Monthly Archives: July 2011

Intro to Cuba…

“Ok this is all going to hell in three seconds”,  I thought as I saw the airport official   hand over my passport to his partner for just a little too long to expect anything good. I should add that at the time I was carrying two passports; one Cuban and incidentally expired, and the other American. I had imagined that in a way, my American passport would be like wings upon my back. I remember that upon receiving it I felt I would be free to go anywhere in the world without the dramas of visas and “permisos de salida” associated with my old Cuban passport. The funny thing was that the only place I visited after was… Cuba, the one place that will never forgive my cubaness, and will play the stigmata forever by forcing me to travel with a Cuban passport in order to enter the country of my birth, but not without first requiring that I “habilitate” and “renovate” my Cuban passport at considerable expense and for ridiculously short periods of validation. I love the picture of myself in my first Cuban passport. I was young and fresh, and hadn’t known what credit card debt was yet.  I hated giving over that image of my youthful freshness to those bureaucratic maniacs. “No puede viajar con ese pasaporte”. I stayed behind in Miami denied passage to Cuba.  I know… Its hell.

A dear friend called me in the midst of the craziness. She mobilized her little family of brother and mother to rescue me. Teresa, my friend’s mother came to my rescue, offering me a port to ride out the storm of bad luck and a natilla de leche to die for Teresa put my soul to rest.  Teresa’s hair is very long, because she vowed years ago to never cut it until she could see her brothers in Cuba again.

I spent two days in Southern Florida.  In addition to Teresa’s kindness, I received many calls from sweet people both well known and not so well known by me, all answering the single facebook post I was able to post from my phone before I lost Internet accesses.  All of these people are a part of the Cuban chain of love and pain, beauty and wisdom. I’m grateful for a chance of a wonderful afternoon in the company of Ariana Fernandez Reguant and a nice descarga with the hermanas Silot. I’m grateful for that reserve of love and support in what might otherwise have been two wasted days in Miami.

Posted by Yesenia Fernandez — MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU

Yale-NYU K-12 Summer Institute: Sugar Production in DR


Slave bunker at Boca de Nigua sugar mill

During my trip with the PIER Institute to Santo Domingo, I visited the first two sugar mills constructed in Spanish America.  Touring the sugar mills or ingenios was interesting for me in many ways. The ruins of these ingenios, which show the remains of the socio-economic effects of colonization, have historic importance.  Since my project is on this topic, it was a valuable experience. Miguel Angel, our knowledgeable guide, gave us a tour of the ingenios that stand approximately 500 yards apart and are located about an hour away from the capital.  We drove through several small towns, which were impoverished but colorful, before arriving at the site.  Our colleague Barbara entertained us with her enthusiasm, snapping every possible shot with her camera. We were told to bring insect repellent, but it didn’t help; I was eaten alive by mosquitoes and now, days later, I still feel the effects. It was worth it the visit, however.

The first mill we visited, Ingenio Santa Isable/Boca Nigua, built in 1508 and restored in 1978, is the site of the second major slave revolt on the Spanish part of the island.  It took place in 1796.  One can see where the slaves lived. The second mill ruins we visited, a few hundred yards away, is situated on the River Nigua. Very little of its structure is left, but the canal, which was an integral part of the mill, still stands.  It was the very first sugar mill in Spanish America, built in 1504.

It is fascinating to walk around these sites, imagining and sensing the magnitude of what once was the thriving force of slave labor for sugar production in Latin America, reflecting the socio-economic complexity of colonization. Many slaves lost hands, limbs, even their very lives in the process.  This horrific thought stayed with me long after we departed.  My colleagues and I observed the absence of signs and billboards, anything indicating the site’s importance. It is as if nothing ever happened there.  Travel books list the mills as historical sites of the Colonial period, yet there is little recognition.  Is there no tribute or honor paid to the many workers of African and indigenous descent who contributed to the wealth of the island? One can only wonder.

Posted by Myriam Victoria — Dual language Teacher at PS 24 Dual Language School for International Studies

Myriam was an educator participant in the Yale University PIER - Yale University CLAISNYU CLACS  Summer Educator Institute on Colonial Latin America in July 2011.

Cuban Contradictions

Sam Ginsburg - Cuba - View from RoomThe view from my room is not very nice.  It’s an oddly shaped area, full of overgrown trees and crumbling buildings.  Since I am sure the people who live around there want me watching them hang up their laundry as much as I want them watching me get dressed (along with the possibility that I see the rooster that wakes me up every morning at 5am, in which case I would be unable to control my actions), I usually keep my curtains closed. The other day, when a fellow CLACS member noticed this, she peeked out the window and said, “Well, at least you won’t forget where you are.”

