Cuba’s Fight for Freedom: A Recommended Reading List

Due to the protests happening in Cuba currently, we’ve decided to publish a recommended reading list pertaining to Cuba’s fight for freedom. This isn’t the first time revolts have taken place in Cuba, but what’s going on now has been referred to as the biggest protests Cuba has seen in decades. When I began researching what was going on in Cuba and got deeper into the details, I realized there were two stories at play here: one story says Cuban people are protesting against socialism and another story says Cuban people support socialism, but are against the U.S. blockade that has gotten even worse for Cubans during the pandemic. The common thread through all of what I’ve seen the Cuban people protesting over is the lack of food, medical resources for COVID-19, poor government leadership and an overall lack of freedom. Before you label this as a cry out against socialism, understand the full involvement of the U.S. in what Cuba is today. Below you’ll see a list of titles touching on various topics related to Cuba’s liberation struggle.


ANTIRACISM IN CUBA: THE UNFINISHED REVOLUTION

BY DEVYN SPENCE BENSON

Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced a narrow definition of blackness, often seeming to suggest that Afro-Cubans had to discard their blackness to join the revolution. This was and remains a false dichotomy for many Cubans of color, Benson demonstrates. While some Afro-Cubans agreed with the revolution’s sentiments about racial transcendence–“not blacks, not whites, only Cubans”–others found ways to use state rhetoric to demand additional reforms. Still others, finding a revolution that disavowed blackness unsettling and paternalistic, fought to insert black history and African culture into revolutionary nationalisms. Despite such efforts by Afro-Cubans and radical government-sponsored integration programs, racism has persisted throughout the revolution in subtle but lasting ways.

THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN HEALTH: MEDICAL POLITICS IN POSTINDEPENDENCE HAVANA

BY DANIEL A. RODRIGUEZ

Daniel A. Rodríguez’s history of a newly independent Cuba shaking off the U.S. occupation focuses on the intersection of public health and politics in Havana. While medical policies were often used to further American colonial power, in Cuba, Rodríguez argues, they evolved into important expressions of anticolonial nationalism as Cuba struggled to establish itself as a modern state. A younger generation of Cuban medical reformers, including physicians, patients, and officials, imagined disease as a kind of remnant of colonial rule. These new medical nationalists, as Rodríguez calls them, looked to medical science to guide Cuba toward what they envisioned as a healthy and independent future.

CUBAN MEMORY WARS: RETROSPECTIVE POLITICS IN REVOLUTION AND EXILE

BY MICHAEL J. BUSTAMANTE

For many Cubans, Fidel Castro’s Revolution represented deliverance from a legacy of inequality and national disappointment. For others—especially those exiled in the United States—Cuba’s turn to socialism made the prerevolutionary period look like paradise lost. Michael J. Bustamante unsettles this familiar schism by excavating Cubans’ contested memories of the Revolution’s roots and results over its first twenty years. Cubans’ battles over the past, he argues, not only defied simple political divisions; they also helped shape the course of Cuban history itself. As the Revolution unfolded, the struggle over historical memory was triangulated among revolutionary leaders in Havana, expatriate organizations in Miami, and average Cuban citizens. All Cubans leveraged the past in individual ways, but personal memories also collided with the Cuban state’s efforts to institutionalize a singular version of the Revolution’s story.

DANCING WITH THE REVOLUTION: POWER, POLITICS, AND PRIVILEGE IN CUBA

BY ELIZABETH B. SCHWALL

Elizabeth B. Schwall aligns culture and politics by focusing on an art form that became a darling of the Cuban revolution: dance. In this history of staged performance in ballet, modern dance, and folkloric dance, Schwall analyzes how and why dance artists interacted with republican and, later, revolutionary politics. Drawing on written and visual archives, including intriguing exchanges between dancers and bureaucrats, Schwall argues that Cubans dancers used their bodies and ephemeral, nonverbal choreography to support and critique political regimes and cultural biases.