I made my first trip to Cuba in 2009, and met award winning filmmaker Gerardo Chijona. A mutual friend Joe Perez, founder Cuba Travel Services, suggested I meet Gerardo. I found him to be very generous with his time as he was in the middle of editing Boleto al Paraiso (Ticket to Paradise) one of his films which takes place during Cuba's 'special period' of acute shortages. Last year, I hosted his daughter Laura and partner Lorenzo in Los Angeles where they met with several artists and head of the Pan-African Film Festival.

One of the highlights from my initial trip to La Habana was to visit with the most influential figure in modern Afro‐Cuban jazz, pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdes. His career spans over 50 years, winning five Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards. At his home, I also met his wife and manager Lorena and their son Julian who could not resist showing off his multitude of musical talents. I later hosted receptions in Los Angeles for Chucho and his band while on a tour. It was a unique opportunity to meet Cuban artists.

L to R: Chucho Valdes, Junko Perez, and Joe Perez at the first reception for Chucho held in Santa Monica, California at Susan Adelman and Claudia Llanos home, February 2, 2010.

L to R: Andy Summers (The Police), Jackson Browne, Suzanne Thompson, and Herbie Hancock, at a reception for Chucho held in Santa Monica, California at Susan Adelman and Claudia Llanos home, February 2, 2010.

We celebrated Chucho Valdes and Lorena Salcedo's birthdays as he graciously shared his talents with guests at Jan Goodman and Jerry Pearlman's home in Santa Monica, February 15, 2010. photo credit Bryon Motley. 

Chucho Valdes returned again to Los Angeles in October with his newly expanded Afro-Cuban Messengers honoring Irakere’s groundbreaking work. The performance at Disney Hall was the Southern California stop for the Irakere 40th anniversary tour. I was happy to share this cultural experience with two Arts and Cultural Bridge Foundation’s grant recipients, performance artist Amy Kaps and writer, photographer, singer Byron Motley.

Arts and Cultural Bridge Foundation grant recipients, Amy Kaps and Byron Motley. 

Another enlightening cultural experience I had was working with Cuban director Ian Padron, promoting his film “Habanastation”, Cuba’s 2011 best foreign film, official entry to the Academy Awards. He was able to meet actors and US filmmakers such as Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and Mike Medavoy.

Cuban filmmaker, Ian Padron meets Oliver Stone in his Santa Monica office to introduce him to "Habanastation", Cuba’s official entry for best foreign film to the Academy Awards. L to R: Oliver Stone, Ian Padron and Suzanne Thompson.

L to R: Cuban filmmaker Ian Padron, Pacifica Radio KPFK Sojourner Truth host Margaret Prescod, filmmaker Michael Moore and Suzanne Thompson atICM screening of "Habanastation", Cuba’s official entry for best foreign film to the Academy Awards, December 7, 2011.