Although I don’t think I’d ever forget that I’m here, I’ve begun thinking about other things that could remind me of where I am.  What I’ve found is that some of the most “Cuban” things I’ve seen don’t seem Cuban at all.  Havana is a jarring place, a place where hotels sit next to inhabited ruins, where one Mercedes sticks out in a line of decrepit ladas, where three songs into a rumba show the backup singer busts out a flawless Lauren Hill impression and every single person in the audience knows the lyrics to the song.  Those experiences aren’t surprising anymore; they are Cuba.  On my way to meet friends the other day, I vainly made the conscious decision to not wear my Yankee’s cap, something that has barely left my head in the last three and a half weeks, in an attempt to not look so blatantly American.  This was ridiculous for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that there is absolutely nothing I could possibly do here to not look American here, especially when it comes to activities that include speaking or rhythmic movements.  Of course, when I finally got there, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw how many Cubans were wearing baseball caps, and how many of those caps said “New York” on them.  Havana is a place of contradictions that only seem that way when you think about them too much.  Continue reading

Yale-NYU K-12 Summer Institute: The Colonial Period in Santo Domingo


Street sign on the Calle las Damas in the Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo

For my reflection of the visits to the different Taino – Colonial settings and museums, I have to state that as a Dominican student growing up in this country in the late 60’s all of the 70’s, I had limited knowledge of the level of history, the richness and above all, the great significance that 1492 and the century that follow meant to the encounter and development of modern day society in the Americas and the impact on the rest of the world.

Studying the Tainos from a historical, anthropological, sociological, political and humanist   perspectives has allow me to developed a very different and paradoxical view of their way of life, systems, social structure, rituals, and above all – more in accord with the reality of their times and not the romanticize, embellished or infantile view that was presented in my early 8 years of education in the Dominican Republic, or the obligatory week long imposed curriculum of my high school years in suburbia schooling USA – often titled “Celebrating Columbus”.

I live in the Diaspora.  If one wants to learn about one’s history, the best thing to do is to go there.  Sadly enough, I must admit that what sparked my desire to reflect on my history was not my many, many visits to the Dominican Republic, or my newly minted “Cedula” that functions as my ID and gives the background of my dual citizenship.  No.  It pains me to say that even thought as a committed teacher of Spanish and Latin American studies, it was not the hours of preparation to deliver an educational unit that was more than just a celebration, but a critical and thought provoking exposition and discussion of the living history of the real founders of the Pre-Colonial Americas, los indios.

Continue reading

Looking for the Caribbean in Buenos Aires

Jusino Diaz - Buenos Aires - GraffitiI’ve been in Buenos Aires for a few weeks, my trip was delayed because of the volcanic ash cloud that shut down most of the airports in the Río de la Plata region. I’m here researching cultural exchanges between the Caribbean and the Río de la Plata and so far, it’s been a very productive and surprising experience. I’ve been working closely with the wonderful faculty and staff at NYU Buenos Aires. The center’s director, Alvaro Fernández Bravo, has done extensive work on the concept of redes culturales (cultural webs) in Latin America. Our conversations, along with his suggestions of texts, have been instrumental in helping me begin to give this project shape. On his recommendation, I went to the Instituto de Literatura Hispanoamericana at the Universidad de Buenos Aires where I met with professors Elsa Noya andNoé Jitrik, both who work on Caribbean literature and culture.

Originally, I had planned to focus on the Caribbean roots of the Neobarroco in Argentina, specifically on the influence of Severo Sarduy on various Argentine writers but conversations with professors at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, before arriving in Buenos Aires, led me to an earlier connection between Cuba and Argentina. In 1946, Virgilio Piñera arrived in Buenos Aires for the first of three extended visits. His time here was extremely significant for various reasons, the most well-known being his participation in the translation committee of Ferdydurke, a novel by polish writer Witold Gombrowicz who took up residence in Buenos Aires during World War II. Their efforts to publish and promote Ferdydurke led them to meet and work with writers such as Ernesto Sábato and Macedonio Fernández. At the Instituto de Literatura Hispanoamericana, I have been working with materials that highlight these connections, the most interesting of these being the magazines Piñera published in, both in Buenos Aires and in Cuba.

Posted by Cristel M. Jusino Díaz — PhD Candidate in Spanish and Portuguese at NYU

Going Home To Do My Research

Mares - New Mexico - Parents

Mom and Dad, my research assistants and inspiration!

Since I’ve arrived in New Mexico four weeks ago, my topic has been continually shifting and evolving. I knew coming home to do my research might be challenging but I never anticipated how difficult the process would be. Not only am I faced with the daily distractions of a large and close family, but the pressure of writing about my own hometown continually hangs over me.

Las Vegas, the town I’m primarily focusing my research on, is historically one of the most influential towns in Northern New Mexico. It is also the town I call home, and my family has inhabited for over 125 years. Now, Las Vegas is an often forgotten town, its legacy swept away with the memories of the wild western frontier. Ever since I moved to the east coast I’m continually faced with the question “Where are you from?” People are continually surprised to learn that there is another Las Vegas about 700 miles east and more than 75 years older than the Strip. Furthermore, people are continually confused by my claims to be “Hispanic, or Latino” yet American.

Mares - New Mexico - Bridge St.

