[Interview and video filmed, directed and edited by Fedora Rivas]
Nineteen-year-old American psychology student Eva Ringquist has no shortage of experiences with different cultures. Her father is from Sweden, her mother from Venezuela and Eva has spent time in both places. But her two month journey through Cuba in 2016 — staying in the homes of locals — was something completely new and, frankly, jarring. “The overall experiences of living in this country and seeing the way society works has been a huge shock in many ways,” she says.
When Eva’s father, a professor at the Berklee College of Music, traveled to Cuba to research Afro-Cuban percussion and music, the opportunity arose for his daughter to learn folkloric dances from local teachers.
Eva, an award-winning gymnast as a child who also studies contemporary dance, chronicled her experience in a video that she shared with PEOPLE CHICA. Through her immersion, the young woman comes to understand the glaring contradictions of a people cut off from political freedom, economic opportunity and many modern comforts, who are nevertheless filled with passion and spirit.
Ringquist takes the viewer down the colorful yet decaying streets of Havana, depicting a paradise in ruins. “My first impression of Cuba was that it was very old-fashioned, going back in time with the cars and the architecture of the buildings. The streets were very rundown and dirty,” she says. “There are many buildings that you don’t think people live in because there are so broken down, but three or four families are living in it.”
She was impressed by people’s joy and warmth, and the sensuous way Cubans dance. “Everybody was very hospitable and welcoming but also a little crazy,” she jokes. “There is a definite feeling of spontaneous partying within the culture.”
But the teen, who lives in Boston, was forced to reconcile the vibrant, percussive energy of Afro-Cuban music and dance with the lives of a population under the strict control of a totalitarian communist state. “I feel like many people are trapped because the living situations here are not good,” she recounts. “It sickens me to see a government treat foreigners and tourists better than its own citizens.”
Though she was inspired by the resilience of the Cuban people, she also recognized their acceptance as a coping mechanism. “They don’t have the choice really to change anything as an individual person. So instead of living in this environment and being angry all the time, accepting it is a way to survive and that’s sad,” she concludes. “I really hope that things can get better for this country because I think the people deserve better.”
The video dives into Ringquist’s dance lessons and her exploration of movement and offers an exclusive glimpse of a fully costumed street performance. “This experience and this travel has influenced how I will dance in the future,” reveals Ringquist.
But it’s clear that the student learned much more than exotic and understudied beats, rhythms and steps during her trip.