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Oyotunji African Village, 1970-2010

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, greater Cuba, Religion 5 Comments »

Oyotunji African village is turning forty. At the height of the Pan-Africanist movement, Oyotunji was established as a kingdom in 27 acres of South Carolina soil to honor Yoruba traditions.

Oba Ernesto Pichardo has shared with us a historical picture of Oyotunji, In 1978, he initiated a series of trips to the village which culminated in a 1984 ceremony in which the land and the temple were consecrated to Babalú Ayé, an Orisha that was not present  in the village before.

See below an image documenting that first tambor to Babalú Ayé (with Oba Pichardo singing and Oyotunji’s King dancing).

Later in the 1990s, anthropologist Kamari Clarke, then a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz (now a professor at Yale’s Dept. of Anthropology), conducted ethnographic research there for her doctoral dissertation. Her resulting book, Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities, was published by Duke University Press in 2004.

For a review of recent writings on Yoruba revivalism, you can download here on .pdf Kenneth Routon’s 2006 essay “Trance-Nationalism: Religious Imaginaries in the Black Atlantic” (Journal Identites 13, pp. 1-20).  The article includes a review of Kamari Clarke’s book, as well as James Lorand Matory’s Black Atlantic Religion, and Christine Ayorinde’s Afro-Cuban Religiosity.

© Ernesto Pichardo 1984

New Book on Urban Anthropology in Cuba

Cuban anthropology, new book 2 Comments »

A new book on urban anthropology was just published and presented in Havana last March 12th, 2010. The author is Avelino Couceiro Rodriguez, a historian and scholar affiliated with the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, the University of Havana School of Communication, and the Plaza Municipal Culture Council. The title is “Hacia una Antropologia Urbana de Cuba”, and the publisher, the Fernando Ortiz Foundation.

According to our colleague Pierre Sean Brotherton (Yale U.) who attended the event and kindly sent us the picture below, “the book advocates for an urban anthropological approach that tackles “the everyday” in Cuba.  This move towards analyzing the banality of everyday practices as objects of scholarly inquiry is innovative, in the context of Cuban anthropology” -something corroborated by the good turn out at the event.  Sean reports that the book was eloquently presented by Miguel Barnet.

photo by P.S. Brotherton

UPDATE: Cuban Theater in the 1960s. A conference review.

By M.E.Diaz, Calendar, Conferences & CFPs, Reviews No Comments »

Lillian Manzor, professor at University of Miami and expert on Cuban theater, has organized a conference on Cuban theater in the 1960s that gathers some of the main playwrights and theater personalities of the period.

It will take place on Saturday, March 27th, at the University of Miami Otto Richter Library

The conference includes the presence of personalities such as Eduardo Arrocha, Anton Arrufat, Abelardo Estorino, Eduardo Manet, Matias Montes Ruidobro, Rafael Mirabal, and Jesus Ruiz -all of whom have been granted visas to enter the United States.

For more information, click on the poster to enlarge it. The program website, which includes the complete program and instructions to watch the conference live on video, is HERE.

(The awesome poster is a design of Anna Veltford, known as Connie, of El Archivo)

Prof. Maria Elena Diaz (UC-Santa Cruz) attended the conference and provided the following review:

The U Miami’s conference “Protagonitsts of the 60s: Caminos, esplendor y obstaculos del teatro cubano” organized by Lillian Manzor, was a well attended yet intimate event.  There,  protagonic figures of that decade collated memories of that golden period of theatre in Havana and the creative energy that drove it until the “quinquenio gris.”

The morning section was dedicated to the material culture of theatre–design and costumes. It displayed the work of key designers (some of them still working in Cuba) through surviving drafts and photographs of that work. A highlight of that panel was the memorable staging of  Lope de Vega’s <Fuenteovejuna> based on the striking artistic vision of Rafael Mirabal (Miami) who sought to recreate in his design the work’s central theme of “power.” All agreed that the work had had a tremendous impact in the theatre scene of the time.  Perhaps someone will venture to re-stage along the same lines it in some future festival, it would definitely still play out as a tremendously innovative staging of that classic, aside from the evocations to the 60s staging it could produce. I would have loved to have seen it–or see it.

In the afternoon session, the highlights were Anton Arrufat who gave a moving account of his personal experience in internal exile in the Biblioteca de Marianao during 14 years before being rehabilitated,  Matias Huidobro (writer and scholar) who gave a good panoramic view of the scene during the period weaving in his own experience;  and Eduardo Manet who connected via the internet from Rabat, of all places, where he was representing French writers at a Congress.  Manet’s improvised talk was for the most part a bubbling and optimistic  intervention that mostly focused on the present and the future. His words about the creative role of writers and artists in what he saw as a demoralizing  French cultural scene energized some of the writers and artists in the room.

There were the always moving encounters of friends and colleagues who had not seen each other in decades. Above all, the conference unfolded in a collegial and respectful manner among Cuban writers and artists who, despite their political and artistic trajectories, once shared the energy of being part of perhaps the richest theatre scene in the island’s history. Overall a wonderful conference full of discoveries.

