The Americas 59.1 (2002) 145-146
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This new issue of the series signals the current vitality and heterogeneity of scholarly approaches to Cuban history, literature, and politics. In a brief preface, the editors assert their goal of including articles that expand the "disciplinary and topical breadth" of the series. It is clear that they have succeeded, for this volume includes work on visual art (the first, according to the editors, to be published in this journal), examinations of understudied but crucial institutions in revolutionary Cuba, and articles proposing a transcendence of conventional boundaries in the study of nationalism and national identity. As such they raise fresh questions and offer provocative insights to the field.
The two notable articles that investigate the fortunes of institutions in Cuba, by Theron Corse and Josep Colomer, attain an on-the-ground proximity to everyday [End Page 145] life (understandably) rare in scholarship on the revolution. Corse takes up the subject of the experiences of the American Presbyterian Church between 1959 and 1970. Initially, members of the church responded to Fidel Castro's regime with a good deal of enthusiasm and willingness to participate in the creation of new society. Corse demonstrates that many remained committed to the revolution, even after the embargo was imposed and funding became scarce if not non-existent. The continuing loyalty of some members ran up against the growing alienation of others, resulting in an unusually divisive rift within the Presbyterian Church. This work certainly complicates assumptions that relations between the United States and Cuba were completely cut off after the imposition of the embargo. Looking beyond government and diplomatic channels, Corse makes a case for the importance of the institutions of civil society, both to Cubans in the early years of the revolution, and to scholars seeking to comprehend society and politics of that era.
Similarly, Colomer takes up the ubiquitous but somewhat mysterious Comités en Defensa de la Revolución (CDRs). These committees, created in the early years of the revolution, used vigilance as a means of social control. More than the police, the committees, which were comprised of ordinary citizens, watched over their fellow citizens, monitoring visitors, consumption patterns, and degrees of revolutionary fervor. With one committee per block, the idea was that no one would fall between the cracks. Colomer traces a shift in relations between members of the committees and those under their watch. In the early years they were characterized by hostility, and probably more effective enforcement of rules and norms. But eventually committees and citizens found that they gained more by cooperating in illegal or "unacceptable" ventures, such as the sale of alcohol, the traffic in contraband goods, etc. Colomer's study reveals a great deal about the workings of the revolutionary state, the experiences and dilemmas of Cuban citizens, and about the mechanisms of social control. In doing so, he not only invites comparison with other socialist regimes, he also explores a fascinating nexus between psychology, sociology, and political theory.
The theme of transnationalism runs through the remaining essays. Whether they focus on anarchists in early republican Cuba (Kirwin Shaffer), art and literature of exiles (Lourdes Gil and Flora M. González), or second generation Miami Cubans (Marta Díaz Fernández), each of these contributions looks beyond Cuban shores to a broader multi-site context. The authors do this not in response to a rise in the trendiness of "transnational studies," but in the interest of accuracy. Their anarchists, artists, writers, and young people born in Miami all articulate complex and fragmented notions of identity. Class, generation, and race provide alternative, non-national nodes around which they come to understand their place in the world. The island is significant, to be sure, but in the end it is but one of many points of reference. Cubanness, for these actors, has an expansiveness and fluidity that supersedes place. It is a strength of these articles that they neither celebrate...