“It’s about pressing human rights issues”: Interview with Princeton’s CAUSA co-founder Kenneth A. Sinkovitz
The Cuban American Undergraduate Student Association (CAUSA) organized a demonstration on the Princeton University campus on Good Friday to protest the crackdown on dissent in Cuba two years ago, from which more than 75 people are still being held as political prisoners. Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenneth Sinkovitz about his involvement in CAUSA.
FW: Tell me, how did your group start?
KS: It’s a group of Cuban-American college students, mostly from schools in the North East and Florida, and I co-founded it with Chris Gueits. Chris knows more about the Georgetown, Miami, and University of Pennsylvania groups. We did a lot of phone conferences and brainstormed ideas for the march. The idea of the group is to promote awareness, and to keep up with current events on Cuba.
We want the students at Princeton University to have accurate information. There’s a lot of apathy and indifference in America, and that is why the Cuban-American students want to bring up this activism. The opportunity for activism is there because it’s not only about traditions, like other ethnic groups, like, say, the Japanese students, but also because it’s about human rights issues, and clearing up the misconceptions.
We talked about The Motorcycle Diaries, and how it portrays Che Guevara, a murderer, in an idealized light. Ken was surprised to hear that there are two more Che movies in the making, and recommended that I read the book Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson,
KS: Che: A Revolutionary Life has a lot of information on Che that people don’t realize or don’t know about. People just don’t know. We were watching in Spanish Film class the documentary Los Balseros, about the Mariel [boatlift] of 1994, and there was total silence in the classroom. Unless you live in Miami or in Hudson County [NJ] you don’t know about these things.
In two weeks, the CAUSA organizations of Georgetown and Harvard Universities will run a Cuban-American student news conference at Georgetown, with 100 Cuban-American students from 25 different schools, and many international students from Europe and South America. We’ll discuss the Cuban-American students’ role in promoting awareness, and have two keynote speakers. Former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar and former Urugayan president Luis Alberto Lacalle will be keynote speakers. We’ve talked to MSNBC and C-Span, so they’ll be there, too.
FW: Was last Friday’s silent march on campus related to the dissidents’ wives’ marches of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday?
KS: It was symbolic, in that we all dressed in white, like the 75 dissident wives.
FW: Those ladies have more guts that I’ll have in my entire life. Very brave women.
KS: The wives get a lot of criticism, every time. There’s another documentary, La Primavera de Cuba, on the repercussions of dissent, very good, even when it’s only 30-45 minutes long, very moving.
FW: Have you read Waiting for Snow in Havana?
KS: Oh, yes! Eire was on campus last night, and he spoke about his book. We were at Frist [Princeton University’s student union building] last evening and talked to him for nearly two hours. He’s really an outstanding person. His book was a great inspiration for me in forming the [CAUSA] group.
A while ago I had read Cuba : A New History, which gave me a lot of background on Cuban history, and after that I sat down with my abuelo, who’s now 85 and talked about Cuba, but it wasn’t until I read Eire’s book that I felt I had to do something.
Abuelo had been president of La Tabaqueria, and fortunately had connections in the USA, was able to fly out with his family, and also to find work with the American tobacco companies, so I had a wrong impression of what exile was like, but when I read Erie’s book my eyes were opened. Those families were broken up and were never able to pick up the pieces. I’ve also met kids whose parents were political prisoners. And that’s how I got involved.
Following our interview, Mr. Sinkovitz emailed me, and further explained,
The inspiration born for this student movement here on campus started as a little curiosity to learn more about Cuban history and its role on my family both after and before the exile; this curiosity, however, was transformed into a deep rooted passion and zeal after reading Carlos Eire’s moving biography, Waiting for Snow in Havana. The thought that not everyone left Cuba like my family did made me want to find others of Cuban descent to compare and preserve stories, as well as share them with the greater Princeton community. After mobilizing people of Cuban-American decent, using the facebook, an online college directory which can serve to connect people of similar interest, I came across the determined and enthusiastic Chris Gueits; another sophomore of Cuban descent from Miami. He had been planning to promulgate a Cuban-American organization just the same and had important connections to student leaders at other schools with well entrenched Cuban-American groups, like Georgetown, Miami, U-Penn, and more thanks to his growing up in Miami with many of the leaders of those groups. With these connections we were able to legitimize our cause here at Princeton and organize our March 25 commemoration through the aid of phone conferences with up to 15 other representatives at other schools.
The driving idea behind our group is to promote awareness, and to keep ourselves and the student body informed of current events on Cuba. We want the students at Princeton University to have accurate information because there are a lot of misconceptions revolving around the Cuba that really exists, and the Cuba that exists in the minds of American students. There’s a lot of apathy and indifference in America, and that is why the Cuban-American students want to bring up this activism. The opportunity for activism exists because the group is not only about traditions, like other ethnic groups, but also because it’s about pressing human rights issues, providing Cuba with a voice in the college forum, and clearing up misconceptions about the Cuban history and contemporary Cuban affairs.
This blog will post more on this movement, and the upcoming Georgetown Press Conference. “Stay tuned”.
Interview also available at Blogger News Network