Twenty-two PhD Dissertations on Cuba in 2009

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, dissertations 5 Comments »

There were twenty-two PhD dissertations focused on Cuban matters, deposited in American universities during 2009, all in the humanities and social sciences. The three first are ethnographic and I include their abstract.

1.The nocturnal negotiations of youth spaces in Havana by Reilly, Matthew J., Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009, 300 p. Based upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Havana, this dissertation explores the linkages between youth and public space. This project focused on a thirteen-block area of Calle G, Cuba is clearly reflected in the discourse of these young people and the identity politics they engage in. Youth are creating their own social space outside of the sphere of state regulation and influence, and this venue provides Cuban youth with a space to explore and create their own identities in relation to local as well as transnational cultural flows. This public space serves as a venue in which to display the various lifestyles of Cuban youth, lifestyles that are often predicated on access to hard currency.  Furthermore this project addresses the role of urban culture through both music and fashion in the evolution of youth subcultures.  Havana’s youth, through their nocturnal negotiations, their play and their imagination, have transformed the abstract space of Calle G into a collectively-created alternative social space. Therefore they are claiming their spatial rights, their rights to be in public and be a public, and thus their right to the city.

2. Becoming Santeria: A transnational study of cultural politics, media and religion in Cuba and the United States by Beliso-De Jesus, Aisha Mahina, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 289 p. This dissertation examines the cultural processes by which Santeria religious practices are reinvented, circulated and transformed through contingent transnational processes, travel, tourism, consumption and religious media. I write about first, how shifting local and transnational politico-historical contexts shape the positioning and cultural politics of Santeria practices in specific ethnographic dynamics; second, how Santeria practitioners from diverse social historic locations reconceive ideas on religion, diaspora, citizenship, race and sexuality as they negotiate with everyday practices, rituals, travel, and laws in transnational communities. This ethnography is based on 24 months of participant observation, interviews, and archival research–carried out from 2004 to 2007–with Cuban and U.S. Santeria practitioners, Cuban government officials, religious tourists, Cuban and U.S. religious associations and churches in Havana and Matanzas, Cuba and New York, Miami and the San Francisco Bay Area. I studied the everyday interactions between Cuban and “foreign” Santeria practitioners in Cuba. I traced the trajectory of legal and illegal U.S. religious tourists in Cuba before, during and after travel and examined how practitioners move and indeed transform religious and national boundaries, forging ties, creating new hierarchies and negotiating knowledges within these translocal communities. Furthermore, I examined the recording, circulation and viewing of rituals and religious media between the United States and Cuba as actively imagining multiple diasporas and homelands simultaneously through translocal communities. By examining the simultaneous re-imagining of multiple diasporas and homelands, that is, how the United States, Cuba and Africa are linked and interrelated, this ethnography emphasizes the hetereogeneity and fluidity of Santeria practices.

3. “Donde nace lo cubano”: Aesthetics, nationalist sentiment, and Cuban music making by Hope, William M., Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009, 317 p. This project is a comprehensive cultural analysis of Cuban Son and Punto Guajiro performance, situated within Cuban cultural nationalisms and the Cuban Revolution. This dissertation seeks to understand the interrelationships between aesthetics, music making, and processes of cubanidad, understood as an aesthetic disposition; one linked through the social practice of music making to a range of ethical and political orientations . The focus on music making provides a window into the struggles of and within Cuban cultural nationalist projects; the social revolutionary process of the last 50 years as manifested in the changing relations between artists and the revolutionary Cuban state evidenced in socialist cultural policies; and the shifting role of the market in shaping the opportunities and constraints of Cuban musicians on the world stage and at home. This dissertation provides ethnographic specificity on the racialized, gendered, and classed dynamics of contemporary expressive cultural practices of Cuban Son and Punto Guajiro through the examination of a group of Guantanamero musicians, their familial and community contexts, and the manners in which they are positioned within national and transnational discursive fields of artistic production. I argue that it is within each performative manifestation that such musicians give embodied substance to processes of cubanidad.

4. The fruits of citizenship: African Americans, military service, and the cause of Cuba libre, 1868–1920 by Charleston, Sherri Ann, Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2009, 356p

5 .The desired revolution and the New Man: Assembling and negotiating cultural and intellectual practices in Revolutionary Cuba by Porben, Pedro P., Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2009, 428p

6.The circulation of transatlantic ideas and people in Cuban slave society, 1791-1844 by Paul, Eric A., Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2009, 206p

7. Reading revolution: Politics in the U.S.-Cuban cultural imagination, 1930–1970 by Gronbeck-Tedesco, John A., Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin, 2009, 430p

8. Tension under the sun: Tourism and identity in Cuba, 1945-2007 by Gustavsen, John Andrew, Ph.D., University of Miami, 2009, 382p

9.The cartooned revolution: Images and the revolutionary citizen in Cuba, 1959-1963 by Someillan, Yamile Regalado, Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park, 2009, 421p

