Smithsonian Journeys Experts

Emilio Cueto

photo of Emilio Cueto

Emilio Cueto is an expert in Cuban culture, especially colonial graphic art and music. He left Cuba at age 17, one week after the Bay of Pigs landing, and was one of the first exiles to visit in the 1970s. Emilio has returned many times since and is an avid collector of Cuban memorabia. He has exhibited portions of his collection in Miami's Historical Museum of Southern Florida and prepared the three catalogs accompanying those exhibitions: Mialhe's Colonial Cuba (1994), Cuba in old maps (1999), and Illustrating Cuba's flora and fauna (2002). In addition, he has written an illustrated work on the Patroness of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity (2014), a monograph on how the Cuban province of Camaguey has been featured in music (2014), and a coffee-table book on Cuba's impact in the United States (2016). He has also organized five concerts of Cuba-related music at Florida International University in Miami. A retired attorney, Emilio previously worked for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C. 

Featured Expert Stories

The Surprising History of Cuba's Patron Saint
Smithsonian Journeys Quarterly; October 27, 2016.

A Q&A with Expert Emilio Cueto

What Our Travelers Say

He was the backbone of the trip, with great insights from frequent visits over the years.

- Mark M., Discover Cuba

Emilio was an exceptional expert on all topics and a very good singer, as well. He took the time to explain issues and would even individually discuss issues with us. He was immensely professional and a credit to the Smithsonian.

- Jeremy R. , Discover Cuba

He was outstanding and made the trip superb.

- Smithsonian Journeys Traveler, Discover Cuba

A Q&A with Expert Emilio Cueto

Q. What expectations should Smithsonian Journeys travelers have about travel to Cuba?

A. Travelers should expect the unexpected. Cuba is rapidly changing in many ways, and the average Cuban resident now has more opportunities than ever during the preceding five decades to travel abroad, to buy and sell personal and real property, to receive unlimited remittances from abroad, to open small businesses (mostly services), to be employed by foreign firms, to practice religion with more freedom, to be exposed to more visitors (particularly Americans and Cubans living abroad), to access the internet. Travelers will be able to witness, understand, and measure the multiple signs of this emerging new Cuba, including the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. They should also understand that Cuba is a developing country and some inconveniences and hardships cannot be totally excluded from their travel experience. Finally, travelers should expect to be questioned about their unique, exciting experience by friends upon their return to the U.S.

Q.  What excites you about travel to Cuba?

A. The people. Cuba’s population is the result of contributions from pre-Columbian settlers, Spanish immigrants (Spain itself being a multi-regional mosaic), African slaves (coming from different areas within the Continent's Atlantic coast), French planters, Chinese indentured servants, Yucatan serfs, Jamaican and Haitian sugar laborers, Arab arrivals, Jewish refugees, Latin American political asylum seekers, and Eastern European socialist advisors. During the last five centuries, each of these groups has had to adapt in the pursuit of the elusive goal of living as equals and in harmony. From these various sources, the Cuban people slowly emerged, reflecting in its literature, visual arts, music, dance, customs, and character the multifaceted influences offered by the various ethnic groups.

Q. What kinds of insights do you hope to bring to our travelers?

A. I was born in Cuba and lived there until high school. I have returned to the island dozens of times during the last 39 years, and I have traveled extensively throughout all provinces, including the Island of Youth. Not only have I devoted many years to the study of Cuba’s history and culture, but having family and friends in Cuba I have learned many lessons about everyday life in the island. Given my background, I believe I can share with our travelers a sense of trajectory and movement, as opposed to a still picture, in the discussion of Cuba’s many realities. Last, but certainly not least, I can also bring the perspective of exile, without which no understating of the island can ever be complete.

Q. What do you enjoy most about accompanying Smithsonian Journeys travelers?

A. The questions they pose. Having been born in Cuba and traveling so often to the island while living abroad, I instinctively look at Cuba through my own peculiar experience, which is to be expected. Smithsonian Journeys travelers, however, necessarily bring new perspectives into the equation, and I am challenged to see Cuba through their inquisitive eyes. This, in turn, prompts me to reflect and craft more complex and nuanced answers in an attempt to provide such depth and context as will allow the foreign traveler to better understand Cuba’s condition. As a result, I have developed a richer understanding about my own country of origin.