Make The Connection

June 18, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan students and faculty members explore 'Cuban Migration, Food, and Identity' during a trip to Louisville, Kentucky – the second-largest Cuban community in the United States. Making the trip are (from left) Reagan Brake '26, Matthew Kelley '24, Christopher Fink, Haydn Peterson '24, Amarilys Torres-Nuñez '25, and Liz Nix. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Fink)

Hunger for Learning

Ohio Wesleyan Students Explore 'Cuban Migration, Food, and Identity'

Reagan Brake '26

Name: Reagan Brake '26
Hometown: McPherson, Kansas
High School: Inman High School
Major: Public Health
Minor: Nutrition

OWU Connection Experience: Ongoing research into "Cuban Migration, Food, and Identity" with travel to Kentucky, Florida, Cuba, and Denmark

Brake and fellow Ohio Wesleyan students Matthew Kelley '24, Amarilys Torres-Nuñez '25, and Haydn Peterson '24 completed a directed reading during spring semester exploring issues related to "Cuban Migration, Food, and Identity."

As part of the course, they traveled with professors Christopher Fink, Ph.D., and Liz Nix, Ph.D., to Louisville, Kentucky – the second-largest Cuban community in the United States – where they met with a representative from Catholic Charities, one of the Louisville organizations that helps support Cuban immigrants, and also conducted fieldwork at markets, restaurants, and urban farms that support the local Cuban community.

In late July, Brake, Torres-Nunez, and Peterson will continue their research, traveling with Fink to Miami, Florida, and Havana, Cuba, with financial support from an OWU Connection Theory-to-Practice Grant. They will explore how food practices among Cubans and Cuban migrants in Miami reflect Cuban identity and the various social, economic, and political forces that followed the Cuban Revolution. Brake currently is studying in Denmark.

A Deeper Understanding

"Before the directed reading course, I had limited knowledge of Cuban history and immigration," Brake says. "Since completing the course, my understanding of Cuban immigration and empathy toward their everyday struggles significantly deepened.

"Specifically, we read the book 'Food in Cuba' written by Hanna Garth, which offers a comprehensive description of families' pursuit of food daily. Garth wrote that families would go shopping for their food each day. This insight was reinforced in a bakery in Louisville, Kentucky, where people would come in and buy large amounts of pastries we assumed to be for a family.

"This experience highlights that food practices differ between cultures and taught me that my family's practices growing up are not universal. In the future, I hope to use the information gained from the experience to help with a deeper understanding of food accessibility in different places. …

"This area of research interests me because food and eating habits greatly affect various health outcomes. As a Public Health major and Nutrition minor, studying the correlation between nutrition, immigration, and health outcomes directly relates to my academic pursuit."

My Favorite Louisville Moment

"My favorite moment from the Louisville trip was the debriefs the group did at the end of each day. I found the different perspectives of each person in the group to be very interesting. Each person's background allowed them to notice different things giving our analysis an interdisciplinary approach to our observations."

Expanding Insight

"On our trip to Florida/Cuba, I am excited to compare and contrast the different foodways used in different parts of the country. Specifically, the use of community gardens in an area that is tropical to an area that experiences different seasons. I am also excited to learn and experience a new country that I have never been to.

"Currently, I am studying abroad in Copenhagen for six weeks. Prior to my time abroad, I received a small grant to further the study of food in Cuba by introducing a comparative aspect to Danish culture and food. I decided to go to Denmark because of the sustainability and accessibility of the country."

My OWU Mentors

"Professor Fink and Professor Nix have played a pivotal role in the grants being approved and the guidance throughout the course. The two professors have provided a wide variety of reading materials and other academic tools to prepare us for the trip. The two also proofread and signed my personal small grant project to allow my analysis between Cuban and Danish culture." Fink is a professor of Health and Human Kinetics and co-director of the Public Health Program, and Nix is an assistant professor of Nutrition.

My Campus Involvements

"I am involved in many different things. I was recently elected as vice president of operations for the Delta Delta Delta sorority. I am part of the Women's volleyball team. I recently joined the Ski and Snowboard Club and participated in the snow trails activity. I am part of the inaugural Public Health Student Board.

The OWU Public Health degree program is preparing me to pursue a postgraduate degree and a career in the future.

Reagan Brake '26

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan?

"I chose to attend Ohio Wesleyan because of the opportunities that the college offers. … The OWU Public Health degree program is preparing me to pursue a postgraduate degree and a career in the future. The OWU Connection program has allowed me to travel to different places that I would not be able to travel to without their help. …

"I also felt very supported from the moment I stepped on the campus. I am also fortunate enough to be part of the Ohio Wesleyan University volleyball team."

My Plans After Graduation

"As for my future, I am unsure what career path I want to follow. I hope to merge my passions for travel and Public Health and create a career from them. After graduation, I plan to pursue a master's in Public Health."