10 Not blacks, but citizens. Racial politics in revolutionary Cuba, 1959–1961 by Benson, Devyn Spence, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009, 229p

11. Leading the life of a Modern Girl: Representations of womanhood in Cuban popular culture, 1919–1929 by Lotz, Lizabeth M., Ph.D., The University of North Carolina, 2009, 222p

12. Let there be candy for everyone: The politics of sugar in Cuba, 1902–1952 by Speck, Mary Elizabeth, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 427p

13. Eduardo Chibas: The incorrigible man of Cuban politics by Ehrlich, Ilan, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2009, 508p

14. El nuevo escritor caribeno y su puesto en la narrativa latinoamericana contemporanea: A proposito de tres antologias del cuento reciente by DeJesus Rivera, Albert, Ph.D., University of Houston, 2009, 283p

15. Hombre nuevo en nueva tierra: The aspirations of recently arrived Cuban immigrant adolescents by Alvarez, Maria, Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2009, 299p

16.Citizenship, religion and revolution in Cuba by Watson, Carolyn E., Ph.D., The University of New Mexico, 2009, 303p

17. Cuban-American women’s anglophone novels of the 1990s by Ignizio, Graham, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009, 183p

18.Cultural maps, networks and flows: The history and impact of the Havana Biennale 1984 to the present by Rojas-Sotelo, Miguel Leonardo, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2009, 563 p

19. Detective novel in Puerto Rico and Cuba: The cases of Wilfredo Mattos Cintron and Leonardo Padura Fuentes by Ramos Collazo, Jose Antonio, Ph.D., University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, 2009, 343p

20. (Dis)enchanted writings: The poetics of ruins in Cuban contemporary narrative by Gomez, Ivette Miriam, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine, 2009, 202p

21.A contraluz: Politica cultural de la revolucion cubana by Aviles-Quinones, Alicia, Ph.D., Tulane University, 2009, 309p

22.Arte abstracto e ideologias esteticas en Cuba by Menendez-Conde, Ernesto, Ph.D., Duke University, 2009, 299p

In addition, there was one thesis for the qualification of Doctor of Music Arts:

Leo Brouwer’s “Estudios Sencillos” for guitar: Afro-Cuban elements and pedagogical devices by Castilla Penaranda, Carlos Isaac, D.M.A., The University of Southern Mississippi, 2009, 105 p.

El Reggaeton Cubano (or Cubatón): Kola Loka

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, music 5 Comments »

Reggaeton is not just “urban music” (as now hybrids are called). In Cuba it’s also rural music. It has been around in Oriente for about fifteen years, partly thanks to the dancehall and merengue radio stations of Jamaica and Dominican Republic respectively. I remember when Candyman (from Santiago) played in Havana in the late 1990s for a public made out of Palestino immigrants.

One of my favorite contemporary groups is Cola Loca, a group originally from Santiago and Guántanamo.  They are natural-born guajiros (and cultivate the guajiro look). In improv controversias (over a reggaeton beat) they are invincible. Watch  HERE a reggaeton controversia, where Kola Loka’s Robinson comes up with a rhyming commentary on the rationing card regimen: “Esta es la ley de la nueva libreta / El que coge azúcar blanca / no coge azúcar prieta…. Esta es la ley de la nueva libreta / el que coge leche en polvo no coge la de dieta…”  Their lyrics tell stories and make fun of daily life. Those looking for the sophisticated polirhythm and chord progressions of timba music will not find it here, yet there are elements of son and changüí to be found in some of the tracks. (Debbie Pacini tells me that there are also background bachata guitar-based sonorities)

Below see videoclips for two of their recent hits. One depicts a generational clash, in a rural area of Oriente, between a conservative machete-bearing guajiro father and his teenage daughter (which ends up with the father “converting” to the new rhythm). The other one, La Estafa del Babalawo, mocks the commercialization of santeria and the babalawos who try to take advantage of their ahijados by charging outrageous sums (in kind) for their services. (sorry no subtitles)

NO ME DA MI GANA AMERICANA (I don’t feel like it)


* For more on reggaeton, see the edited volume by Rivera, Marshall and Pacini Hernandez, Reggaeton (Duke University Press 2009). It includes a piece on reggaeton in Cuba by Geoff Baker, an ethnomusicologist at the University of London.

Music Bridges to Cuba: Calle 13, reggaeton con clave

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, music 12 Comments »

Next Tuesday, the Puerto Rican band Calle 13 will be in Havana playing at the Tribuna Anti-Imperialista. They are often branded as reggaeton, but many of their tracks are a sort of ecclectic mix of styles that at times reminds of Manu Chao and other Latin hybrids. Although they follow on the footsteps of Juanes and other pop and rock bands that have gone to Cuba in recent times as part of a “music bridges” trend, the visits by Puerto Rican musicians have normally considered “something else” (de un pajaro dos alas, etc). Most notably, Fania All-Stars played there in 1979 as part of the famous Havana Jam (facilitated by the thaw of  the Carter administration). Then, however, Cuban youth were said to be more interested in Billy Joel and the Weather Report (also part of the festival) than in salsa, according to the New York Times

More recently, Cheo Feliciano played in Varadero (in 1997), and a project called De Aqui P’Allá and De Allá P’Acá attempted a musical exchange between the two “wings of the bird”  But I don’t recall anything as massive as what a Tribuna Anti-Imperialist concert promises to be; a type of super concert that has been mostly hijacked by Anglo-American rock and pop (and Juanes), genres that have come to enjoy a respectability in Cuba that Latin genres like reggaeton are still far from getting.

