four books on Cuban cinema, and co-creator of multiple media projects. One of them, UNMADE IN CUBA, is an exhibit of Cuban film posters, showcased in Swem Library’s Botetourt Gallery. “These 53 images are as captivating as they are colorful, paying homage to the island creativity and rendering visible inspiration and ideas,” states the introduction to the exhibit.
Significantly, those are film posters made for movies that were never made. A rare find, made possible by Professor Stock’s broad network. The posters now belong to permanent collection of the Swem Library.
Frank Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and on the Amazon.com.
Tack Faculty Lecture
Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. at William & Mary’s Commonwealth Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.