Cuba: Threads of Change main content.

Cuba: Threads of Change

Part of Celebrate Culture!

Cuban Flag in Doorway
Photo by Nina Rumbough

Join a conversation that explores Cuba’s remarkable biodiversity and its changing relationship with the United States. Historian and policy expert Julia Sweig, anthropologist Ruth Behar, environmental lawyer Dan Whittle, and herpetologist and co-curator of ¡Cuba! Chris Raxworthy lead a lively dialogue focused on contemporary Cuba, its people, identity, and biodiversity. Moderated by conservation biologist and co-curator of ¡Cuba! Ana Luz Porzecanski

A performance in ¡Cuba! by award-winning storyteller David Gonzalez follows.

About the speakers

Julia Sweig

Julia E. Sweig is a historian, policy expert, and Senior Research Fellow at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. She is the award-winning author of several books, including Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know and Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground, for which she won the American Historical Association Herbert Feis Award for best book of the year by an independent scholar. She has been traveling to and writing about Cuba since 1984. 

Ruth Behar

Ruth Behar was born in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in New York City. She is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellows “Genius” Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. A traveler, storyteller, poet, educator, and public speaker, Ruth frequently visits and writes about her native Cuba and is the author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys. She is the editor of the pioneering anthology, Bridges to Cuba, and coeditor of The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. Her documentary, Adio Kerida/Goodbye Dear Love: A Cuban Sephardic Journey has been shown in festivals around the world. With poet Richard Blanco, she runs Bridges to Cuba as a forum for Cuban stories that engage the heart as the island moves into a new era of its history. Her debut novel for young readers, Lucky Broken Girl, the story of a Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in April 2017. 

Daniel Whittle

Daniel Whittle has led Enviromental Defense Fund projects in Cuba to promote sustainable fisheries and the conservation of critical marine and coastal ecosystems for nearly 20 years. Dan and his team helped Cuban scientists design an island-wide network of marine parks and nature preserves aimed at protecting Cuba’s remarkable coral reefs and other critical habitats. He has worked alongside Cuban lawyers, policy makers and conservationists to identify new science-based approaches to managing fisheries, and is spearheading an innovative community-based program with fishermen designed to end overfishing and rebuild fish populations. Since 2008 Dan has been especially active in promoting scientific exchange and environmental cooperation between the United States and Cuba and has been recognized by both governments for his efforts to facilitate a fruitful dialogue between former adversaries. Dan has worked at EDF since 1997 on a variety of issues, including forest conservation, agricultural pollution, and marine conservation.

Christopher Raxworthy

Christopher J. Raxworthy, who joined the Museum in 2000, has been studying reptiles and amphibians in Madagascar since 1985. Since 1985 Dr. Raxworthy has found (and is continuing to describe) many more new species and has added a wealth of information to the knowledge on known species. Currently, his research is focused on gecko and chameleon molecular and morphological systematics, and the use of remotely sensed data (from satellites) to help predict the distributions and model the ecological niches of species.  This project includes field surveys mountainous areas of northern Madagascar, of which many have never been previously explored or surveyed. Dr. Raxworthy also has conducted fieldwork in Vietnam, Ghana, and Mali. His broader research interests include the applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for identifying conservation priorities, and exploring patterns of speciation and endemism in Madagascar.

Ana Porzecanski

Ana Luz Porzecanski is a conservation biologist with experience in scientific research, science education, teaching, professional training, and capacity development at multiple scales. Her primary interest is understanding biodiversity and how to sustain it effectively for the future. She obtained her undergraduate degree in biological sciences from the Universidad de la República, Uruguay, and her Ph.D. from Columbia University, where she carried out research on the systematics and historical biogeography of South American aridland birds, as well as on international environmental policy issues. She has over a decade of experience coordinating and leading conservation capacity development projects, designing teaching materials for university professors and conservation professionals, and leading professional development for diverse educator audiences in Latin America, Africa and the United States. Dr. Porzecanski also teaches courses in conservation biology and evolution at Columbia University and New York University, where she is an adjunct faculty member.

About the performer

David Gonzalez

Playwright/storyteller/musician/poet/actor David Gonzalez, a Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, received the Lifetime Achievement award from International Performing Arts for Youth and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his original production of “The Frog Bride” at Broadway’s New Victory Theater. Mr. Gonzalez was the host of New York Kids on WNYC for eight seasons, and wrote Rise for Freedom!, an opera libretto commissioned and produced by the Cincinnati Opera, and Mariel, an Afro-Cuban musical which won the Macy’s “New Play Prize for Young Audiences.”  


¡Cuba! was developed in collaboration with the Cuban National Museum of Natural History. 

Major funding for ¡Cuba! has been provided by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund.

Significant support for ¡Cuba! has been provided by the Ford Foundation.

Generous support for ¡Cuba! has been provided by the Dalio Ocean Initiative.

¡Cuba! is proudly supported by JetBlue.