Today the “heavy” type of reggaeton is tremendously popular in Cuba, much to the dismay of the cultural authorities. In fact, prejudice against reggaeton runs high, not only in Cuba, among the bien pensante educated middle class but also in exile. Calle 13’s trip, while not provoking the massive opposition that Juanes did, has been criticized in exiled circles, particularly after the duo showed on national Spanish language TV their ignorance of the plight of Cuba’s political prisoners. Comments in blogs have put down reggaeton musicians (as Calle 13 are often considered as such) as ignorant, and mocked the music as a genre for the uneducated masses, in a way that is reminding of what  timba and, before, rumba, had to contend with. In Cuba, furthermore, reggaeton is often critiqued by the cultural intelligentsia as a commercial import that has nothing to do with the island’s musical heritage (son).

The fantastic documentary La Clave (2009) is built around the opposite thesis: that reggaeton (at least its Puerto Rican variant) is a direct product of salsa music, with its sophisticated clave and arrangements. A whole generation of reguetoneros -who are musicians of the new digital generation- are paying tribute to their salsero forebears, who are happy to collaborate with them, both in concert and in recordings. HERE is a segment of La Clave worth watching, with Andy Montañez and others showing the many points of encounter between reggaeton, bomba, and salsa.

Calle 13 come from the ecclectic Puerto Rican reggaeton tradition depicted in La Clave (they call it “urban music”). Not only they work, in most songs, over a clave base, but they also feature social and political lyrics very much like those in 1970s salsa. They call for pan-American solidarity, chronicle the plight of migrants, and highlight life in the barrio as their primary source of identity. The have recorded with a variety of Latin American musicians, including Rubén Blades, who they have branded as their maestro (see the video clip for their Grammy winning La Perla, which pays homage to the great Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera, who used to sing his “Guaguancó para La Perla”).

This is a video clip, corresponding to their 2007 song about Latin American migration to El Norte, which they performed at that year’s Grammy awards along with the Cuban group Orishas. The video clip is an anti-imperialist manifesto with an “anthropological” look. It also features a sort of pan-American geography that cuts from the Altiplano Boliviano to the US/Mexico Border without a pause. (I would call it “a post-modern geographical pastiche”)

About Amistad, Academia and U.S. Cuban travel policies

academic exchanges, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Licensing & visas, News and Views, Opinion, travel 4 Comments »

ENCASA‘s Ruben Rumbaut informs us of their involvement with the Amistad Project: The Amistad slave ship replica is on its way to Cuba. With permission from both the Cuban and the U.S. governments, it will dock in Matanzas on the 22nd to visit the Slavery Museum there, then sail to Havana for the celebration of the U.N.’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The ship will stay in Havana for a week. Here is the  LINK to the press release.

This past week has been momentous in terms of support for increased cultural and academic exchanges with Cuba. An opinion piece that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education a few days ago argued for a modification in U.S. Cuban policy to allow for lifting restrictions (severely worsened by the Bush administration), so that U.S. academics can conduct research in Cuba without U.S. government interference. On the other side of the academic aisle, so to speak, others have argued that without a political opening in Cuba, these pro-travel academics are only playing into Cuba’s window dressing game, for real research is impossible while the Cuban government does not allow U.S. scholars’ unrestricted access to research sites. Their position is that to press for academic exchanges in the U.S. without simultaneously demanding change in Cuba is hypocritical. Our CUNY colleague and El Yuma blogger Ted Henken has taken issue with this counter argument (made mostly by, in turn, a colleague of his, economist Jorge Sanguinetty). According to Ted Henken, it is possible to do real research in Cuba even if one does not have proper research authorization from the Cuban government. Furthermore, some research is better than no research, and students will still benefit from the opportunity.

