The University of North Carolina Press

Envisioning Cuba

Edited by Louis A. Pérez Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

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Envisioning Cuba

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Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century

Alejandro de la Fuente

Havana in the 1550s was a small coastal village with a very limited population that was vulnerable to attack. By 1610, however, under Spanish rule it had become one of the best-fortified port cities in the world and an Atlantic center of shipping, commerce, and shipbuilding. Using all available local Cuban sources, Alejandro de la Fuente provides the first examination of the transformation of Havana into a vibrant Atlantic port city and the fastest-growing urban center in the Americas in the late sixteenth century. He shows how local ambitions took advantage of the imperial design and situates Havana within the slavery and economic systems of the colonial Atlantic.

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Madhouse

Psychiatry and Politics in Cuban History

Jennifer L. Lambe

On the outskirts of Havana lies Mazorra, an asylum known to--and at times feared by--ordinary Cubans for over a century. Since its founding in 1857, the island's first psychiatric hospital has been an object of persistent political attention. Drawing on hospital documents and government records, as well as the popular press, photographs, and oral histories, Jennifer L. Lambe charts the connections between the inner workings of this notorious institution and the highest echelons of Cuban politics. Across the sweep of modern Cuban history, she finds, Mazorra has served as both laboratory and microcosm of the Cuban state: the asylum is an icon of its ignominious colonial and neocolonial past and a crucible of its republican and revolutionary futures.

From its birth, Cuban psychiatry was politically inflected, drawing partisan contention while sparking debates over race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Psychiatric notions were even invested with revolutionary significance after 1959, as the new government undertook ambitious schemes for social reeducation. But Mazorra was not the exclusive province of government officials and professionalizing psychiatrists. U.S. occupiers, Soviet visitors, and, above all, ordinary Cubans infused the institution, both literal and metaphorical, with their own fears, dreams, and alternative meanings. Together, their voices comprise the madhouse that, as Lambe argues, haunts the revolutionary trajectory of Cuban history.

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A Nation for All

Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba

Alejandro de la Fuente

After thirty years of anticolonial struggle against Spain and four years of military occupation by the United States, Cuba formally became an independent republic in 1902. The nationalist coalition that fought for Cuba's freedom, a movement in which blacks and mulattoes were well represented, had envisioned an egalitarian and inclusive country--a nation for all, as Jose Marti described it. But did the Cuban republic, and later the Cuban revolution, live up to these expectations?

Tracing the formation and reformulation of nationalist ideologies, government policies, and different forms of social and political mobilization in republican and postrevolutionary Cuba, Alejandro de la Fuente explores the opportunities and limitations that Afro-Cubans experienced in such areas as job access, education, and political representation. Challenging assumptions of both underlying racism and racial democracy, he contends that racism and antiracism coexisted within Cuban nationalism and, in turn, Cuban society. This coexistence has persisted to this day, despite significant efforts by the revolutionary government to improve the lot of the poor and build a nation that was truly for all.

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On Location in Cuba

Street Filmmaking during Times of Transition

Ann Marie Stock

The 1990s were a time of dramatic transformation for Cuba. With the collapse of its Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union, the island nation plummeted into an era of scarcity and uncertainty known as the Special Period, a time from which it emerged only slowly in the new century. ###On Location in Cuba# views these pivotal decades through the lens of cinema. Ann Marie Stock conducted hundreds of interviews and conversations in Cuba to examine individual artists' lives and creative output--including film, video, and audiovisual art. She explores the impact of the Cold War's end, the economic crisis that ensued, and the decentralization of the state's political, economic, and cultural apparatus.

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Prostitution, Modernity, and the Making of the Cuban Republic, 1840-1920

Tiffany A. Sippial

Between 1840 and 1920, Cuba abolished slavery, fought two wars of independence, and was occupied by the United States before finally becoming an independent republic. Tiffany A. Sippial argues that during this tumultuous era, Cuba's struggle to define itself as a modern nation found focus in the social and sexual anxieties surrounding prostitution and its regulation.
Sippial shows how prostitution became a prism through which Cuba's hopes and fears were refracted. Widespread debate about prostitution created a forum in which issues of public morality, urbanity, modernity, and national identity were discussed with consequences not only for the capital city of Havana but also for the entire Cuban nation.
Republican social reformers ultimately recast Cuban prostitutes--and the island as a whole--as victims of colonial exploitation who could be saved only by a government committed to progressive reforms in line with other modernizing nations of the world. By 1913, Cuba had abolished the official regulation of prostitution, embracing a public health program that targeted the entire population, not just prostitutes. Sippial thus demonstrates the central role the debate about prostitution played in defining republican ideals in independent Cuba.

