Remapping Cuban Political Histories: Personal Connections and Global Implications

AHA Session 261
Conference on Latin American History 58
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Room A704 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
Kirsten Weld, Harvard University
Kirsten Weld, Harvard University

Session Abstract

Political histories of twentieth-century Cuba have often focused on the country’s relationship with the United States, exploring the compelling narrative of two countries moving from neocolonial intimacy to more than half a century of estrangement to the rapidly changing present. Building on recent work that has considered connections between Cuba and Africa, the Caribbean, and the Soviet Union, this panel helps shift the spatial focus to examples of Cubans traveling to and interacting with peoples from Central America, Spain, and Mexico. The chosen instances reveal the significance of people-to-people connections, non-governmental dialogues, and transnational political and cultural exchanges in shaping Cuban lives and socio-political landscapes over the twentieth century.

Cubans have forged connections with individuals, institutions, and causes across the globe, and found foreign nationals reciprocally reaching out to Cuba and Cubans. The papers analyze peoples of different nationalities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and occupations, who joined together and shared resources to realize political goals. Protagonists include famous and lesser-known Central American and Cuban activists fighting against imperialism and racism in the 1920s and 1930s, Cuban antifascists organizing support of the Republic during Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and Cuban and Mexican dancers traveling between the two countries to further revolutionary cultural projects in both locales during the 1960s and 1970s. While each paper deals with specific protagonists and mobilizations, they similarly discuss Cubans in various times and places connecting local political struggles to those in other countries. For instance, during the 1920s and 1930s, while well known activists and intellectuals traveled to Paris, New York, and Moscow, less famous but equally cosmopolitan Cubans also looked abroad to contextualize their everyday struggles in wider, global terms and find common cause with their counterparts overseas. This latter group forged significant south-south alliances across the Caribbean and Central America. Cuban antifascists in Spain and at home built transnational solidarity that linked the fight against Francisco Franco to their domestic struggles against strongman governance and U.S. neocolonial control and for social and economic justice on the island. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Mexican dancers in Cuba and Cuban dancers in Mexico saw their work as connecting and strengthening the revolutionary traditions and aspirations of both countries.  In all cases, crossing boundaries, real and imagined, helped clarify purpose and embolden activists as they fought for better, more just futures. 

Remapping Cuban political histories upsets previous assumptions about how the categories of nation and neighbors played out in historical time. Collaboration transcended national borders as Cubans found “neighbors,” that is, allies invested in building and protecting the same ideological community, in Cuba, Latin America, and across the Atlantic. The commentator on the panel is an expert on the political and cultural history of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movements in the Americas, and on the region’s relationship with the wider world, particularly the United States and Spain. We expect the audience to include those interested in race, class, and insurrection in the Americas, transnational political movements, and the Cold War.

See more of: AHA Sessions