While I agree with Ted and with the spirit of the Chronicle’s letter on the need for a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, I would also like a situation in which research would be facilitated also on the Cuban end. A tourist visa is not enough. Not all research projects are created equal. Some of them are impossible to carry out without explicit on-site permission and facilitation (I am aware that this is not unique to Cuba; there are plenty of research arenas in the United States that are off limits to foreign, and at times also native, scholars).  To wit: Without a proper research affiliation in Cuba, there are archives, survey populations and marine reefs, among many other possibilities, that are off limits.  While some might be able to carry out their investigation without any extravagant need for additional support and collaboration (say someone conducting research on Cuban street slang), others (say someone wishing to study the garbage disposal system and its ecological impact) might have a harder time with only a tourist visa and no institutional support. Furthermore, ethnographic research (which is after all the inspiration for this blog project) requires a lengthy stay. I am of the old fashioned opinion that proper ethnographic fieldwork cannot be bypassed and substituted by a few short trips; much less if such research is the basis of a dissertation-type project.  Since the opening of academic relations in the 1990s,  such research has typically been conducted under a student visa; which by its very definition is not fit for a post-graduate scholar. And only very exceptionally have post-graduate scholars been able to obtain a research visa: the process is long and cumbersome, to say the least. Their alternative has been, precisely, short trips as tourists; trips that in a couple of unfortunate cases had no happy ending precisely because the person overstepped the boundaries set by the tourist visa.

Henken seems to be advocating complete freedom of research, and I do agree in principle with that position, but in a world of international states and borders it is unfortunately a utopia.  In the end it comes down to whether the ends justify the means. For as long as a specific research or student visa is required by the Cuban government as a prerequisite to conduct bona fide academic research on the island, as responsible university professors we cannot advocate the breaking of that country’s laws.  I, for one, would very much like to see U.S. roadblocks disappear, and subsequently, I would also like to see the parallel Cuban bureaucratic process  eased.  Let’s hope that the Amistad journey will stand as a symbol not only of the past but also of the future.

The Garrote Vil and the Minister of Executions

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, History 5 Comments »

Execution by Garrote Vil. Cuba 1880 (Photo: Library of Congress)

The Garrote Vil or “strangling machine” was the preferred method of execution used in Spain and its colonies since 1832. In Cuba,  the iron collar that strangled the convict was aided by a sharp spike which pierced the person’s spinal cord at the neck’s base. The system fell out of favor in 1911, when president Gómez pledged to modernize the prison system up to U.S. standards, build new prisons, and introduce a humane treatment of Cuba’s unfortunates that included replacing the garrote by the American electric chair, and tattoo “a number of identification upon the body of those serving long prison terms.” In 1924, however, the ruthless president Machado reintroduced the garrote.

On July 9, 1926, for the first time in twenty years, Salvatore Aguilera, from Sagua de Tanamo (in today’s Holguin province) was the first to be garroted. He was sentenced in a Santiago court for allegedly assassinating his own aunt.  His executioner would be Francisco de Paula Romero, another convict serving a murder sentence in Havana, on the other side of the island. Romero volunteered for the job in exchange for 16 pieces of gold and several months off his sentence. He was named “Minister of Executions”  and moved to an individual cell adjacent to the death chamber. A few days before Aguilera’s execution was to be carried out, Romero, the garrote and a guard were put on a train and traversed the island.

This first execution did not go altogether smoothly. The convict, Mr. Aguilera, became hysterical and needed to be sedated and dragged from his cell to the death chamber.  There, to accompany him, were only his spiritual adviser, the official witnesses, two physicians, the executioner Francisco de Paula Romero, and his assistant, Frank Davis, a 59 year-old Negro veteran of the Spanish-American war,  also a convict, serving a two-year sentence for robbery. Before Aguilera took his sit in the garrote, his feet were tied up and he was allowed to smoke a cigar, given to him by another prisoner. As he was giving his last puffs, he looked with disgust at the assistant executioner and expressed his disappointment at him. Davis had been a fellow inmate of his for a whole year, and now he showed no emotion at assisting in his execution.  Then, while Romero placed the garrote collar around his neck,  he proclaimed his innocence.  Romero then leaned over him and asked for his forgiveness. With a faint smile, Aguilera nodded.  Then the executioner pressed the lever, and minutes later Aguilera was pronounced dead. At that point, the executioner Romero went into hysterics, and had to be transported to a cell, where he was attended by a physician. Davis, however, was reportedly unaffected.

The garrote was ordered left in Santiago’s jail, where several other condemned were waiting to be executed. Davis aided on a second execution and was pardoned as a reward.  Romero returned afterwords to Havana and he was also pardoned after two years of service and nine executions. He then applied to become a prison chaplain in the new Isle of Pines penitentiary (modeled after the one in Joliet, IL)  but was rejected for lack of qualifications. He then returned home to Eastern Cuba and became a farmer. His assistant in Havana, Enrique Pineda, another murderer serving a life sentence, took over in September of 1929, when he executed his own accomplice in the murder for which he had been charged.

The garrote vil was replaced by death by firing squad in 1935.

