WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- A group of Cuban children brought down the house with a music and theater act at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts on Wednesday following one Florida congresswoman's outspoken views against their visit.
The young performers, ages 6-15, are touring the United States to inspire better relations between the two countries as well as raise awareness about the Cuban 5 - five intelligence officers imprisoned in the United States for spying.
On Thursday U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the State Department is "funding educational and cultural exchange programs with the Cuban regime that undermine U.S. foreign policy priorities and national security interests."
The director of the children's group known as "La Colmenita," or "Little Beehive", fired back with a response.
"I am shocked that a U.S. politician would try and prevent a group of children from performing their art," said Carlos "Tim"Alberto Cremata, founder and director of La Colmenita, which means "The Little Beehive" in English. "She is treating us as if we were terrorists when the facts are quite the opposite. It is a small segment of the Cuban exile community who has used threats and violence to keep Americans and Cubans apart. We are simply Cuban artists who are coming to the U.S. with a message of social justice, peace and understanding."
Despite the controversy, the 22 young performers stormed the Duke Ellington stage with boundless energy that rivaled any Mickey Mouse Club group. They sang, danced and presented theatrical acts for two hours straight. In the midst of their show, they presented a Cuban 5 educational film featuring Danny Glover.
"Its very interesting because the Cuban 5 is a controversial issue," said Duke Ellington's Dean of the Arts Tia Powell Harris. "Its very charged for Americans and Cubans but I couldn't help identify with those activists in our history that share a similar path. The story reminded me of Malcolm X of Martin Luther King Jr. and a whole host of men and women who fought for the rights of others. So that element of the story is what engaged me and made me want to hear more."
For group member Analaura Escalona, visiting Duke Ellington was an emotional experience. She said meeting other kids her age whose passion is the performing arts breaks down any walls constructed by political tensions.
"I feel a great connection with them," she said. "To see children singing and dancing like us...it was just wonderful really."