CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For many Americans, Cuba simply conjures up vestiges of Cold War anxiety, images of an ailing Fidel Castro, and the youthful portrait of Che Guevara.
But a Cuban minister who traveled to Charleston on Tuesday hopes to change that mindset.
Communism, Samuel Aguilera said, should not be the face of Cuba.
"There are many Cubans with different feelings and different lifestyles that should be heard and loved," he said. "They are the real face of Cuba."
Aguilera comes from the vibrant neighborhood of San Miguel in Havana. The area, a haven for professional dancers and singers, has fostered afro-Cuban art and culture for decades.
Last week, he traveled to the United States to attend a conference that gathered Baptist congregations from around the world at Gonzaga University.
For Aguilera, the conference offered an opportunity "to create a culture of peace not only between Cuba and the United States but between human beings."
On Tuesday, he visited the Charleston area to see a sister church and discuss his thoughts about Cuba.
Cubans have an innate resilience that has helped them weather the challenges they have faced for decades under communist rule, Aguilera said.
According to Aguilera, those challenges are primarily economic.
Although Cuba boasts a higher literacy rate and life expectancy than the United States, the annual income for an average Cuban family remains abysmally low.
Economic struggles have driven thousands of families away from Cuba.