(sources: the Pittsburgh Gazette, The New York Times, and The Washington Post – American newspapers dutifully reported about Cuban executions in detail)

España and Coppelia: Santiago’s Hot Spots

By Grete Viddal, Tales from the field 19 Comments »

(Coppelia Line, Photo by GV, 2010)

Valentine¹s Day in Santiago de Cuba

Its a breezy Sunday, less hot than usual, so I decide to go for a walk. Heading down Avenida Garzon I see lines snaking down sidewalks. All are clustered in front all the new moneda nacional restaurants. There is a new head of the communist party in the province of Santiago: Lazaro Ésposito, and changes are afoot. Ésposito was brought in from a successful stint in nearby Bayamo province to modernize Santiago, a city known for its juicy music, traditional neighborhood carnival associations, old-style Caribbean red-tiled-roof architecture, and antiquated water mains, lousy municipal services, food shortages, annoying power outages, and provincial backwater status. Starting in September, he presided over the opening of a series of new restaurants, cafeterias, and food vending carts. All sell in moneda nacional, the Cuban peso. Valentine¹s Day gave folks an reason to try the new restaurants, and long lines ensued. I squeezed thru crowds and peeked into several of the gleaming new establishments. White tablecloths, real china, nice plastic flower centerpieces. All this and a fish dinner for only 25 pesos (a little more than one US dollar)? Wow, Santiago is on the up and up! Families and couples line the sidewalks as moms, wives, and girlfriends are feted on this special day of San Valentin. Ambulatory sellers of fabric roses encased in plastic bubbles and little heart pins and teddy bear key chains are doing brisk business. Everybody is dressed up. Ironed and pressed. The women navigate broken pavement in high heels, waving fingers with mini-rhinestone manicures. Cologne and hair oil wafts from the men. Many are wearing yellow and white, not the pink or red we might think of as “valentine colors” in the US. Two couples in line have even pattern-coordinated their outfits. One woman has a white top and bright yellow jeans, her friend white capri pants and a yellow blouse. Their men also sport the yellow & white theme. In the Afro-Cuban religion Santería (also called Regla de Ocha), the divinity of love, river waters, honey, romance and flirtation is named Oshun and her color is yellow or gold. Maybe in Cuba, Valentine¹s Day is more yellow than pink due to the influence of the African gods.

One of the new restaurants, named España, has an especially long line and a few women in very high heels are actually sitting on the curb in front. Cubans almost never do this. The curb, the gutter, sidewalks, streets, and floors in general are considered “dirty.” Parks and plazas have benches. If they are full, people stand. Children are admonished not to run barefoot. Rarely do folks flop on lawns or plant their behinds on a curb. The beach is about the only place where you¹ll see anything other than the soles of Cuban¹s shoes in contact with the ground. Cubans are used to waiting in lines. For the bus. For bread. At the bank. To see the municipal coordinator of such-and-such. On this Sunday coinciding with the day of San Valentin, I calculate the waitlist to get a table at España must be more than an hour to force the ladies to desperate measures – sitting on the curb in their stepping-out attire. One fellow has actually made his lady a little temporary stool out of three empty rum bottles and a stout piece of cardboard. Valentine’s was made for Cuban caballerosidad, no?

(España Restaurant, photo by GV, 2010)

New Book: Window into Cuba

new book No Comments »

This bilingual volume has just been published on Ediciones Callejón and gathers some of the interventions made at the 2008 UC-Cuba conference, in Irvine, CA.

Here is the table of contents:

Paolo Spadoni Overview of Today’s Cuban Economy: Macroeconomic Performance, Structural Change and Future Challenges
Lisa Garcia Bedolla Do Cubans Swing? The Politics of Cuba and Cubans in the United States * Julie Feinsilver Medical Diplomacy: the International Dimension of Cuba’s Health System * Karina Céspedes Runaway Jineteras and Addicted Pingueros: The Narrative Crafting of Special Period Heroes and Deviants * Philippe Zacair Una república asimilada con nuestra herman Lade Santo Domingo y Haití * Gema Guevara Arsenio and Olga: Situating Blackness in the Cuban/Cuban American Musical Imaginary * Monika Gosin “Other” than Black: Afro‐Cubans negotiating identity in the United States * Carlos Espinosa Domínguez La sexualidad abierta de par en par: Memorias de Cera, de Abel González Melo * Jose Quiroga Cuba: la desaparición de la homosexualidad * José A. Rosado Cuerpo Ausente, cuerpo presente: engaños, Artificios y Mirada barroca en la novella Negra de Leonard Padura * Agnes Lugo‐Ortiz On the Poetics of Violence in José Martí * Jorge Marturano El pathos cubano y la búsqueda de un estado Como la gente * Rafael Rojas Dilemas de la Nueva Historia.

Tales from “the field.” Going to the Gym in Santiago de Cuba

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, Tales from the field No Comments »

With this post we inaugurate a new section in EthnoCuba, devoted to notes, pics and reports from that place we pompously call “the field”. I wanted to translate it into Spanish, but it sounds a  bit insulting if we are not talking about “el campo – campo” or “el puro campo”. Anything less than that should not be called “el campo”.  For now, we’ll leave it in English.

This post also -and hopefully- inaugurates the periodical contribution to this young blog of our colleague Grete Viddal, PhD candidate at Harvard University’s Department of African and African-American Studies (MA in anthropology), currently in Santiago.

