Alejandro de la Fuente on the New Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement


Although we pride ourselves in bringing as much news as possible from all corners of the wider Caribbean, I noticed today that sometimes we miss what is right under our noses (I am speaking for myself, of course). I had forgotten to advertise an important event hosted by Dr. Enver Casimir (History Department) at Marist College: “The New Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement,” a talk by Alejandro de la Fuente (Harvard University), which took place earlier this evening.

The speaker delivered a fascinating lecture on the emergence of a new discourse developing during and right after Cuba’s Special Period, a discourse arising from the widening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” (those who had access to U.S. currency—through jobs related to tourism—and those who didn’t). Unavoidably, the great successes Cuba had had with equalizing efforts in many areas—such as education and the workplace—were not only stalled, but began to slip backwards fairly quickly, thus producing the conditions for new (or renewed) discussions on race and race relations. Professor de la Fuente succeeded in demonstrating the qualitative differences between the discourse on race in the mid-twentieth century and that of the ‘90s and the first part of twenty-first, providing a wide array of examples of cultural products, especially, music, literature, and the visual arts. The lecture included a discussion of rappers Hermanos de Causa, poetry by Teresa Cárdenas Angulo, and visual artists such as René Peña, Alexis Esquivel, Juan Roberto Diago, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and Andrés Montalván Cuéllar, among others, which led to an animated and productive conversation with the speaker.

Alejandro de la Fuente received his law degree from the University of Havana and a PhD in history from the University of Pittsburgh. He is presently Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, professor of African and African American Studies and History, and founder/director of the Institute of Afro-Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

He is one of the curators of Queloides/Keloids: Raza y Racismo en el Arte Cubano Contemporáneo [see previous posts Art Exhibition: Queloides/Keloids, Art Exhibition: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art (Queloides II), and Art Exhibition: “ Queloides/Keloids” Opens at W.E.B. Du Bois Institute] and curator for Drapetomania: Exposición Homenaje a Grupo Antillano in Santiago de Cuba. The latter will be on view in New York in March [more information to follow].

Professor de la Fuente has written extensively on issues of race and slavery in Cuba. He is the author of Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), published in Spanish as Una nación para todos: raza, desigualdad y política en Cuba, 1900-2000 (Madrid: Editorial Colibrí, 2001), winner of the Southern Historical Association’s 2003 prize for “best book in Latin American history.” He is the editor of two bilingual (English-Spanish) volumes, Grupo Antillano: The Art of Afro-Cuba (Pittsburgh, 2013) and Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art (Pittsburgh, 2011).

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