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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.

Exile Epics: Marco Rubio to the Senate

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, exile, Miami, Video - lecture and discussion 1 Comment »

It is worth listening to the new senator elect for Florida and TeaParty sympathizer Marco Rubio‘s acceptance speech. I had to listen to it after a friend reported that his speech was dishearteningly right-wing while another friend (Cuban exile) reported to be filled with emotion.

To me, it sounds awfully out of step with the experience of many people in this country (all those who have not managed to go from bellboy to president); but I suppose he is not talking to them here. He is paying homage to his family’s journey, and that is emotional: “I have been raised in a community that lost their country…  This is the story of the Cuban exile community… I will always be the son of exiles...” His is an American Dream story, an immigrant fable that says that you can make it to the top by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps; a story that was compelling at one point but that it sounds now more incredible than winning the lottery.  He talks about “the greatest society in human history” and about America as “the strongest country in the world” and “an extraordinary society where every dream is possible;” “there is at least one place in this planet where it doesn’t matter if your father was a bartender and your mom was a maid. You can accomplish anything you want if you’re willing to work hard for it and play by the rules” (“the rules” being a signal that illegal immigration will not be tolerated). From Cuban exceptionalism to American exceptionalism.

His is also an anti-communist parable:  He has been compared with Reagan and he indeed sounds like someone coming out from the Cold. Even though Marco Rubio does not mention the words “communism” or “revolution”– for him the Cuban Revolution is “an accident of history”– his narrative is a sort of Reaganesque reverse orientalism. His politics, far to the right of Reagan. If, according to the sociological lore, the first generation of exiles were visibly and famously Republican, and the one-and-a-half generation a rebel -with a high profile in academia and a significant number of them joining various brigades and going to Cuba in defiance of their parents- the second remains, let’s say, under studied. Another one of its members is the Republican congressman just elected for Miami, David Rivera, born in 1965, former manager of radio and TV Marti.

UPDATE (Nov. 5). For a broader social and generational perspective on both Rubio’s election and Ileana Rosh-Lehtinen’s reelection to Congress (feared to become the next chairperson of the Foreign Affairs committee, with its obvious negative implications for US Cuban academic exchanges), I recommend the just-published piece on the latest issue of Foreign Policy by colleague Arturo Lopez-Levy, Not Your Father’s Cuba.

Orlando Bosch and the Politics of Academia

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Conferences & CFPs, exile, Miami, Video - lecture and discussion 6 Comments »

Oct 12 event at the UM. At the far left (wearing a tie), Orlando Bosch. Next to him, Enrique Ros (also with suit and tie), who is the father of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Congresswoman. On the far right, author and radio host Enrique Encinosa. (pic taken from the event’s website)

Colleague Isabel Alfonso, a graduate of the University of Miami, sent us this video of the October 12 event, along with her outrage. How is it possible that a bona fide University would sponsor a homage to Orlando Bosch? He is an extremely controversial figure, well known for his involvement in an airplane bombing; who at one point was convicted of terrorism by a U.S. court and who, according to the U.S. Attorney General’s Ofice, “for thirty years has been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence.”  One thing is to invite an individual, in this case a witness of a history worth telling, a man already in his eighties, to tell his story, even to give his opinion and defend his views. But to stage a homage to his terrorist actions and activities that broke laws in several countries?

Here’s a clip:

The event, on the Escambray anti-revolutionary struggle, was technically organized by an Institute for the Cuban Historical Memory Against Totalitarianism, and merely took place AT the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, as clearly stated on their event webpage. Nonetheless, both the Cuban and Cuban American Institute and the University lent their names and banners to the event as can be seen on the pictures. They were therefore sponsors. The Institute (which we link on our link-roll)  is a semi-independent entity that has never hidden its partisanship. It is directed by the very widely read historian Prof. Jaime Suchliki, and, even though it does not feature a proper board, it lists a number of UM faculty as contributors.

What is the line between political activism and academic indifference? Are there double or triple standards? Our colleague and former classmate, anthropologist Nick DeGenova, unfortunately lost his job at Columbia University for saying at a sit-in that the United States deserved “a million Mogadishus.” How is this any different? It is always dangerous to try to set limits to free speech, but one could argue that universities, as educational institutions, are in the business of educating citizens for democracy. A university needs to chose its role models -the individuals it honors- carefully and thoughtfully.

Video: Rafael Hernández at the University of Chicago, Oct. 7, 2009

By Paul Ryer, Seminars & talks, Video - lecture and discussion 1 Comment »

The_Cuban_TransitionHere is a clickable link to a speech given recently by Temas editor Rafael Hernández, at the University of Chicago. As you probably know, Hernández is a senior research fellow at the Centro de Investigación de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello in Havana and is the author or editor of numerous books.  The title of this talk, given in English, is “The Cuban Transition: Imagined and Actual.”

U.S.-Cuban Academic Exchange, A video-debate (2007)

Licensing & visas, Video - lecture and discussion No Comments »

Here are two videos from a day-long symposium on “U.S.-Cuban Academic Exchange,” hosted by the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago.  In Part One, Wayne Smith and Louis Pérez speak about the political and historical context of such exchanges.  Part Two, a roundtable with scholars who have traveled to Cuba as graduate students or faculty, includes archeologist Shannon Dawdy and cultural anthropologists Stephan Palmié, Laurie Frederik Meer and Paul Ryer.

Vodpod

By Paul Ryer, Video - lecture and discussion No Comments »

In case you have never explored vodpod, it has hundreds of Cuban and diasporic documentaries, films, and clips.  This one (11 min), for instance, is a short documentary about some Timorese medical students currently studying in Cuba.  There are also many hard-to-find classics of Cuban cinema, from “Por Primera Vez” (9 min) to “Taller de Línea y 18,” (16 min) which is one of my favorites, as it stars many of my neighbors in Edificio Girón, when they were much younger workers in the Girón bus factory…    Not sure whether one needs to log in or not, but http://cinedocumental.vodpod.com/ has an especially good collection of Cuban documentaries and films, mixed in with some other stuff.  Have not been able to watch all of them, but check out the site and let us know if you find any interesting ones.

UPDATE: An even better collection of Cuban films you may find at:

http://cinecuba.blogspot.com/

UPDATE  2:  And here’s another website with recent Cuban documentaries:

http://canaldocumental.tv/index.php

Video clip of Behar presentation

Video - lecture and discussion No Comments »

SavageMinds just linked to this clip of a Ruth Behar introduction at a recent event at her alma mater, via YouTube’s new academic site.  Not sure whether EtnoCuba is equipped to deal with video yet or not, so this is an experiment, but be warned that the clip ends after she’s introduced and her prefatory remarks, but before her formal presentation begins.

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