Grete just joined a private gym, popular with the well-to-do local population. She reports that the gym is reasonably priced, (by Cuban standards), although “not cheap-cheap:” While a drop-in class there costs 5 pesos, it costs only 1 at the two state-run gyms located downtown. However the latter are not so well furnished.  This private gym also offers a monthly membership, which gives daily access to the weight machines (all hand made) as well as to aerobic classes.

I nagged Grete to get some pictures to share with us. See images below  (all pictures by Grete Viddal).


By contrast, check out the image of laziness that a 1968 pamphlet printed in Santiago de Cuba, called El Anti-Lumpen, offered of its inhabitants. Today, in El Archivo de Connie.

Medical Insurance Required to Enter Cuba (as of May 1st)

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Health, Licensing & visas 29 Comments »

UPDATE (4/7/2010): For an update on specific costs and procedures, go HERE

As of May 1st both tourists and temporary residents will have to purchase an insurance policy along with their visas. Up until know, if tourists sought medical attention, they were charged for services on the spot.  Temporary residents would presumably have been covered by the state system, at least if they were students. It was, however, a good idea to have a private insurance, so that you could be seen at the well-supplied hard-currency facilities, which otherwise charged US prices for the visit. (I personally contracted with a European insurance company called Europe Assistance, which had an agreement with its Cuban equivalent). Now, proof of valid insurance will be required from everybody entering the country. Obviously because of the US embargo, insurance policies with US companies are not valid for Cuba, but many international travelers’ insurance companies are (supposedly Cuba will publish a list of those).

Cuba has ASISTUR, which offers temporary policies to foreigners at competitive rates and also operates as a representative of non-Cuban companies, like the aforementioned Europe Assistance.  But will hospitals like Havana’s hard-currency Cira Garcia be ready for the increased number of patients (hey, if you get an insurance policy you might as well go check on those minor ailments you’ve been putting off…).  ASISTUR actually worked very well: since it is a Cuban company they cover everything upfront… But now with the avalanche of new insurees, will they be ready?

Although most of us, citizens of Europe and North America, might not have heard of such a regulation before anywhere (at least I had not), turns out that Europe has been imposing it since 2006. For visitors to the European Union from many countries, the requirements for a Schengen Visa (valid for all countries within the EU) include proof of a travel medical insurance. Such a health insurance must be recognized by the EU, have offices in a EU country, ensure cadaver repatriation costs, and medical expenses up to $42,888. Many US carriers like Blue Cross Blue Shield Wold wide services operate in Europe. Otherwise there are many companies that will offer insurance starting at $1/day. But because of the US embargo, this means an extra hurdle for US citizens visiting Cuba.

Here is the actual regulation as it appears in Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial:

You can read a translation into English HERE.

Concerning costs, rumors range from a few dollars a day to fifty dollars a month, but nothing has been officially set. Nothing is known as of yet concerning the international travel insurance companies that will be accepted. Currently, Havanatur (in the US, Marazul travel) sells travel insurance for $5/day (plus a service fee). For a more specific estimate of how much such an insurance currently costs if you have special needs, you can enter your data on the ASISTUR page designed to that effect.

* According to a Montreal-based blog written by a Cuban expatriate, in a post dated today (Sunday, march 7th), Cuban consulates abroad will add a “certification of insurance” to the visa. For Canadian residents and citizens, whose insurance covers them while abroad, including Cuba, the cost of such certification will be between 30 and 50 Canadian dollars. So they will not have to buy extra insurance if they already have a valid one, but they will still have to pay for the certification… U.S. nationals, obviously, will have to buy the extra insurance no matter what…

Edward B. Tylor in Cuba, in 1856

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, history of anthropology 7 Comments »

It is little known that Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917), a founding father of British social anthropology, began his ethnographic journey not in Mexico, but in Cuba. Young Tylor traveled from Louisiana to Cuba when he was only 24 years old. At an omnibus in Havana he met a man who’d change his life: Henry Christy, a British ethnologist and archaeologist. Together they explored Cuba and then headed to Mexico, where Tylor experienced the intellectual conversion that would set him on a life path to theorize culture “in the ethnographic sense” (Tylor’s words) and in relation to civilization.

There is not much available documentation of Tylor’s Cuba sojourn except for the excursion Christy and he undertook to the Isle of Pines, and which he describes in his Mexico book, Anahuac ‘s first chapter.  Tylor describes the lush tropical jungle that walled the train tracks between Havana and Batabanó (something hard to imagine today), as well as the hamlets along the way, where “cigar making seemed to be the universal occupation.” Once in Batabanó, the travelers boarded a steamer to Nueva Gerona, in the Isle of Pines. His observations are well worth a read, from those about their fellow steamer travelers, to the daily (and nightly) life in mosquito-infested Nueva Gerona (where men tinkled guitars and sung seguidillas, and where they befriended “the Cura” -whose “parentage was the only thing remarkable about him: he was not merely the son of a priest, but his grandfather was a priest also”), to the rural settlements of free blacks (both emancipados and expatriate Floridians), to his observations concerning race relations (and racial intermarriages), to the sorry conditions of indentured Chinese migrant workers, to the continuing slave trade (abolished in Cuba only six years later, in 1862).

