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¡Venceremos? The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba by Jafari S. Allen

By Paul Ryer, Gender & sexuality, new book, Race 1 Comment »

It is a great pleasure to announce the forthcoming ¡Venceremos? The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba, by Jafari Sinclair Allen, Duke University Press.  Due out in August, 2011, here is the press’s  book description:

Promoting the revolutionary socialist project of equality and dignity for all, the slogan ¡Venceremos! (We shall overcome!) appears throughout Cuba, everywhere from newspapers to school murals to nightclubs. Yet the accomplishments of the Cuban state are belied by the stark inequalities apparent in the marginalization of blacks, the prejudice against sexual minorities, and gender inequities. ¡Venceremos? is a groundbreaking ethnography on race, desire, and belonging among black Cubans in the early twenty-first-century, as the nation opens its economy to global capital. Expanding on Audre Lorde’s vision of embodied, even “useful,” desire, Jafari S. Allen shows how black Cubans engage in acts of “erotic self-making,” reinterpreting, transgressing, and potentially transforming racialized and sexualized interpellations of their identities. He illuminates intimate spaces of autonomy created by people whose multiply subaltern identities have rendered them illegible to state functionaries, and to most scholars. In everyday practices, events, and sites in Havana and Santiago de Cuba—including Santeria rituals, gay men’s parties, hip hop concerts, the tourist-oriented sex trade, lesbian organizing, HIV education, and just hanging out—Allen highlights small but significant acts in struggles for autonomy and dignity.

Congratulations to Dr. Allen, and stay posted for an update once the book is available.  I, for one, look forward to seeing the analytic of Cuban erotics move beyond the classic 19th century frame of Kutzinski’s Sugar’s Secrets, and into the present day!

Timba in Drag: Alida Cervantes

art, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cultural production, Gender & sexuality 4 Comments »

It is not so common for heterosexual women to dress in drag, as men, and mock gender stereotypes.  Not in the Cuban context. That is not to say that macho men mannerisms are not the objects of jokes and comic skits, like The Pichy boys do -to just name one example among many;  (some of their videos, aired at Miami’s canal 41, are on youtube and are hilarious. But Alida Cervantes, a San Diego-based, Tijuana-native, painter and an MFA candidate at UCSD, has a discourse about it that goes beyond the mere mockery and seeks to expose male domination and subvert Cuban -and Latin- machismo.  She does not propose to transcend the biologies of gender nor their social value -hers is not a queer performance. What she seeks is to destabilize the cultural associations that are attached to the male-female opposition in Latin societies. Alida is intimately acquainted with Afro-Cuban culture, partly via her life partner Silfredo La O Vigo, who is a supporting character in her “El Puro” series, pa’ que luego no digan de los hombres cubanos. She directly confronts the expectations surrounding heterosexual and interracial erotic desires by performing the various characters that conform this gendered universe. She dresses in drag and impersonates timba stars who, in turn, have made a career out of  glorifying their hyper machismo. She also takes on the role of the sexually voracious woman demanded by the macho man.

Alida uses play back to perform some of their most popular dance numbers, which, at the same time, she makes into video pieces. Here are two examples. In the first, she is performing Manolito y su Trabuco’s Te Dejo Libre, a song about a woman who, left by the man, will remain a spinster. In the second video, she performs all the characters, male and female, in a song by NG La Banda.

Condones por la Libreta

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Consumption & material culture, Gender & sexuality 4 Comments »

© Gisela Roeder

This picture of a store advertising poster for (Cuban-made?) condoms is Gisela Roeder’s first contribution to EthnoCuba, and hopefully not the last. It was taken at a peso pharmacy in Caimito, a municipality in Havana Province (soon to be a municipality in the new Artemisa province), this past July, 2010.

Slogan translation: DESEA (presumably the brand name: Desire). “A Job Well Done. You Have the Instruments.”

Productos Controlados are those sold by the libreta. I wonder how many condoms per person could one buy (how many times the government considers the normal rate of sex intercourse per week). I suppose those who do not use them can still collect them and trade them for cigarettes or yogourt.

Recently, the international press carried an article about Cubans’ creative condom usage: Condoms are used for everything except for sex. Here’s a link to a Global Post article which includes interesting images.