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Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba

La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844

Aisha K. Finch

Envisioning La Escalera--an underground rebel movement largely composed of Africans living on farms and plantations in rural western Cuba--in the larger context of the long emancipation struggle in Cuba, Aisha Finch demonstrates how organized slave resistance became critical to the unraveling not only of slavery but also of colonial systems of power during the nineteenth century.

While the discovery of La Escalera unleashed a reign of terror by the Spanish colonial powers in which hundreds of enslaved people were tortured, tried, and executed, Finch revises historiographical conceptions of the movement as a fiction conveniently invented by the Spanish government in order to target anticolonial activities. Connecting the political agitation stirred up by free people of color in the urban centers to the slave rebellions that rocked the countryside, Finch shows how the rural plantation was connected to a much larger conspiratorial world outside the agrarian sector. While acknowledging the role of foreign abolitionists and white creoles in the broader history of emancipation, Finch teases apart the organization, leadership, and effectiveness of the black insurgents in midcentury dissident mobilizations that emerged across western Cuba, presenting compelling evidence that black women played a particularly critical role.

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The Revolution Is for the Children

The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

Anita Casavantes Bradford

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Revolution within the Revolution

Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962

Michelle Chase

A handful of celebrated photographs show armed female Cuban insurgents alongside their companeros in Cuba's remote mountains during the revolutionary struggle. However, the story of women's part in the struggle's success has only now received comprehensive consideration in Michelle Chase's history of women and gender politics in revolutionary Cuba. Restoring to history women's participation in the all-important urban insurrection, and resisting Fidel Castro's triumphant claim that women's emancipation was handed to them as a "revolution within the revolution," Chase's work demonstrates that women's activism and leadership was critical at every stage of the revolutionary process.

Tracing changes in political attitudes alongside evolving gender ideologies in the years leading up to the revolution, Chase describes how insurrectionists mobilized familiar gendered notions, such as masculine honor and maternal sacrifice, in ways that strengthened the coalition against Fulgencio Batista. But, after 1959, the mobilization of women and the societal transformations that brought more women and young people into the political process opened the revolutionary platform to increasingly urgent demands for women's rights. In many cases, Chase shows, the revolutionary government was simply formalizing popular initiatives already in motion on the ground thanks to women with a more radical vision of their rights.


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Rhythms of Race

Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940-1960

Christina D. Abreu

Among the nearly 90,000 Cubans who settled in New York City and Miami in the 1940s and 1950s were numerous musicians and entertainers, black and white, who did more than fill dance halls with the rhythms of the rumba, mambo, and cha cha cha. In her history of music and race in midcentury America, Christina D. Abreu argues that these musicians, through their work in music festivals, nightclubs, social clubs, and television and film productions, played central roles in the development of Cuban, Afro-Cuban, Latino, and Afro-Latino identities and communities. Abreu draws from previously untapped oral histories, cultural materials, and Spanish-language media to uncover the lives and broader social and cultural significance of these vibrant performers.

Keeping in view the wider context of the domestic and international entertainment industries, Abreu underscores how the racially diverse musicians in her study were also migrants and laborers. Her focus on the Cuban presence in New York City and Miami before the Cuban Revolution of 1959 offers a much needed critique of the post-1959 bias in Cuban American studies as well as insights into important connections between Cuban migration and other twentieth-century Latino migrations.

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Sexual Revolutions in Cuba

Passion, Politics, and Memory

Carrie Hamilton

Chronicling the history of sexuality in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, this book frames the relationship between passion and politics in the revolution's wider history and argues that the Cuban revolutionary regime intervened in the sexual lives of Cubans in a variety of ways and transformed key areas of Cuban life, including the family, reproduction, sexual values, and sexual relationships. Drawing from a major oral history project--the “Memories of the Revolution” oral history project conducted by a team of British and Cuban researchers (Hamilton was one of the British researchers on the team) between 2003 and 2007--Hamilton explores the experiences and perceptions of sexuality among Cubans across generations and social groups. She contextualizes the oral histories within an array of archival and secondary sources, relating them to issues of race, class, and gender, as well as to social, economic, and political change. Organized thematically, the volume opens with a historical overview that points out that after 1959 revolutionary values continued to coexist with pre-revolutionary ideologies in a potent and often contradictory mix. Succeeding chapters examine discourse on love, romance, and passion on both personal and national levels; male and female homosexuality; sexual repression; and changing gender roles and service to the revolution. Hamilton explores conflicting notions of Cuba as a site of desire on the one hand, and as a place of intense sexual repression, especially with regard to homosexuality, on the other. She identifies many ways in which revolutionary policy affected sexual behavior, including changes to policy and laws, mass education programs, leaders’ pronouncements on the relationship between good revolutionaries and private life, and the provision of incentives to encourage certain forms of sexual union and repressive measures to discourage and punish others. Hamilton argues that sexual politics were central to the construction of a new revolutionary society.

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