I reproduce here the fragment about Tylor’s visit to one of the Floridians’ settlements. These were African descendants, “free inhabitants of Florida who chose to leave that country when it was given up to the United States.”

We paid a regular round of visits to the Floridan settlers, and were
delighted with their pleasant simple ways. It is not much more than
thirty years since they left Florida, and many of the children born
since have learnt to speak English. The patches of cultivated land
round their cottages produce, with but little labour, enough vegetables
for their subsistence, and to sell, procuring clothing and such
luxuries as they care for. They seemed to live happily among
themselves, and to govern their little colony after the manner of the

In one house in the Floridan colony we found a _menage_ which was
surprising to me, after my experience of the United States. The father
of the family was a white man, a Spaniard, and his wife a black woman.
They received us with the greatest hospitality, and we sat in the porch
for a long time, talking to the family. One or two of the mulatto
daughters were very handsome; and there were some visitors, young white
men from the neighbouring village, who were apparently come to pay
their devoirs to the young ladies. Such marriages are not uncommon in
Cuba; and the climate of the island is not unfavourable for the mixed
negro and European race, while to the pure whites it is deadly. The
Creoles of the country are a poor degenerate race, and die out in the
fourth generation. It is only by intermarriage with Europeans, and
continual supplies of emigrants from Europe, that the white population
is kept up.

For more on Tylor, see George Stocking’s essay, “Tylor and the Mission of Primitive Man,” included in his book Delimiting Anthropology. An earlier paper of Stocking’s on Tylor’s culture concept (and its contrast to Boas’) can be downloaded HERE.

On Interracial Love: Nadine Fernandez’s new book

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, new book 2 Comments »

Anthropologist Nadine Fernandez‘s book is out on Rutgers University Press:  Revolutionizing Romance. Interracial Couples in Contemporary Cuba.  The book comes with the highest recommendations by senior scholars, and EthnoCuba not only seconds this chorus but also wishes to add an emotional congratulation. Nadine Fernandez was our immediate predecessor in the field, and probably the first U.S. anthropology graduate student to have done ethnographic fieldwork in Cuba in the 1990s. Paul and, then, I arrived in Havana shortly after, very aware of our following on her footsteps. We are thrilled to see her book published, and resolve to, once again, follow her lead and get “there” not too much later.

We will link reviews of this volume as they appear. In the meantime, Nadine Fernandez has had the courtesy to send us the first pages of the  book introduction as a taste. You can download them HERE.

Cuba Haiti: Musical Dialogues (II). Martha Jean-Claude

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cuba Haiti, Cultural production, music No Comments »

Martha Jean-Claude was a Haitian singer who moved to Cuba in 1952, fleeing persecution from the Magloire government. She married a Cuban, journalist Victor Mirabal, had four children with him, and developed a career in the Havana of the 1950s, appearing in radio, television and nightclubs. She joined the Revolution and continued to perform her brand of political song. She often toured internationally, including to war-torn Angola, on behalf of the Revolution and along with other Cuban musicians, always speaking up against the Duvalier regime.  She finally returned to Haiti in 1986, after the fall of Duvalier, and died in 2001 at the age of 83.

While in Cuba, she starred in Humberto Solás’ 1974 film Simparele, a 30 minute documentary re-enactment of Haitian history- which  Solás described in an interview with Julienne Burton (currently at UC-Santa Cruz), as an experimental and “interpretive documentary about the history of the people’s struggle in Haiti.” A good review of the film was published in Jump Cut in its december 1978 issue.

(If somebody has a copy of it or knows how to get one, please send it my way)

Here is the first minute of the film, which I found on Youtube.

Over the years, she performed with many Cuban musicians, like singer Celia Cruz (before the Revolution) and pianist Guillermo Rubalcava,  and shared the stage with many more, often Nueva Trova musicians like Noel Nicola, Sara Gonzalez and Pedro Luis Ferrer. In Cuba, she recorded several LPs, including:

1956 “Canciones de Haiti” (Songs of Haiti), GEMA. Havana, Cuba.

1969 “Canto Popular de Haiti” (EGREM- re-released in Mexico under license by Discos Pentagrama).  *[click here to download it].

1971 “Yo soy la cancion de Haiti” (I am Haiti’s song)

1972 “Martha canta a los niños” (Martha sings to the children). EGREM.

1975 “Agoe”, EGREM/Areito. Havana, Cuba

1993 “Mujer de dos islas” (Woman of two islands). SIBONEY, SANTIAGO.

But Martha Jean-Claude was not only a singer, but an accomplished composer. One of her most important compositions was in the repertoire of the Orquesta Aragon: C’est la vie mon cher (click on the title to hear part of it).

Here she is in 1952 in a duette with Celia Cruz (audio only): “Choucoune” (Haitian merengue)

(Thanks to Radio Cuba Canta for this link)

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