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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.

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.

Review of “Cuba in the Special Period”

Reviews No Comments »

special_period-brbHere is a recent International Journal of  Cuban Studies review of Cuba in the Special Period Helen Yaffe recommends a wide-ranging collection of essays linking culture to Cuban identity:

This book is a collection of essays by anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and literary, film and art scholars who examine developments within distinct cultural fields, linking them to the question of Cuban identity in the 1990s era of economic crisis and globalisation. Those readers, who, like me, lived in Cuba during the austere Special Period, will find echoes of their own experiences. However, those who have never even visited the island will also discover a great deal in the rich details of these essays….[Continues HERE]


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