Public history master’s students at UNCG have uncovered a rich set of stories about the base featured in a new exhibition, “The Guantánamo Public Memory Project,” which opens today (Dec. 12) at 7 p.m. at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, 134 S. Elm St. in Greensboro.
Exhibit visitors will encounter personal stories, learn how the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay has impacted individual lives, and explore how American foreign policy has shaped the base for more than a century. Visitors will also get to add their own voices to the GTMO debate by submitting their opinions via text messaging.
The exhibit’s arrival is the culmination of work that began a year and a half ago. Eleven universities from across the country collaborated to research and design the traveling exhibition. Guided by Dr. Benjamin Filene, director of public history and an associate professor, the UNCG students delved into GTMO’s history, interviewed former GTMO residents and collaborated with an exhibit designer to create the exhibit panel on life at the base in the Cold War era.
“Starting this project, we never imagined the complexities we would uncover surrounding everyday relations between Cubans and Americans,” says student Hayley Whitehead. “We hope this exhibit will inspire people to look past GTMO’s gates and see the people who lived both within and outside of them.”
Inspired by their work with this national project, the UNCG graduate students have created a set of public programs to extend its reach. Entitled GTMO & GSO, these programs include a cultural event series, children’s story hours and exhibit supplements that highlight local resonances with the GTMO story. Since opening in New York City, the exhibit has sparked dialogue across the country as it has traveled to the cities of each participating school.
“When you see how GTMO’s history resonates with Greensboro’s, it makes you appreciate how powerful this story really is,” says student Megan Coker.
The “Voices from Guantánamo” cultural event series features military personnel, scholars and people who lived at GTMO sharing first-hand accounts of life at the base. Tomorrow’s first program marks the exhibit’s opening at the museum. The panel explores base life during the Cold War, a period that, while tension-filled internationally, many base residents remember as idyllic. In addition to exploring the exhibit during the opening, visitors will also have the chance to sample (free of charge) authentic Cuban cuisine provided by Miami’s Cafe of Winston-Salem.
The second program, on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m., explores the hardships faced by Cuban and Haitian refugees during the 1990s. On Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., the final program will consider the contemporary controversies surrounding detention at GTMO. The final program on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.: is “GTMO After 9/11: Detainees, Defense and ‘Legal Exception.’”
Admission to the programs is free. On non-program days, visitors must pay admission to the Museum to see the exhibit.
Learn more at www.sitinmovement.org.