PlazaCUBA is dedicated to sharing the vibrant culture of Cuba with the rest of the world while encouraging positive change and advancement for the people. Our projects focus on promoting and preserving the island's rich heritage through educational tours that foster authentic exchange, as well as through sponsorship of Cuban groups that are on tour in the U.S.
We give back to the community by donating musical instruments and much-needed supplies and by generating funds for projects that benefit Cuban artists and organizations. Every year we award a free trip to a deserving young American musician as part of the PlazaCUBA Music Scholarship program.
PlazaCUBA is proud to be a member of RESPECT (Responsible and Ethical Cuba Travel), which is a U.S. professional association uniting nonprofit entities, travel agents, tour operators, and other travel service providers dedicated to ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba.
The staff of PlazaCUBA has one of the longest histories of educational and cultural exchange trips to Cuba of any American organziation. Our experience dates to the early 1990s with the launching of Caribbean Music and Dance Programs, the Bay Area company founded by Melissa Daar Carvajal, Lisa Marie Salb, and PlazaCUBA’s current business manager, Deborah Rubenstein-Badhia. Between 1991 and 1999, hundreds of people took advantage of the rare opportunity to travel legally to Cuba and participate in these first music and dance workshops. PlazaCUBA was founded in the year 2000. Caribbean Music and Dance and PlazaCUBA are recognized as pioneers in offering these groundbreaking cultural exchanges.
Alisa is an accomplished dancer and the visionary creator of PlazaCUBA’s cultural tours, projects, and events. Her love of Cuba dates back to1993 when she and her sister, Loralie, took a dance trip to Havana. These were difficult times on the island, but her fascination with the people – their warmth, strength, and creativity – drew her back many times. She led tours for Caribbean Music and Dance from 1997 to 1999 under the new ownership of Thor Anderson and Jane Bowling Suarez. Alisa is appreciative of the knowledge she gained from her predecessors and has since accompanied thousands of Americans to the island.
Deborah was a co-founder of Caribbean Music and Dance, the first U.S. organization to offer cultural trips to Cuba. The founders of this innovative organization met in an Afro-Cuban dance class taught by Judith Justiz – a teacher from Santiago de Cuba who helped create the vibrant community of dancers and musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area. Deborah remains inspired by PlazaCUBA’s focus on providing cross-cultural exchange and an authentic experience in Cuba for American dancers and musicians.
Donald is a Latin percussionist and business owner based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He made his first trip to Cuba in 1993 to study music with Caribbean Music and Dance Programs (CMDP). Donald began leading tours with CMDP in 1997, and met Alisa when they worked together on the same program. He has deep connections in Cuba and is a wealth of information about the people and culture. Donald has worked with PlazaCUBA on over 35 tours in the past 16 years.
Vanya is an Oakland-based farmer-educator who has lived and worked in Cuba over the past 17 years. Originally drawn to Cuba by the urban agriculture movement of the 1990s, Vanya spent a year conducting research in participatory urban planning initiatives in 2000. Since that time, she has consulted on dozens of educational and cultural exchange programs in Cuba. In recent years, her research and collaboration have been focused around Cuba's current urban and peri-urban agricultural landscape. When not in Cuba, you can find Vanya dancing and cooking up farm-fresh food.
Mela is a dance teacher and performer in the Bay Area. Since 2013, she has worked on PlazaCUBA’s music and dance programs as a tour leader and now plays an important role in program development. Her passion for Cuba began in 2002 when she began studying Afro-Cuban dance with Juan-Carlos Blanco, and continues today through her work with PlazaCUBA. In the Bay Area, Mela focuses on training in Cuban and belly dance, teaching her own movement styles, and leading women’s embodiment retreats.
Pictured with Margarita Permuy, Cuban Tour Leader
As pioneers in Cuba travel for Americans, we’ve seen many changes firsthand, experienced a renaissance in the culture, and made deep, life-long friends. We’re passionate about introducing our travelers to the dynamic and talented artists that make up our team. Let us share our connections and expertise with you!