Cuba SymposiumThe “Race, Gender, and Revolution: Examining Rebellion and Rebelliousness in Cuba and Its Diaspora” symposium will be held this Friday, September 21, 2018 in the Gates Woodruff Cottage Library.

The symposium will entail 15-20 minute presentations from approximately 9 scholars (3 panels). Each panel will include time for Q&A. Lunch will be provided between the first and second panels. Our aim is to foster interdisciplinary conversations and collaboration on this topic and strengthen networks across disciplines and between junior and more established academics.

Panel 1:

Michelle Chase (Pace)

My paper will discuss a forgotten episode in early-Cold War-era Cuban internationalism by studying the Communist Party-led mobilization against the proposal to send Cuban troops to support the US-backed coalition in the Korean War. In particular the paper will highlight the role played by women affiliated with the Cuban Communist Party and the Democratic Federation of Cuban Women (FDMC), who were key to raising public awareness, galvanizing Cuban citizens, staffing signature drives, and meeting with congressmen throughout 1950 and 1951. Women’s strong presence in this campaign was no accident – it reflected the FDMC’s postwar development of a vision that linked women’s emancipation to broader global issues of national liberation, decolonization, and socialist revolution. This episode remains relevant today because it shows that what we would now call intersectional feminism has had a long history in Cuba, preceding the 1959 revolution, and that Cuban left-feminism did not emerge historically in a nationalist context only – rather, networks of leftist transnational solidarity were important in its development.


Rachel Hynson (Middlebury)

Contrary to claims that socialism opposed the family unit, this paper argues that the revolutionary Cuban government engaged in social engineering to redefine the nuclear family and organize citizens to serve the state. Drawing on public speeches and long-overlooked laws, as well as photographs, rumors, and oral histories, it reveals that by 1961, and increasingly throughout this decade, revolutionary citizenship was earned through labor. While men were to work outside the home in state-approved jobs, women found their citizenship tied to affording the state control over their reproduction and sexual labor. Through four case studies—the projects to control women’s reproduction, promote marriage, end prostitution, and compel men into state-sanctioned employment—the paper shows that the state’s progression toward authoritarianism and its attendant monopolization of morality were met with resistance and counter-narratives by ordinary Cubans who so opposed the mandates of these campaigns that Cuban leadership has since effaced the unsuccessful programs from the Revolution’s grand narrative.


Lorraine Bayard de Volo (CU Boulder)

From its beginning, even as it sought to secure and defend itself from domestic and international threats, revolutionary Cuba has also looked beyond the island to promote and support leftist liberation elsewhere. In examining Cuba’s legacy, this paper examines how gender and race factored into its liberatory efforts. Why were women and women’s images mobilized in some instances and not others? In the context of a “post-racial” society, in which officially “race doesn’t matter,” how are we to understand those occasions in which race suddenly did officially matter? How did gender and race intersect in Cuba’s internacionalismo, in which it cooperated with anti-imperialist movements out of revolutionary solidarity? To address these questions, this paper examines Cuba’s Angolan campaign (1975-1991) and 1980s domestic defense mass mobilization.


Panel 2
1:30 - 3pm

Kaifa Roland (CU Boulder)

In what might be considered the twilight years of Cuba’s socialist revolution, the country has recently emerged from a moment of widespread precarity precipitated by the fall of the Soviet Union. As is frequently the case, such hardship disproportionately affects women and people of color. “Minding Her Own Business” considers the experiences of black Cuban women casa owners in this changing context. Drawing from theories of anthropology of business, intersectionality, and post-Soviet post-coloniality, the paper will attend to post-socialist literature’s understanding of how traditionally marginalized groups negotiate the increasingly market-oriented terrain. Most centrally, this paper is a thought piece that aspires to center black women’s voices and values in a multiply post-colonial context.


Hanna Garth (University of California San Diego)

Cuba is ostensibly a “post-racial” society, where many people argue that race is no longer a salient social category, and racism is no longer a problem. Yet, based on nearly ten years of ethnographic research from 2008 to 2017, Black Cubans consistently experience prejudice and discrimination. Still, they do not categorize these problems as racism, but rather as tied to the local social category “level of culture,” a form of social distinction with ties to colonial forms of racial capitalism. Through myriad encounters of prejudice and discrimination against Black Cubans, this article traces the roots of contemporary forms of race and racism to a history of racial capitalism that was not eradicated by the socialist Revolution. This article reveals one of the modalities in which race and racism continue to be structurally embedded within Cuba’s social, political, and economic fabric.


Maya Berry (UNC Chapel Hill)

Since the 1959 Revolution, black popular culture in Cuba has gained increasingly more endorsement by the state as secularized national folklore for public consumption. This paper theorizes rumba, a genre of black popular dance-music-event traced to moments of respite during enslavement, as a site where Afro-Cuban working-class youth challenge the terms of social respectability while the country undergoes historic economic reforms. Since 2010, market-oriented economic reforms have greatly exacerbated longstanding racialized class inequality and racism on the island, yet are framed by the state as a much needed “update” to its political economy. What does it mean when those bodies who bear the weight of proving their fitness for inclusion in the updating socioeconomic future rupture with normative scripts for bodily comportment deemed “civil” or “modern”? Putting debates about secular liberalism in conversation with the imperatives of Afrodescendant social movements, I argue that Afro-religious sacred epistemologies and repertoires of gendered bodily comportment collectively rehearsed in popular rumba performance express positioned critiques of the hegemonic terms of political “civility” and economic “progress” in contemporary Cuba. Based on 25 months of ethnographic research spanning a decade in Havana (2009-2018), I employ close performance analysis and black feminist theory to understand the lived contours of national development through the black dancing body at the demarcation of secular space.


Panel 3
3:30 - 5pm

Kristie Soares (CU Boulder)

LA-based, Miami-born queer artist Tito Bonito engages in his burlesque performance entitled “The Cuban Missile Crisis” in which he enacts many of the staples of male Cubanidad—i.e. performing as a Cuban rafter or as Elián González—while simultaneously queering them through the use of a burlesque aesthetic—high heels, stockings, and nipple clamps, for example. This paper argues that Bonito rewrites Cuban masculinity outside of Miami through the hyper performance of both masculinity and femininity that burlesque makes possible. In doing so, he also critiques the legacy of xenophobia that has characterized the history of burlesque.


Juana María Rodríguez (University of California Berkeley)

This paper centers on the life of Adela Vázquez, a Cuban transgender activist living in San Francisco. Vázquez’s life story of being assigned male at birth in Cuba, forming part of the Mariel boat lift, and working as a sex worker in San Francisco is the subject of Sexile/Sexilio, a bilingual graphic novel by Jaime Cortez. Vázquez has been the subject of several oral history projects, conducted by community activists and academics. These various attempts at biographical narration will be juxtaposed with her self-representation within social media platforms such as Facebook, where she maintains an active presence. This paper asks what does “seeing” tell us about the subjective experiences of those whose life stories we are invested in consuming? And how does the embodied presence of the speaking subject of auto/biography complicate visual narratives that attempt to unravel the ways race, gender, and sexuality are understood? This paper investigates how different forms of visual, textual, and digital documentation transform our affective encounters with the sexual lives Latina subjects to make knowable subjective experiences of sexualized embodiment across the life span.


Frances Negrón-Muntaner (Columbia)

This presentation will discuss the genesis, process, and method of my new film-in-progress. The film explores how Cuban and American political cartoons have imagined US-Cuba relations since the late nineteenth century to the present, and what cartoons may tell us about the future.