2016 Annual Report - page 20

While in Cuba, he also sought out opportunities to
explore the role that Catholicism plays in contemporary Cuban
“It was fascinating to see just how widespread Catholicism
is practiced in contemporary Cuba.This has not always been
the case under the revolutionary government, but it is certainly
the case today. Certainly, the resiliency of Catholicism in Cuba
can be explained in both spiritual and cultural terms, as in other
parts of Latin
America. Still, I
witnessed more
unique ways in
which Catholic
Cubans practiced
their faith. I did
expect and
appreciate the
blending of West-
Central African
spirituality into Catholic religious
devotion, but I was also intrigued by
the ways in which traditional Spanish
practices such as the cult of the saints
continue to be used by Cubans to
help them cope with the pressures
and uncertainty of the contemporary
world,” he said.
Olivas also said conversations
with international scholars became
especially useful.
“My interactions with international
scholars were quite useful for my book project in terms of
revealing new perspectives about Cuba and Caribbean history.
Creating a dialogue between scholars of Latin American,
European, and African history is so essential to gaining a truly
balanced understanding of AtlanticWorld history.This helped
me realize my need to better understand the political history
of West-Central Africa at the turn of the 18th Century, as the
success of French slaving activities in Latin America would have
depended not only upon the cooperation of Spanish imperial
subjects, but also African merchants and coastal elites,” he
To read an extended version of this story visit
Going Beyond: TAMIU Professor
Reconnects with Past in Present Cuba
Sometimes, going home can be a first-time experience.
This past summer, Dr. Aaron Alejandro Olivas,TAMIU associate
professor of history, reconnected with his family’s history during
a visit to Cuba while presenting at an international academic
Dr. Olivas,
whose heritage is
and Spanish, was
able to meet a
cousin from his
mother’s side of
the family, part of
a larger extended
family that mostly
left Cuba for the
United States in the
“My trip to
Cuba was very
moving given my family’s connection to the island. My own
family history and Hispanic identity are what first inspired me
to become a historian, so you can imagine how meaningful this
trip was to me. I was also fortunate to find my cousin Rafael
in Holguín, in the eastern part of the island. My grandmother
Dolores used to correspond with him for years, sending him
money for his basic needs. I could not help but feel it was my
duty to visit him—part personal interest, part Spanish guilt.
Rafael is my only living relative in Cuba, since the rest of the
family has either died or left the island. Sadly, it is a common
reality that the ColdWar, the Revolution, and immigration in
the late 20th Century has led to the division of so many Cuban
families,” Olivas explained.
Central to Olivas’ visit was his participation at the
conference, “The Slave Trade to Cuba: New Research
Perspectives,” organized by the Universidad de La Habana and
Harvard University. His presentation, “Trade and Politics of the
French Compagnie Royale de Guinée in Cuba, 1702-1712,”
delved into late colonial Spanish America’s transition from
Habsburg to Bourbon rule and its relation to the slave trade.
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