Este espacio está dedicado a temas literarios -artículos, entrevistas, reseñas- también reflexiones, fotografías y por supuesto, mucho o todo lo relacionado al tema de Cuba y la diáspora cubana. Sobre esta plataforma pretendo construir un espacio donde se pueda compartir, sin mucho protocolo, impresiones con otros cibernautas. Todas las entradas podrán aparecer tanto en inglés como en español, mas se proscribe, dentro de lo posible, todo uso de Spanglish.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Luchando, Resolviendo, Inventando As the Curtain Falls Over the Revolutionary Stage

painting by Rafael López Ramos

Yani Angulo-Cano
A new ethnographic study by Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb deserves serious attention for students of late socialism in Cuba[i]. The book’s title explicitly frames the discussion in terms of on-going changes taking place in the island. This is not surprising in itself, except that Cuba in the Shadow of Change: Daily Life in the Twilight of the Revolution (U. Press of Florida, 2009) studies non-elite middle-class subjects, who are traditionally neglected by researchers more interested in oppressed segments of the lower class (7). Her choice of subjects may be in part the result of her methodology. By settling with her husband and young children into an unidentified neighborhood of Havana (composed of mainly white bureaucrats and professionals), she was able to engage her informants through commonly shared activities that got her past their conditioned desconfianza. She did not play the researcher role (notes, photographs, direct questions), she simply lived there: “I was using clinics because my kids were patients” (14). In addition to this window into the health care system, she also penetrated the Cuban Revolution’s other sacred cow, education, via her children’s daycare facilities: “I was observing the development of language and play. What vocabulary and concepts do children first learn? What games or behaviors did my daughter pick-up from other children?” (15). Even if such means of information may be limited in scope, they nevertheless provide insightful accounts of her informants’ frustrations because of “unfulfilled government obligations and over chronic difficulties achieving private material fulfillment” (8). A central dichotomy of her study is the tension that builds inside the citizen-consumer.

Even if Structuralism’s focus on binary oppositions is out of fashion, Weinreb describes the schism between the public and private spaces of Cuban society (39). “When rationing, long waits for nationalized services; or low, state-fixed salaries stir discontent, is it ultimately a citizen right or a consumer interest at stake? She ponders this question as fundamental for understanding the late-socialist stage, and how informants identify themselves. This inner conflict within the mind of the citizen-consumer leads her/him, despite CDR[ii] interference to bridge the gap between the public and the private, to a doble-moral, a shadow economy, and migration. The researcher also analyzes how language plays a role in this space dichotomy (65); that is, the Special Period[iii] lexicon creates contested meanings for existing words. “Sharing a language but not the values ascribed to its vocabulary provides unsatisfied citizen-consumers with a way to evaluate their situation that is not immediately transparent to the communist “out-group” (81).

Having focused on the public/private dichotomy, Weinreb can then list the different Cuban social classes that, having emerged from the revolutionary experience, fall on either side of the dichotomy. From top to bottom: Red Bourgeoisie[iv] Entertainers/Athletes,[v], “Dollar Dogs,”[vi] Unsatisfied Citizen-Consumers[vii] and the Peso Poor (105).[viii]

A critical note is in order here. Although Weinreb’s command of Spanish appears to be quite extensive, there are quite a few grammatical errors that range from the basic, “Soy [Estoy] siempre contra la ley” (68), and “El [La] Burguesía Roja“ (103) to the more advanced subjunctive mode error, “Que Dios acompaña [te acompañe]” (71). There are also cases of dubious usage; for example, in “Estamos resolviéndola ahorita,” where ahorita hints at a Mexican Spanish source, and does not sound very authentic, as Cubans use this word very sparingly. The publisher should have done a better job of proofreading the text for Spanish and even for historical accuracy.[ix] Despite these minor observations, this is a very good source of research and critical analysis for understanding eclipsing socialist ideology in Cuba.


[i] Weinreb defines late socialism as “the increasing centrality of consumers in moves towards capitalism, as well as declining commitment among socialist citizens to the socialist state.”
[ii] CDR is the acronym for the neighborhood committee that spies on citizen-consumers.
[iii] The period of economic austerity following the demise of the Soviet Union (1991) and still continuing today.
[iv] Privileged because of their well connected relatives; children, relatives, and even grandsons of party members, who are not interested in leaving the country. [v] Actors, sports people, entertainers (Farándula), who are allowed to travel abroad and enjoy economic privileges.
[vi] Operate legal enterprises often with financial backing from family abroad.
[vii] Non-elite middle class with unsteady sources of income and/or irregular remittences from abroad
[viii] Paid in pesos and with little or no access to dollars; disproportionately Afro-Cuban
[ix] Since the author is an ethnographer, we can excuse her assertion that Fidel Castro entered Havana on New Year’s Day of 1959 (78). This did not happen until more than a week later.

Art Work: My gratitude to Cuban artist Rafael Lopez Ramos for lending his beautiful art work. This painting is entitled "Shall We Be Like Who?" (2006), acrylic and ink/unprimed canvas, 36.5" x 37".

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