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Public Academics and the Cuba-vs-Exile Question

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, exile, Opinion Add comments

Celia Cruz as Lady in White. Miami, Calle Ocho, 3/25/2010. Courtesy and ©  Marta Ramos

When it comes to Cuba, few academics dare to issue opinions. We complain about the continued irrelevance of intellectuals within U.S. society and call for the need to encourage critical thinking within the university. Yet few issue informed opinions on U.S. Cuban politics.  The field is extremely polarized between those academics who refuse to publicly acknowledge the death of the revolutionary utopia and who focus their critical energy on the ill policies of the U.S. government, and those -generally de-legitimized- whose exiled agendas guide their scholarship. In between there is a silent mass, among them the anthropologists, who are uncomfortable expressing an opinion that will align them with either camp. Anthropologists study other cultures and societies yet their ultimate goal is to criticize their own and not that of others, always respectful (fearful?) of foreign sovereignties.

There are some exceptions (as in this very blog concerning U.S. Cuba  travel policies), most often among non-anthropologists, even though they sharply separate opinion from scholarship. Our colleague Ted Henken is one. He does not shy away from informing his political opinion with his academic knowledge in his blog El Yuma. Nor does Isabel Alfonso, a professor at St. Joseph’s college in New York.    She recently wrote an essay entitled “The Stains of a March” critiquing the goals behind the March 25th march that took place in Miami under the auspices of Emilio and Gloria Estefan in support of Cuba’s political prisoners. Between fifty and one hundred thousand people attended the march, and in the name of unity, the goals overshadowed the means. She analyzed the organization of the march and denounced its secondary agenda:

“As a symbolic gesture, far from facilitating the hatching of a mature exile, able to tell apart lights from shadows, the march inscribes us once again in a history of accomplice silences before acts of violence that surpass the abuse against the Damas, such as the terrorist acts committed by Posada Carriles or the fifty-year long embargo against the island. Politically, the balance results in manipulation on both sides.  Washington lobbyists might use the march to create momentum and freeze the dialogue. Less travel, fewer academic exchanges, fewer points of negotiation….”

The essay was picked up by two very different web publications: the exile journal Encuentro en la Red (based in Madrid), and the official page of Cuba’s Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC). Because this collusion between two normally ideologically-opposed forums is unprecedented, the essay deserves careful reading.  You can choose where to read it in its entirety, according to your own preference:

“Las Manchas de una Marcha”, Cuba Encuentro, March 31, 2010

“Las Manchas de una Marcha”. UNEAC webpage, April 2, 2010

For background, you can watch this short report on the march by The Miami Herald:

5 Responses to “Public Academics and the Cuba-vs-Exile Question”

  1. Isabel Alfonso Says:

    Thanks Ariana for this post. I just wanted to add that great scholars such as Arturo Lopez-Levy have been challenging this position of “academic-non commitment” even from before. This article that I share here is a good example:

  2. YoYi Pérez. Says:

    Serendipitous opportunity has presented itself which I intend to use for further enlightening. Having said that, and in light of the evolution currently being witnessed, it is imperative that innovative concepts are developed to assist us all in the identification and understanding of current and future societal trends to which the science of Anthropology and Ethnology are the logical fitting. The latter is of the utmost importance considering the monumental task that our generation is presented with, from drafting a new judicial code, to amending prior constitutions. I’m totally fascinated by the demeanor of the discussion and wish to read further about the subject at hand from both perspectives. Thank you.

  3. M.I. Says:

    Hola Ariana:

    I agree with this statement very much:
    “When it comes to Cuba, few academics dare to issue opinions. We complain about the continued irrelevance of intellectuals within U.S. society and call for the
    need to encourage critical thinking within the university. Yet few issue informed opinions on U.S. Cuban politics…”

    But scholars who step out of line will either be barred from return to Cuba or lose jobs in USA, so most just avoid it altogether, as do intellectuals within Cuba.

  4. ariana Says:

    You are absolutely right. And we should begin to te denounce that.

    In the US, the risk is not so much to lose jobs as to not get them to begin with. But more often, it means to be marginalized from academic networks, publications and conferences, etc.

  5. Isabel Alfonso Says:

    I agree. I wish those who have accused me of “flirting” with the allegedly left-oriented American academia read these comments.

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