HAYWARD, Calif. - Two dozen students from Cal State East Bay just returned from a study abroad program. They spent 17 days in Cuba, a communist island nation.
One of the students, a 26 year old, tells KTVU this trip is much more than a school project.
Daniel Arevalo says this journey is about fulfilling his grandfather's wish and preserving family history.
He read from an article he has written about his grandfather's experience as a Cuban refugee who escaped to the United States," "From a rowboat to a sailboat to a fishing boat. There were a total of 14 refugees just 90 miles south of new lives."
Arevalo, a Hayward native, is describing his 95 year old grandfather Francisco Luna's journey to the United States from Cuba in 1962 in search of a better life.
In Cuba, Daniel traveled by a horse-drawn carriage, a common mode of transportation.
He visited the coastal town of Caibarien, three hours east of Havana where his grandfather had lived
"Surreal, going out there knowing that I was doing this trip for him," says the college junior.
Daniel walked in his grandfather's shoes, experiencing the life he had only heard about until now.
In Spanish, Luna, his grandfather tells KTVU he had longed for food and freedom as a young man in Cuba.
"Everyday there was less and less. There was almost nothing to eat," says Luna.
He says the homes he built with his own hands and the money he made at a tannery were taken away by the communist government.
At 39 years old, the husband and father risked his life and escaped by boat first to Miami. Months later, he moved to California.
Luna made newspaper headlines as one of Hayward's early Cuban refugees .
Now 55 years later, he tasked his grandson with bringing back his old bicycle horn. It's a memento from his courtship of his late wife.
With the help of his grandson's translation, he told us in Spanish," I would honk it at the corner . She would come out of her house and she would wave at him."
A relative had kept the horn all these years. "I was speechless when I officially had it in my hands," says Daniel.
"The interesting thing about Cuba is there's no wall. There's just 90 miles of ocean but the two countries are worlds apart," says Casey Beck, the instructor who led the Cal State East Bay students on the trip to Cuba," We felt this was an opportunity to bring students to see politics in action and how it affects real people."
Daniel says he was impressed by the Cuban people's resourcefulness in finding wealth while living in poverty. "They live in dirt roads and scraping by just to eat. But at the same time, they're so happy."
Daniel says his grandfather's story is his story. "The only reason I'm here is because he left that country. The only reason that I have the opportunities I have is because he made that sacrifice," says the college student.
Daniel says he gave the bike horn to his grandfather at the Oakland airport when he returned home from Cuba.
He says his grandfather was speechless as he held it in both hands.