The DSA international Committee (IC) sent a delegation to Cuba in October 2023. Austin DSA member and former Justice of the Peace candidate, Andrew Hairston, went. Gumbo discussed the trip with Andrew before they left.
Gumbo: Why were you interested in going with the Cuba delegation?
Hairston: I’ve been to Mexico and to Jamaica and I have always been fascinated by the way that Cuba and Cubans have sustained themselves under U.S. embargo. I applied on a whim after the IC announced the trip at the DSA convention and I really wanted to go not just as a tourist, but as an organizer and as someone with so much to learn about the struggle of the Cuban people to build and preserve socialism.
Gumbo: So you’ve been outside the U.S. before – what about the Cuba trip makes this different for you?
Hairston: I don’t speak much Spanish, so I’m going to be building the plan as we fly it on that front. I’m excited to be going as a socialist, as a member of DSA, and as an organizer. There was a point in my life where I think I would’ve been a socialist organizer sooner but after my experience running for office as a socialist and now as a rank-and-file member of the organization, that’s really come full circle for me.
At one point in law school, I was reading about socialism and having these conversations with my classmates. “Maybe capitalism is the problem. Maybe we need to build socialism or just something different,” and a classmate from Miami with Cuban ancestry, rebuffed me and told me how it was a horrible ideology and how Fidel Castro and Che Guevara murdered thousands of people and so I just tucked that political awakening away. There is another comrade in the delegation who I organized with years ago, so in many ways this trip feels like coming full circle for me in my political journey.
Gumbo: What are you most looking forward to on the Cuba delegation?
Hairston: First and foremost, just being among the people. I think that we’re going to see just how wrong all of the U.S. propaganda about Cuba really is. I’ve heard we’ll be touring a vaccine manufacturing plant and I know Cuba was key to creating and distributing a vaccine that was available to U.S. foes. We are also touring an elementary school and we were encouraged to bring school supplies. To me, that’s the best part of this trip: we aren’t just going to be tourists, we’re going to learn and to build relationships and to practice that solidarity that we are always talking about at home.
There’s another element to it too, an emotional and familial element. I pray with my family every Thursday over FaceTime and it’s a way for me to stay close with my mom and my sister and niece. When I broke the news a few weeks ago about going to Cuba, it launched a wider conversation with my family about socialism and my political views. My family lives in a rural part of a deeply conservative state. They’ve been so deeply harmed by this system of private property in the United States. My aunt has perennially dirty water, and she has had to fight to keep her house. They stand to gain so much from a politics rooted in the land that they live on and the work that they do, and I’m really excited to come back from the delegation with even more to talk to them about.
Gumbo: Speaking of your family and your position as a Black comrade in the Southern U.S., how do you feel that your relationship to race and religion and region has played into your expectations for the trip?
Hairston: For starters, I think if this opportunity had come up for me just a year ago, I would have tried to push boundaries a little harder: try to bring more supplies through the embargo, or bring more goods back, some cigars or something. But now, I am just a sober Baptist deacon and I’m content. I really felt called to the spiritual grounding of my dad and the 148-year-old Black church that I minister at. There is a 101-year-old Black woman who comes every single Sunday and I get to see the joy in her face when she tells me stories of what it was like to grow up in Austin so long ago.
At times I am reticent to say that I’m doing this [political] work for Black people, but unequivocally I am. I want a better world that is built in part by and for Black people and I try to bring that into my ministry as well, talking at church about how the main reason that Black people have come as far as they have is because of a socialist struggle against racial capitalism.
I am looking forward to reading more about the historical relationship between the Cuban people’s struggle for liberation and the struggle of Black people in the United States. I know Castro was welcomed with open arms and wide smiles in Harlem in the 1960s and that the roots run deep. I’m also glad to be embedded in DSA to have the resources to be learning and pursuing all of this work.
Gumbo: Were there any special hoops you had to jump through, or any particular difficulties you faced in preparing to visit Cuba?
Hairston: Surprisingly less than you might think! We are registered as visiting the island and I had to get my passport renewed and everything as you usually would, but so far it has all been pretty straightforward. The most difficult part was the fundraiser, because within 24 hours of setting up a fundraiser page on PayPal, it was flagged and taken down. About 72 hours later, PayPal said, “hey explain this page or your account might be compromised.” It wasn’t easy to raise money because of the material impacts of the embargo.
The IC leadership organizing the trip also warned the delegates to expect to be accosted when we return about what we were “really doing” while we were there. Like I said, a younger me might have pushed those boundaries and said, “Man we were down there building international solidarity and socialism!” But I plan on just getting through that process slick and smooth. Speaking of those material impacts of the embargo, the IC also said not to expect the best of food while we’re there, because they don’t have access to the same array of spices and sugar and salt and all that we have come to expect here in the States.
I do think that there was an inherent racial disparity involved in that having the money to front for the delegation was more difficult for Black and brown people, but I am grateful for my comrades who helped me figure it out and scrape things together. I have some recommendations I plan to make to the IC once we return, but right now my sights are set squarely on learning as much as I possibly can from the wonderful people of Cuba about practicing the world we all hope to build, and I’m looking forward to the hard interpersonal conversations with my family, my friends, and my comrades once we’re back home.
The DSA 2023 Cuba Delegation visited the island from 22 – 26 October 2023 under the leadership of the International Committee. When they’ve settled back in at home, Gumbo plans to sit down with Andrew again to talk about how the reality of the visit lived up to the expectations, the things he learned, and the wisdom they want to impart on Austin DSA.