- Cuban Cultural Heritage: A Rebel Past for a Revolutionary Nation by Pablo Alonso González
The cultivation of a national identity is central to the processes of nation-building, and a key ingredient in that cultivation is cultural heritage. In Cuban Cultural Heritage: A Rebel Past for a Revolutionary Nation, Pablo Alonso González provides a painstakingly researched look at how this process was carried out in Cuba in its postcolonial period, from the island's independence from Spain through its liberal republican era, on to the Revolution and the re-establishment of relations with the United States. The book examines the role of cultural heritage in the deliberate establishment of Cuban national identity vis-à-vis the legacies of Spanish colonialism and U.S. imperialism. It is the 15th installment of the Cultural Heritage Studies series, edited by Paul A. Shackel, a collection with emphases that vary from the relevance of singular events to that of broader archaeological tendencies and cultural structures.
Alonso González divides his book into three sections: an examination of heritage itself, what it means and of what it is formed; a study of heritage as a process and an identification of who contributes to it; and lastly, an inquiry into Cuba's role in the formation of its own stories. The look at heritage itself is comprised of chapters that all examine a particular historical period; the study of heritage processes examines the shift from Marxist-Leninist thought to an actively Cuban nationalism, and the close-up on Cuba's own stories highlights specific examples of sites and offices in the mechanisms of cultural heritage.
Throughout the book, Alonso González acknowledges questions considered and responses posited by historians, anthropologists, museologists, and cultural theorists. His arguments thus maintain currency in a number of fields, as they keep the perspectives and preoccupations of these scholars front and center. In the introduction, he helpfully defines heritage as "a present-centered process that is perpetually in the making and that plays a mediating role between power and ideology, history and materiality" and discusses the process by which it can be established, or "heritagization" (9–10). The chapters that follow were written with an eye for readability, with a helpful list of abbreviations just after the foreword. Images such as maps, diagrams, newspaper and magazine clippines, and photographs of key individuals, museum displays, monuments, landscapes and plazas all help to orient the reader. In his conclusion, Alonso González examines Cuba's use of cultural heritage alongside the strategies (and results) of (post-)Socialist and postcolonial countries. The island's unique history has resulted in Cubans' bucking the patterns evident in the other nations' practices regarding representations of heritage, national identity, and ethnic difference. [End Page 468]
The vast majority of the material that Alonso González cites has never been published and is the result of over 100 personal interviews and collections of oral testimonies, although his study also includes painstakingly extensive archival research from several dozen sources in Cuba and the United States. (Helpfully, the offices and the interviewees are all listed—with identifying details when necessary—in an appendix.) This new material dialogues constantly with the book's conceptual framework, as if there were a conversation between the scholars cited and the new voices being heard.
Throughout the book, questions arise regarding Cuba's future as a nation, how it may respond to external influences spanning the ideological spectrum, and whether or not it will conserve its singularity. Alonso González's volume provides a broad look at the concept of heritage itself, at Cuban reality(ies) throughout the 20th century, at the vital role that nationalism has played in the longevity of Cuban revolutionary ideology, and ultimately at cultural heritage as an indispensable component in understanding the island nation's past, present, and future.
Cuban Cultural Heritage is an immensely valuable tool for examining the role played by cultural heritage in the intersection of ideology and authority. The discussions of Cuba's relationships with world powers...