Researching Agrarian Reform in Cuba

Newspaper article from May 19, 1959: "Tierra para todos los cubanos!"
On May 17th, 1959, five months after the victory of the 26th of July Movement over Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship in Cuba, an agrarian reform law was passed limiting the amount of land that each land owner was allowed to have and nationalizing large estates and companies. From the turn of the century until the implementation of the land reform, concentration of land had been high: the majority of land had been in the hands of a few wealthy Cubans and sugar producing companies from the United States. With its aims of redistributing land to Cuba’s poor campesinos and workers, the land reform was more than a central goal of the revolution. Expressed in this commonly heard phrase during the first years of the revolution, “sin reforma agraria, no hay revolución,” its success was seen as being intricately tied to the success and survival of the revolution.

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Radio Adaptations: Good Books, Bad Books

This is the follow-up to Radio Teatro del Aire, my post about my archival research of radio dramas in Mexico City.

The second part of my project in Mexico City deals with trying to find out which books regularly read in high school are the works that have a positive effect on students, inspiring them to become readers in adulthood. I also want to ask, which are the books that have the opposite effect? I have been doing interviews in person and on the Internet, and the results are pretty close.

The list of books that positively influenced people to become readers as adults:

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Radio Teatro del Aire

Hello again from Mexico City.

During the last couple of weeks I have been doing primarily two things. The first one involves going back several times to the archives of the Fonoteca Nacional in Coyoacán and listening to different kinds of radio dramas, in particular the ones based on written fiction. The Fonoteca has a massive archive, and I would need years and many extra people to listen to each one of the radio dramas they have available in order to make a proper selection. What would be a proper selection in this case? Entertaining archived radio dramas, available to take out of the Fonoteca and free to play at schools for pedagogical reasons, and radio stations, in order to get closer this appealing kind of storytelling to the Mexican population.

What I have found is that the best productions are the ones that were made in the 80s by Televisa, the main media source of the country, which happens to be a private and sometimes vilified corporation, probably the main ideological influence that Mexicans consume through popular culture—television, radio, and cinema.

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Modernismo Criminal in the Dominican Republic


This research trip was “inspired” by the 2013 Dominican Constitutional Court ruling in favor of a previous sentence involving the de-citizenship of all those born to foreign parents who have resided “irregularly” in the country, which is emblematic of what some criticize as the Dominican intellectual elite’s obsession with erecting an imagined racialized border with Haiti, especially during the Trujillato.

In my research, I trace four different aspects of this imagined enemy—particularly the Haitian immigrant and their descendants–as an enemy coming from a very sophisticated and sometimes hateful discourse that has shaped the everyday ethics of the Dominican public, often generating an exclusionary social hypocrisy. Firstly, I put together the history of violence in the Trujillato shown at the Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana with traces of anti-Haitianism; secondly, I analyze the media focus on the 1937 genocide called “Masacre del Perejjil,” a massive killing of peasants in the north border; thirdly, I examine Joaquin Balaguer’s La isla al reves (The Island the Other Way Around) which very well exposes the Trujillo-Balaguer’s hispanophile ideology, and which I call Modernismo Criminal; and lastly, I conduct street interviews on exclusion and violence patterns at the present time that are linked to that discourse.

Below is an excerpt of some conclusions I reached on the street interviews, which greatly exemplify how this hate discourse affects numerous lives in different ways, children in particular. I informally talked to 12 street children, who were between 12 and 18 years of age. I asked some brief standardized questions, getting the following shockingly similar characteristics:

The majority of them work as shoe-shiners;

All of them were not literate or have never attended school;

All of them have some Haitian relative;

The majority of them have Haitian parents;

All of them have been detained by the Policia Turistica at least 10 times;

None of them have a Dominican ID even though all of them are Dominican.

These kids are a disturbing example of what the agambenian sacer looks like in the Dominican Republic: abandoned bodies in the sense they are beyond the protection of the State, outside of what the law considers its subjects. The first alarming fact is how easy they could be jailed. As a matter of fact, the picture I uploaded here was taken when Joel (15) was detained just because he was speaking to me, it did not matter that I said to Policia Turistica that it was okay, we were having a conversation, they just took him away. Policia Turistica has two detention centers in the Zona Colonial where they jail these kids for between eight to 12 hours, or until a colonel comes, hits or shouts at them, and finally releases them.

Posted by Marcelo Carosi – PhD Candidate at the NYU Department of Spanish

Searching for Cuban Urban Agriculture

A Produce Vendor wheels his goods through the streets of Havana Vieja, Calling out his offerings

A Produce Vendor wheels his goods through the streets of Havana Vieja, calling out his offerings.

In 2006, a documentary about Cuba’s impressive urban agricultural movement was released called, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.” The film, and others that came afterward, aroused international curiosity for those of us invested in the sustainability of organic urban agriculture, and an interest in Cuba for those of us studying environmental challenges of food production in the 21st century. While academic treatments of these green spaces have been taken up, Havana has also served as a major case study for research by visiting, international farmers and gardeners who want to source and share organic urban agricultural practices. In fact, when the first legal commercial flight in 50 years from the U.S. to Cuba landed in Havana on December 2013, it brought North American travelers to meet Cubans at botanical gardens and organic farms. My intended project for study this summer in Havana was simple enough: to map and photograph the small-scale urban agriculture sites of Havana so as to update the documentation of organic food production that has been cited as inspiration by so many urban-agriculture projects around the world.
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Subtlety Is Very Heavy

Monument to Castelo Branco seen from below

Monument to Castelo Branco seen from below

I started my field research about Brazilian art during the military dictatorship in Porto Alegre, the capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Porto Alegre is a symbolic place in the history of the regime.
In 1961, when the then-president Jânio Quadros renounced his position, the military, sustained by the United States, tried to prevent the vice-president João Goulart (Jango) from taking office. At the time, Jango was in China. The military feared a leftist government and, as Jango was visiting a communist country, they asserted that they wanted to prevent a Bolshevist dictatorship. The governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola, organized a civil resistance to maintain the juridical order and assure the respect of the Constitution, called Movement for Legality.
Many artists participated in the resistance and a group of visual artists, musicians, writers, journalists, actors, and newscasters signed the Manifesto de Intelectualidade contra o golpe (Manifesto of the Intelligentsia Against the Coup) that called the Brazilian artists and intellectuals to unite in defense of the constitutional order.
Thanks to the support of the General José Machado Lopes and other politicians, the campaign was successful. Nevertheless, Jango was overthrown three years later, on March 31, 1964 by the military coup that installed the dictatorship.
And it is at the Colegio Militar, the military school of Porto Alegre, that all the five dictators who governed during the regime studied.
I decided to do my first interview with Carlos Tenius, the sculptor who created the Monument to Castelo Branco, one of the organizers of the coup and the first president of the military regime.

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“Ole Skool Mas-Maker”

Steve Derek

At 9:00pm I was heading back from a pan yard (steel band headquarters) and happened to come across a dimly lit house surrounded by headdresses, yards of beading, and costume backpacks made out of wire. My boyfriend’s brother explained to me that this was the Mas Camp of one of Trinidad’s oldest carnival bands, D’ Midas. Continue reading