Commercial advertisements of this sort in peso stores are extremely unusual, particularly because rather than just inform on the quality of the promoted product, it seeks to lure consumers to use it through innuendo and evocative images- a “no-no” in socialist advertising (See article in Harvard’s Revista on the topic). Although in this case the choice of imagery is strange, what’s up with those outfits??

In the the mid-1990s, the famous timba band La Charanga Habanera, also tried to promote this not-very-popular product, upon government request. The song  “Mi Amor, Usa Condon” (which they mocked in their album cover by appearing themselves with condoms over their heads) was part of their “suspension concert” of 1997, in Havana’s Malecon. After this, they were banned from the media for half a year due to their allegedly lewd movements and disrespectful words.


On Sex and Tourism. Amalia Cabezas and Jafari S. Allen

Gender & sexuality, new article, new book, Tourism No Comments »

cabezas-economies-of-desire-cover1Just out by Amalia Cabezas, here is Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.  Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2009.  Having just taught Marc Padilla’s Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality and AIDS in the Dominican Republic, I am looking forward to adding this to my summer reading list, and to thinking more broadly about Cuba’s entanglement in Caribbean currents.

And here is a link to Jafari Sinclaire Allen’s article, “Means of desire’s production: Male sex labor in Cuba,” in Identities 14 (1): 183-202.  This is an ethnographically grounded article which places male Cuban sex work in wider perspective–I am about to teach Marc Padilla’s book on male sex work in the Dominican Republic, for which this article ought to provide a cogent counterpoint.  It also presents a more in-depth perspective on the topic than Hodge’s shorter 2001 NACLA article.  I do wish that people working on male sex work in Cuba would reference the doctoral dissertation of David Forrest, Bichos, Maricones and Pingueros: an ethnographic study of “maleness” and “scarcity” in contemporary Socialist Cuba. (1999).  SOAS (Anthropology). London, University of London.  David and I overlapped in Havana for some months.  I believe he has left the (British) academy, unfortunately, and this is probably why his work has remained so rarely cited.  In any case, not only is David a mensh, but he took his work seriously and the dissertation is full of interesting material even though he was limited to less than a year of field research.  If anyone is looking for it, let me know if you’re having difficulty finding a copy.

50 years of Revolution. Special Issues and Recent Ethnographies

Consumption & material culture, Cultural production, daily life, Gender & sexuality, Globalization, greater Cuba, Health, History, media, Miami, music, new article, new chapter/edited volume, Race, Religion, Sport, Tourism No Comments »

Journal of Latin American Studies

Latin American Perspectives

In addition you might want to check out the following recent publications:

* By Ruth Behar and Lucia Suárez, an edited volume: THE PORTABLE ISLAND: Cubans at Home in the World.  Palgrave 2008.

* By Ivor Miller, a book: Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba, University Press of Mississippi.

* By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant:

Special guest edited issue of the Journal of Latin American Anthropology, including introduction (“Alternative Geographies”), and articles by Laurie Frederik Meer, P. Sean Brotherton, Kenneth Routon, and Helen Safa.

“Radio Taino and the Cuban Quest for Identi…que?“, in Doris Sommer’s Cultural Agency in the Americas, Duke University Press, 2006.

“Havana’s Timba. A Macho Sound for Black Sex.” In Deborah Thomas and Kamari Clarke. Globalization and Race. Duke University Press, 2006.

* By Kenneth Routon. “Conjuring the past: Slavery and the historical imagination in Cuba.”  American Ethnologist (p 632-649), Volume 35 Issue 4

* By Laurie Frederik MeerPlayback Theatre in Cuba: the Politics of Improvisation and Free Expression,” in The Drama Review, Winter 2007, Vol. 51, No. 4, Pages 106-120

* By P. Sean Brotherton.  “We have to think like capitalists but continue being socialists”: Medicalized subjectivities, emergent capital, and socialist entrepreneurs in post-Soviet Cuba.  American Ethnologist, Vol. 35, Issue 2, pp. 259-274.  June 2008.

* By Mette Berg:

Between Cosmopolitanism and the National Slot: Cuba’s Diasporic Children of the Revolution, Identities (vol. 16, issue 2), Pages 129 – 156.

“Homeland and belonging among Cubans in Spain.”  Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Vol. 14 no. 2, (pp. 265-290)

* By Katrin Hansing, (2009). “South-South Migration and Transnational Ties between Cuba and Mozambique,” in Transnational Ties: Cities, Migrations, and Identities. M. P. Smith and J. Eade. New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers: 77-90.

* Even if you are already familiar with Todd Ramón Ochoa‘s article, “Versions of the Dead: Kalunga in Cuban Kongo Materiality,” in Cultural Anthropology Vol. 22, No. 4, November 2007, you should check out this link from C.A., which includes study questions and an embedded video clip.

*By Kristina Wirtz:

Her book is entitled Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World University Press of Florida, 2007.  (only on hard cover).

See reviews: McIntosh, Janet. “(Book Review) Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World. University of Florida Press, 2007.” by Kristina Wirtz. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology vol. 18(1) 2009: 163-4. And a review byElina Hartikainen (citation only, full-text not available), in the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Volume 13, Number 2, November 2008 , pp. 461-462(2). Also, here is another link to a review (again, citation only) by Paul Christopher Johnson in the Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 64, no. 4.  If you know of other reviews, or have your own comments, please take a moment to leave an update or comment!

Kristina Wirtz, “Hazardous waste: the semiotics of ritual hygiene in Cuban popular religion,” in JRAI vol. 15, pp. 476-501, 2009.

Kristina Wirtz:  “Divining The Past: The linguistic reconstruction of “African” roots in diasporic ritual registers and songs,” in Journal of Religion in Africa Special Issue: “African diasporic religions.”  27(2): 240-272, 2007.  Introduced by Stephan Palmié.

Wirtz, K. (2007) Deep language and diasporic culture: Learning to speak the ‘tongue of the orichas’ in Cuban Santería. American Ethnologist 34(1): 108-126.  Her abstract:

“Enregistered memory and Afro-Cuban historicity in Santería’s ritual speech,” in Language & Communication special issue: “Temporalities of Text.” 27(3), 2007.

Finally, check out two related pieces by Wirtz, “Introduction: Ritual Unintelligibility” (pp. 401-407. Read introduction) and “Making sense of unintelligible messages: Co-construction of meaning in Santería rituals,” (435-462. Abstract) in a special issue of the journal Text & Talk on “Ritual Unintelligibility,” 27(4), 2007.

* By Tom Carter

(1)  “New Rules to the Old Game: Cuban Sport and State Legitimacy in the Post-Soviet Era,” in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. 15 (2): 194-215, 2008.

(2)“Pitén en la Plaza: Some preliminary considerations on spatializing culture in Cuba” in Image, Power and Space: Studies in Consumption and Identity. Alan Tomlinson and Jonathan M. Woodham (eds). Aachen: Meyer & Meyer. Pp. 97-112.

(3)  “Of Spectacular Phantasmal Desires: Tourism and the Cuban State’s Complicity in its Commodification of its Citizens,” in Leisure Studies. 27 (3): 241-257, 2008.

(4) “Family Networks, State Interventions and the Experiences of Cuban Transnational Sport Migration,” in International Review of the Sociology of Sport. 42 (4): 371-389, (2007).

(5) “A Relaxed State of Affairs?: On Leisure, Tourism, and Cuban Identity” in The Discipline of Leisure: Embodying Cultures of “Recreation”. Simon Coleman and Tamara Kohn (eds). Oxford: Berghahn, pp. 127-145 (2007).

* By Martin Holbraad:

Definitive evidence, from Cuban gods,” in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, special issue The Objects of Evidence,vol. 14, issue s1, April 2008. Based on evidence collected during fieldwork among practitioners of Afro-Cuban religion in Havana, this paper seeks ‘recursively’ to redefine the notion of anthropological evidence itself. It does so by examining ethnographically practitioners’ concern with the ‘evidence’ deities give (e.g. successful divinations, divine cures, etc.), by virtue of which people’s relationships with deities are cemented. To the extent that this indigenous concept of evidence is different from notions of evidence anthropologists take for granted in their own work, it occasions the opportunity to transform those very assumptions. But such a procedure is itself evidential – pertaining to the relationship between ethnography and theory. The paper sets out the virtues, both ethnographic and theoretical, of this circularity.

Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, ed. by Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell.  Routledge 2007.  The volume, as well as this exchange about the book between Martin Holbraad and Daniel Miller, is surely of general interest to those of us with an interest in consumption, goods, and so-called material culture.  Additionally, Holbraad’s chapter, “The Power of Powder: Multiplicity and Motion in the Divinatory Cosmology of Cuban Ifá (or mana, again)” also ought to be of interest for many ethnocuba readers. The book is also reviewed at Savage Minds, here.

Roulette anthropology: the whole beyond holism,” in Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 32 (2). pp. 29-47 (2007). The paper builds an argument about holism in anthropological theory by drawing an ethnographic contrast between divination and gambling in Cuba.  Outlining the contrasting modes of prediction in each case, it is shown that while diviners’ predictions draw on cosmological models of the world, gamblers’ seek to source the cosmos itself.  Their concern with going beyond cosmology is bound up with their orientation (obsessive sometimes) towards what they call ‘cábalas’ – attention-grabbing coincidences of everyday life.  A similar contrast can be drawn with regard to anthropological notions of ‘holism’.  Available versions of holism are ‘cosmological’ inasmuch as they pertain to the role of models in anthropology.  Nevertheless, anthropologists too are as concerned with accessing the cosmos, allowing ‘the field’ to speak for itself in ethnography.  Like the gamblers (and unlike colleagues in more disciplined disciplines), anthropologists find that it is only when they stop reasoning in terms of pre-conceived cosmologies that worlds begin to reveal themselves as such.  So anthropology goes beyond holism by becoming more holistic than it already thinks it is: from cosmology to the cosmos.  It is oriented towards the underbelly of reason par excellence, ventriloquising itself into the cosmos at ‘ethnographic moments’ – coincidences – that can only register as ‘alterity’.  So a defence of radical ‘holism’, it is argued, is also a defence of a radical ‘exoticism’.

Expending Multiplicity: Money in Cuban Ifá Cults,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute vol. 11 (2), pp. 231-254.  2005.

* By Maria Gropas

“Landscape, Revolution and Property Regimes in Rural Havana,” 2006. Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 33 issue 2, pp. 248-277

The Repatriotization of Revolutionary Ideology and Mnemonic Landscape in Present-Day Havana,”  in Current Anthropology 48 (4), 2007. Includes commentaries by Virginia R. Domíguez, Nadine Fernandez, Martin Hall, Martin Holbraad, and Mona Rosendahl, as well as a reply by the author.  The conversation has an amplified on-line version, with additional color images, here.
*By Matthew Hill, “Re-Imagining Old Havana: World Heritage and the Production of Scale in Late Socialist Cuba” in Deciphering The Global: Its Scales, Spaces and Subjects, ed. by Saskia Sassen (2007).
* By Miguel de la Torre. 2003. La Lucha for Cuba: Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami, University of California Press, by Miguel A. De La Torre. Reviewed Here by Laurie Frederik Meer’s in e-misférica.
* By Amalia Cabezas.  “The Eroticization of Labor in Cuba’s All-Inclusive Resorts: Performing Race, Class and Gender in the New Tourist Economy,” in Social Identities, Volume 12, Issue 5 September 2006 , pages 507 – 521.

* By Amy L. Porter, “Fleeting Dreams and Flowing Goods: Citizenship and Consumption in Havana Cuba” in PoLAR vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 134-149.  May 2008.
* By Noelle Stout.Feminists, Queers and Critics: Debating the Cuban Sex Trade,” in the Journal of Latin American Studies, vol 40, pp. 721-742 (2008).
* By Rogelio Martínez Furé. 2007. Eshu (oriki a mi mismo)  y otras descargas.
* By Valerio Simoni, “‘Riding’ Diversity: Cubans’/Jineteros‘ Uses of ‘Nationality-talks’ in the Realm of their Informal Encounters with Tourists” in Tourism Development: Growth, Myths and Inequalities, ed. by Peter M. Burns & Marina Novelli, CAB International, 2008, pp. 68-84.
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