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Current Project:

Translating for the Revolution: An American Woman in Cuba

Ten-year-old Mary Todd had been a curious, sociable, and joyful child when she was kicked out of the Girl Scouts and ostracized by her peers.  It was the height of Senator McCarthy's search for communists, and the Saturday Evening Post had called her father, who was Washington Bureau Chief for the Soviet news agency TASS, "a spy for Stalin." Turning into a wary loner and big reader, Mary would find like-minded peers during high school summers in the early civil rights movement. 

Mary was living with a black friend when she discovered she was being watched by the FBI, as her father had been. Having visited Cuba soon after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, she moved to Havana in 1964, hoping to be useful and live in peace under Fidel Castro. 

While Mary found purpose and ease in the multi-racial revolution, her romantic relationships with men were laced with dangerous conflict. After her four-year-old son was murdered by a former husband, she attempted to soldier on in silence. By the late 1970s, many Cubans had become weary of the scarcities of socialism amidst a US boycott. But Mary was becoming increasingly judgmental and politically rigid. When a second adolescent son she had raised alone became troubled, she sent him to live with his Cuban relatives and submerged herself in translation assignments.

Mary's work as a translator highlights Cuba's little-known efforts in the Non-Aligned Movement, complicating Castro's US reputation as a Soviet puppet. Beginning with 1970's trips to Angola and Nicaragua, Mary translated for Non-Aligned meetings in Botswana, Iran, North Korea, Ghana, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, her last Non-Aligned Meeting being in Indonesia in 2002.  Asked increasingly to take on translation projects in Havana, Mary became one of Cuba's foremost English translators, writing subtitles for Cuban films and translating countless articles and over 20 books by Cuban Scholars. 

Through meticulous research and personal insights, Translating for the Revolution offers an intimate portrayal of Mary Todd, an American woman whose successes and tragedies occurred amidst Cuba's triumphs and defeats. Remaining loyal to the Cuban revolution, her death in 2016 coinciding with Fidel Castro's.


Reinventing Farming

Under the auspices of the Sharon Historical Society, I began conducting interviews with small farmers in Connecticut's Northwest Corner during Covid in order to understand what changes they were having to make in response to the pandemic, to climate change, and to competition from industrial agriculture. 


Marel Rogers acted as my volunteer videographer over the course of a long year of repeated visits to eight farms, in which we both saw the farm throughout the four seasons and got their thinking about their problems and successes with sustainability under difficult conditions. 


In 2021, the Sharon Historical Society received a generous grant from Connecticut Humanities to turn these interviews into a 15-minute issue-based video, which you can see by clicking HERE.


Connecticut Humanities also funded a series of four panels, which were held at the Sharon Historical Society during spring 2022.  In three panels, farmers in the Northwest Corner spoke about their experience with climate change, competition from industrial agriculture and the supermarkets, and their attempts to farm sustainability with new forms of attention to the needs of the planet. In a fourth panel, "ag" teachers at Marvelwood School in Kent, the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, and the Isabel Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village talked about their programs to make teenage and adult students aware of critical issues related to farms and farming, including care and respect for plants and farm animals throughout the growing process.   

These one-hour panels were videoed, and can be watched HERE.




A CHANCE FOR LAND AND FRESH AIR: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Sharon and Amenia, 1907-1940

A Chance for Land and Fresh Air is based on and expands an exhibit that Ascher curated for the Sharon Historical Society. The exhibit was on display at the Historical Society between October 2016 and April 2017. It is now on permanent display at Congregation Beth David 3344 East Main Street, Route 343, Amenia, NY 12501


"These are my roots. This book put me in touch with the resilience and determination of people like my grandparents, Harry and Anna Marcus. Their hard work and resourcefulness made it possible for those of us who came behind them to do well. As a historian, it helped me understand better how ordinary immigrants enriched American life, sometimes overcoming discrimination and other barriers in doing so."  

~ Martin Klein, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto