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A review of PBS “Black in Latin America. Cuba: the Next Revolution”

By M.E.Diaz, media, Race, Reviews, Video - lecture and discussion 6 Comments »

Watch the full episode. See more Black in Latin America.

(You can view the entire episode by going to the PBS website)

Just this week, PBS has been showing a series on race in Latin America. This is Prof. Maria Elena Díaz’s very illuminating review of the Cuba episode:

The story begins with slavery & sugar, the 10 years war (with a slightly inaccurate and very rosy take on Cespedes and this war–you may take a look at the Cespedes’ manifesto (in Chomsky et als’ Cuba Reader) it is very problematic–there is actually no abolition of slavery, Cespedes is very careful on this controversial issue, at most grants a very limited gradual abolition with very problematic terms on how a slave can even join the liberation army, no freedom to do so, etc).

The program covers  the war of Independence through, of course, a bit of Marti (and his ideology compressed into the phrase “we are all Cubans”) and particularly less well known  issues around the figure of Maceo (a few bites with NYU Professor Ada Ferrer). Then a bunch of history compressed on the iconic “Maine” explosion (perhaps because there is the tangible monument). The interview with this historian (Iglesias?) is not too enlightening, frankly. They could have pulled anyone from the street to say that. These bites try to compress Louis Perez’s book <The War of 1898> and miss quite a bit, but ok, it was mostly background and perhaps it did not want to alienate a North American audience too much, particularly these days when similar adventures are being played out in other latitudes. The occupation and new segregation policies introduced during the occupation are mentioned (missing the white diplomatic corps, though) and the compliciteness of the white elite with these policies is noted.  The Platt Amendment is not mentioned,  which is quite basic, but the narrator pointed out  there had been de facto colonialism (“from Spain to the US,” he said, to put it softly).  It mentioned the white/Spanish immigration and the full emphasis on “whitening”  which it could have contextualized a bit better by framing it in  the greater turn of the century trend of “whitening”  as part of the wider scientific racism, eugenics and the idea of “whiteness” as “progress and civilization”–going on elsewhere in L.A. (Brazil being the best known case in L.A. but elsewhere too–not to speak of course Europe and US as the emblems of modernity and progress to be imitated). It could have emphasized the universal male suffrage guaranteed in the Constitution of 1901 that became an  element  in the self-definition of the new Republic as a “racial democracy,” a claim that was challenged by  Yvonette and the Partido Independiente de Color. It dedicated a good number of bites to the important Race war of 1912 and showed the brutal cartoons that illustrates the political unconscious of the time.

The  periodization then moves to the 1920s noting that it represented the beginning to the move toward greater acceptance of “black” music and cultural traditions previously marginalized, when not outrightly persecuted . It could have explained that this coincided with broader emergent nationalist trends  throughout L.A, in the interwar period. It touches on the famous story of Machado’s birthday event as a kind of lithmus test of how far black music or culture (i.e. the son) had become accepted in power circles at the time. Perhaps it could have mentioned Guillen, and Wilfredo Lam, as the show cases in “high culture” in Cuba during the following years, but it focused on popular culture, and that is just fine. It also runs through this period with some interviews with soneros and some pretty bold footage of some carnival scenes (backed by the state in the 1930s for commercial purposes) that might not be altogether accurate.

The film rightly mentions the decree to end discrimination in the public sector in the 1940s, but did not mention that, contrary to the Const of 1901, this one was explicitly guaranteed in the social democratic Constitution of 1940. (The question of implementation is a separate one.) It could have covered more about the black organizations and clubs operating throughout this period, those would have been nice memories to recover from informants, but the program sticks to the script of what are pretty much commonplaces in the academic research by now– it does not engage in any original research as mentioned above. for the 1950s, it notes the usual common places (Batista, mafia, tourism, etc); puts a good light on black participation in the 26th of July Movement by using Comandante Dreke as narrator.  Chailloux got too emotional on the Literacy Campaign and that prevented her from speaking more eloquently (Gates has to pull out the words from her), but her tears were eloquent of that moment too. It highlights as well Fidel Castro’s declaration against discrimination (I think 1960), and then moves on to the issue of economic and social advancement and rights–the infrastructure and superstructure line that becomes emblematic of the Revolution’s position on race (and represented as well through the figures of Dreke and Chailloux). I thought it covered the debacle of the special period effectively as well as the effects of the dual economy, the greater access to dollar paying jobs by white sectors. (It skipped throughout the waves of emigration and exile).The discussion on the lingering of racial prejudice in Cuba that has been recently exacerbated  by new global factors is actually tame.

Overall, I thought the program was very good and quite restrained. I suppose it will be shown in Cuba at some point. I wonder about  reactions to it  in the island and in Miami–a reception study of some kind would be nice.

Radio Marti versus NPR

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, media 3 Comments »

While NPR’s federal funding is in jeopardy, support for Radio Marti and the Voice of America seems guaranteed. The bill proposing to eliminate the 64 million dollars that the government would have devoted to NPR’s operations passed in Congress and is waiting for the Senate.  While newscasters and bloggers seem divided across Party lines concerning public broadcasting, with Republicans generally advocating its elimination, nobody seems to remember the U.S. international broadcasts, which receive over 700 million dollars annually.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is the agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasts -including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio and TV Marti- has just submitted a 2012 budget for almost 800 million. It does include cuts in certain areas, but leaves the Cuba program pretty much intact. For instance, the Croatian and Chinese broadcasts of the Voice of America are entirely eliminated. Croatians no longer live under Communism, and the Chinese public is known to prefer the internet for news and information.

The budget includes a modest 28 million dollars for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is in charge of both Radio and TV Marti.  Interestingly, about 16 million of these are for salaries and benefits for the 151 employees, which means that a job at these stations is a good prospect… if you can get it (nepotism is an issue, according to an “unclassified but sensitive” audit conducted in 2007 by the U.S. State Department.)

A lingering problem for Radio and TV Marti is the dubious number of listeners and viewers that these stations reach within Cuba. According to their own surveys, included in the budget document, less than 2% of respondents would acknowledge listening to Marti at least once a week. When I lived there in the second half of the nineties, I was only able to listen to it once, when I had the flu and someone lent me a short-wave radio to entertain me. Apparently, people massively listened to it during the 1994 Balsero crisis because the station provided information on those who reached U.S. shores, but after that the audience dwindled, most dramatically among urban youth. Its programs were old-fashioned, but most importantly, as old transistors were phased out, they were replaced with modern radio sets lacking a short-wave tuner. As for TV Marti, I was never able to tune it in, nor did I ever meet anyone who did.

If that is the case, how to justify depriving millions of Americans across the country from public programming while throwing away expensive international broadcasts? Perhaps a realignment would be in order. Beam Marti North rather than South and democratize its programming. It would be great to have public stations in Spanish for the entire country, and they could keep their name as well as their Cuba news and music for all to enjoy.

Radio and TV Marti’s web address is http://www.martinoticias.com/noticias/ and both stations can be tuned in live through their webpage.

P.S.  Incidentally, it was announced today that the BBC is cutting its short-wave broadcasts in Spanish to Cuba, along with a lot of its international programming.

FOLLOW UP:

A few days after we published this post, and Cubanencuentro kindly linked it, the Council on Hemospheric Affairs, picked up the issue and wrote a well-researched piece. Subsequently, there has been a domino effect and legislation is being presented in the House and the Senate.

-The Council on Hemispheric Affairs followed up n agreement as evident here.

– The blog Penultimos Dias reported on an investigation on the hefty compensation paid by Radio Marti to various individuals, including well known academics, for their collaboration.

– April 10th: Truthout.org agrees that “While House Republicans showed no difficulties in placing National Public Radio (NPR) on the chopping block in mid-March, they have overlooked conservative pet projects that are far more costly, of lower quality, and ineffective. Two such projects are the anti-Castro broadcasts Radio and TV Martí…”

– April 12th: For the conservative blog Capitol Hill Cubans linking NPR to Radio Marti “is absurd”.

The Plane Crash and Cuba’s Local Journalism

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Images, media, News and Views 4 Comments »

My FBfr Tersites D. called our attention to the Granma paper’s front page, the morning after the plane crash of the Santiago-Havana AeroCaribbean flight that killed sixty-eight people. Where is the news?  This was one more instance of the Communist Party’s opacity. It is well known that rarely a news brief on someone’s death will detail the actual cause (e.g. dying after “a long and troublesome illness” is typically an euphemism for cancer). But this seems to top it all, and Tersites’ FBfrs rightfully shook their heads. The callousness of reducing such a catastrophe into an administrative technicality, removing any hint of human emotion, caused not so much surprise as sorrow; and sorrow not only for the victims of the plane but also for those of the paper (its readers).

Contrast that with the local Escambray paper of Sancti Spirtius, the nearest city to the crash. Like the Granma, it is also the voice of the Communist Party, but at the provincial level. Escambray was the first to twitter the news; by 9pm Eastern the bare information about the crash of the Santiago-Havana airliner had made it around the Twitter-world. Very soon after, the newspaper’s webpage begun to offer news as they trickled in.  Local papers of this kind typically carry local news that do not make it to the Granma, but their tone and approach is pretty much the same. In this case, the difference is dramatic, and it is not only a matter of aesthetics, which differentiate these two publications like night and day. While the national paper does not even include the news as news, Escambray paper gives it all, offering all available details, including graphic images occupying several pages.

That the Granma buries its head in the sand is not news. It is the voice of the bureaucracy, always removed from every day life. Its place seems to have been taken up by Cubadebate, which did keep web readers (therefore few Cubans) informed. The good news is that there is local reporting. That despite the crisis of journalism, particularly in printed form, this local paper, Escambray, displays a reporting that values “being there,” conveying to readers what is happening as is happening.

UPDATE (Nov. 8): For a very well narrated and very emotional account of what area residents heard and saw, including details about the activities in which various people were engaged in that very same moment and what they did immediately after, see today’s article in Escambray, “La Noche que Lloró Mayábuna,” which includes photos.

From Five to Seven, Redux

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, media, Tales from the field 8 Comments »

From Five to Seven was the greatest radio show in 1990s Havana, broadcasting every day, between five and seven and between 1994 and 1999, on Radio Taino. That is the reason why I did a lot of my ethnographic fieldwork there!

It was devoted to Latin music broadly conceived, but as timba grew, the show became its main showcase. Major bands like Manolin El Medico de la Salsa, Manolito (el del Trabuco), Bamboleo and others became BIG because of this show.  At times it reached the biggest audience for all radio shows in the city of Havana, after Radio Reloj’s morning news and Radio Progreso’s mid-morning soap opera. From Five to Seven sounded commercial, it included commercial advertisements and played timba music alongside classic salsa (e.g. Fania) as well as the latest in merengue, cumbia and all sort of fusion styles from the Spanish Caribbean and North America. The program ended in late 1999. The program launched young and unknown voices to international fame: some of the hosts that achieved recognition in the show went on to work on radio and television in Europe and the United States, like Ismael Calá, who’s now a famous anchor person at CNN, in the United States.

Now From Five to Seven is back! and today is its first day on the air, at five o’clock central time (6pm Eastern, 3pm Pacific). Its director Juan Cañizares has recuperated the project although not in Havana but in Cancun. His plan is to lure to it some of those who worked with him in Cuba, and Karla is already on board. The show broadcasts daily on Radio Turquesa FM, in Cancun and the entire state of Quintana Roo, and on the internet, playing a lot of Cuban timba and reggeaton. I am hearing a lot of Charanga Habanera, Gente de Zona, Manolito y Su Trabuco, both their latest releases and their by-now classical songs. Along with the music, the fabulous voice of Karla, and the same super arriba energy. El Exitazo Musical del Caribe!!!

Felicidades Juan y Karla!!

HERE you can hear the program promo.

And here one of the songs that were played today, Mentiras by Manolito Simonet:

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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