Members of the West Indian Folk Dance Company of Chicago perform during a Cultures of the Caribbean event held at Alumni Hall at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Ind., Saturday, April 20, 2013. The event, sponsored by the Building Community Through the Arts Committee, featured Caribbean themed cuisine, performances, and speakers. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 3, 2013 3:12PM
More than 100 area residents recently took a cruise to the Caribbean Islands — an armchair cruise, that is.
The travelers enjoyed the music, food and entertainment of the islands in Purdue University Calumet’s Alumni Hall during the Cultures of the Caribbean program, sponsored by the university’s Building Community Through the Arts organization, Multicultural Campus Council and the International Programs Office.
The day included history lessons from featured speakers and in literature handed out at the entrance door.
“I had no idea that three-fourths of Cuba’s food comes from other countries,” said Gary resident Janet James, as she and her husband Will James enjoyed their dinner of jerk chicken, rice, beans and fried plantains. “And according to the pamphlet information, only 2 percent of all those many Caribbean Islands are inhabited. I had no idea.”
During the program, Purdue Professor Kathleen Tobin related her experiences in Haiti, both before the last earthquake and after. She has gone on three trips to this country to both teach and do research on their educational system.
Tobin has written a book, “Brush with Haiti,” released last year, and also an article for the Journal of Urban History to be published this year.
Even though the country has seen much devastation, the people haven’t all turned to despair, she said.
“I see a great commitment (from them) to the future,” Tobin added. “They feel their struggle is not a failure, no matter what they’ve been through. They keep on going.”
Gary residents Kathleen York and her son Kyle, 11, enjoyed the afternoon, especially the Pan Go Steel Drum music.
“You don’t hear this kind of sound around here all the time,” Kyle said. “It doesn’t look that hard to play. I wonder if I could do that.”
Merrillville residents and sisters Linda Olander and Katy Martiano said they are in the process of planning their summer vacation. And visiting the Caribbean Islands looked like an attractive option, they added.
“Whenever we see those advertisements of blue skies and beaches, that’s where we want to go,” Olander laughed. “We’ve gotten tons of books and talked with travel agents, but there’s nothing like this event — eating the food of the area and getting ideas from people who have been there. Now that’s the way to plan a vacation.”
Her sibling agreed.
“We both are hesitant to try new things, but we also realize we have to keep open minds if we want to get new experiences,” Martiano said. “This culture program is perfect for people like us — and we had no idea we would be having a full meal of their traditional food. It tasted pretty good.”