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“1.5 generation” African-Cubans

By Paul Ryer, Ethnographic film, greater Cuba, new article, Space & Place No Comments »

As some of you know, a handful of scholars–including Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Aisha Nibbe, Alissa Bernstein, Carol Berger, Sabine Lehr and myself–have been writing about the lives of Cuban-educated international students.  While most of us are ethnographers and anthropologists, because we have encountered these students in a wide range of contexts–anywhere from urban Cuba to refugee camps in the Sahara to rural Alberta–the work has not thus far been taken to represent or constitute a coherent or interrelated field of study.  Nor is it, generally speaking, considered to be within the purview of Cuban or Cuban diasporic studies.  In this post, building on some of my published or in-press work, I want to propose that the lives and experiences of Cuban-educated students pose interesting and worthwhile challenges to the commonsense understanding of Cubanness.  Or more specifically, to hyphenated Cubanness, since Cuban-educated students do not generally claim to be “Cuban” so much as something else–Cuban-Saharan, Cuban-Ghanaian, Cuban-Sudanese, etc–and have commonly been motivated to neologize their own identities, as “Cuban-Jubans,” “ESBECANOS,” “Cubarauis,” or the like.  These are people from among the tens of thousands of African and international students who have spend a decade or more–often half their lives–living, studying, and working in Cuba.  Having arrived to Cuba as adolescents, and having been thrown wholesale into a new language, culture, and environment, arguably these students constitute a 1.5 generation, but in reverse, as immigrants to Cuba, not emigrants.  One of these small and dispersed groups, the Cuban-educated students of the Western Sahara, has become the subject of a series of documentary films.  Directed by Spaniards for particular audiences, as described by both Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and myself, despite their obvious ideological biases, I believe that these films are richly provocative to think with, for those of us interested in Cuban identity, diaspora, home, and belonging.  Here is the trailer for the most recent documentary, El Maestro Saharaui (2011), directed by Nicolás Muñoz:

Maestro Saharaui image

(Complete Spanish-language and English subtitled streaming versions of El Maestro Saharaui (Muñoz 2011) are available for a small fee HERE). 

Now known to themselves and their saharaui (Saharan) kin as “cubarawis” or “cubarauis,” online, on facebook, on twitter and elsewhere, these former students are the principle authors, bloggers, dancers and poets of their distinctive experience, as well as documentary subjects.  See, for instance, this blog http://elporvenirdelsahara.blogspot.com , and click here for some  “salsa saharaui.”

Of the other “cubaraui” documentaries, Las Cubarauis (Márquez 2005) is most difficult to obtain; a portion of the film is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oadqsTU7xJA .  However, the full-length version of Caribeños del Sáhara (Pérez 2007),  is available at: http://vimeo.com/11813252. , and a shorter version, Caribeños del Desierto (Pérez and Galdeano 2008) is available at: http://video.google.es/videoplay?docid=7949630530407106225&hl=es.

 

In any case, although we have had so much spam that we were forced to deactivate comments some time ago, I would love to hear the thoughts of colleagues about these documentaries, about Cuban-educated students, or about the work outlined above.

 

Paul

 

Americas Media Initiative and the new documentary: “Freddy Ilanga: Che’s Swahili Translator” dir. by Katrin Hansing

By Paul Ryer, Ethnographic film No Comments »

I have recently been introduced to the Americas Media Initiative (AMI) – Cuba Media Project and have been particularly impressed with the documentaries they are distributing, from TV Serrana and elsewhere, for quite reasonable fees.  Indeed, fellow ethnographers and observers of contemporary Cuban culture, recent documentaries from rural and eastern Cuba such as Un Puente sobre el Rio (dir. Rigoberto Jiménez, 2009, 30 min) and on controversial topics, such as Raza (dir. Eric Corvalán Pellé, 2008, 35 min.) and Zona de Silencio (Karel Ducasse, 2007, 40 min.) on the topic of censorship, are absolutely worth watching, and since they are subtitled, great classroom resources as well.

And so it was with surprise that I recently received an announcement from A.M.I. on the release of the documentary, Freddy Ilanga: Che’s Swahili Translator, directed by anthropologist Katrin Hansing.  Have not yet been able to screen this myself, so here is A.M.I.’s description of the film:

In April 1965, Freddy Ilanga, a fifteen-year-old Congolese youth, became Che Guevara’s personal Swahili teacher and translator during the latter’s secret mission in the Congo to train anti-Mobutu rebels. After seven intense months by Che Guevara’s side, the Cuban authorities sent Freddy to Cuba. During his early years, Freddy thought that his stay in Cuba would be temporary. However, 40 years passed, during which time he lost all contact with his family and homeland. That is until 2003, when he received an unexpected phone call from Bukavu, his home town. His family had finally found him…

Che’s Swahili Translator is a documentary about Freddy Ilanga, an African man whose life was abruptly transformed through a chance encounter with one of the great icons of the 20th Century, and which has predominantly been determined by the power struggles of the Cold War and the Cuban Revolution. It is a story about migration and displacement and the high human costs of exile and family separation.

UPDATE: I have just been able to see Hansing’s film, and found it interesting.  While the initial framing has a lot to do with the politics which brought Ilanga to Cuba, it soon becomes a documentary of dislocation–even after 40 years, Freddy never discovered why he was sent to Havana!–and of the trauma of separation from family.  Interestingly, Freddy Ilanga describes the consequences of being rediscovered by his African family as also painful.  In any case, the film tells a ubiquitously Cuban story of migration and separation, albeit in reverse, with Cuba as the receivingrather than sending society. 

Documentary in progress about Santiago’s Conga

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Ethnographic film No Comments »

By Tomás Montoya, Spanish lecturer at Tulane University and doctoral candidate in ethnology at the University Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba.  Esta es la Conga

News from S. Africa: 2009 documentary by Katrin Hansing

Ethnographic film, Journals 1 Comment »

Just received the following from Africanist colleague Derick Fay, “photographed off the wall of the theatre in the Grahamstown Festival”:

KH_documentary_2009

Katrin has written a brief eulogy for Freddy, who recently passed away, which seems to indicate that his death had forstalled the documentary.  At least this short version is circulating; if anyone has a link to screening/distribution/reviews, please share a quick comment.

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