A look down historic Bridge Street in Down Town Las Vegas

The culture of Northern New Mexico is unique in having little if any influence from recent immigrants, which many Americans associate Hispanics and Latinos with. But the cultural practices and lifeways of Northern New Mexicans aren’t based on any one race, yet a strong and old heritage passed down through generations. Growing up in a town modeled in Spanish Colonial style yet fueled by a true mix of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American traditions, I grew up with a strong sense of my cultural heritage but a lack of a term to define myself. As people ask me to explain this, I find myself struggling defend myself, and really trying to legitimize an entire culture that should be able to stand on its own. Why is it that this culture is lost to the rest of the world? The truth is that this culture is slowly being lost to itself. Talking to people from my hometown I’ve come to find a lack of interest in our history and traditions met with an increasing concern for the ways in which people are engaged in their own history. It is my belief that museums are a vital part of keeping people interested in their history as well as informing others. The National Museum of the American Indian features various Native American groups from New Mexico. If the proposed National Museum of the American Latino opens, this is where Northern New Mexicans can teach the world about their history while instilling pride in their decedents. Surprisingly, many people who work daily with projects to promote and preserve Las Vegas history and culture were unaware of the debate surrounding the National Museum of the American Latino or even its existence as an initiative. It is my hope that I can help to bridge this gap through my research and writing. In the coming week I will be interviewing several historians, activists, and community members to find out how they feel about preserving Northern New Mexico culture and identity through a national museum.

Posted by Esther Elyse Mares — MA Candidate in CLACS/Museum Studies atNYU

Cuzco, Puno, and the End of the Garcia Presidency

Klassen - Peru - Graffiti

Cuzco Graffiti: Killer Alan, Bagua (the site of a 2009 massacre) will never be forgotten

On my last couple weeks in South America, I traveled from Cuzco to Sucre for an ethnohistory conference being held there.  Since I had time before the conference started, I decided to go through Puno to find out what was in their archive and then to go overland to Sucre from there.  The plan would have worked well except that when I was travelling the people of Puno were protesting the opening of a mine in the area.  Despite merely awaiting the transition to Ollanta, Alan Garcia’s government has enacted a series of unpopular measures intended (in my opinion) to cement his neoliberal legacy by any contravening policies much more onerous to enact.  In addition to proposing private universities to rival the state-run schools in several Andean cities, Garcia also gave a special concession to a Canadian mining company to begin exploration in the Lake Titicaca region despite the possibility that mining in the area could contaminate a water-source of key importance to both Peru and Bolivia.  The response from the majority Aymara population was immediate and overwhelming: they cut off all major roads into and out of the region, they staged major demonstrations outside of key government facilities, when demonstrators were killed in the police response they destroyed government buildings and broke the windows of banks.  Their action forced the government to withdraw the concession, a move which infuriated the Canadian mining company but which seems irreversible now that Garcia is leaving the presidency. Continue reading

Who owns El Museo de Cacha?

Jorge and Mercedes Duchicela (and me)

I was lucky enough to meet the people who own my site…and it is not the community of Cacha, surprise! Well technically the Federación de Pueblo Cacha de la Nación Puruwa Cacha (FECAIPAC) own the land but the Duchicela Family has a 10 year lease on Pucara Tambo that started in 2007. Jorge Duchicela MD is a doctor who started the non-profit international medical program Cachamsi that offers medical students the opportunity to come to Riobamba and learn medical spanish and work in clinics in the surrounding area, his sister Mercedes also works for Cachamsi. Since 2007 they have put $100,000 into the renovation and updating of the Pucara Tambo site, which includes the museum. They were very pleased that I was interested in the museum and have given me free rein to do and write what I want about the museum and Pucara Tambo and also offered the resources of Cachamsi in Riobamba to me, which is where I am doing this post from right now.

Short side bar/history lesson: The History of the Duchicela Family as told me by Jorge Duchicela. The Duchicela Family has a long history in Cacha and have been the ruling family for centuries. The Inca Huayna Capac expanded his empire north and fought the King of Quito for 20 years or so and when he

Casa Duchicela

finally defeated him he was given a Cacha princess to be his wife (one of many), this princess was a Duchicela and the offspring from this union was Atahualpa who was the last Sapa Inca. He fought his half-brother Huáscar for the title after their father’s death and after his victory, on his way south to Cusco, he met Pizarro and the Spanish and the rest as we say is history. The oldest son of the Duchicela family is considered King of Cacha and he owns the “Casa Duchicela” which is located in the parroquia de Cacha south of Pucara Tambo and is the nicest house I have seen in Cacha. Their older brother was also the man who performed the Chicha Ceremony at the festival and I was told he does this every year.

So, the Duchicela Family obviously has strong ties to Cacha but none of them live here any longer, with most of them having moved to the States to go to college (Mercedes Duchicela actually went to my alma mater Lawrence University!) and now live in Texas.


They wanted to give back to Cacha but they refused to invest so much money in Pucara Tambo without having any control over the site and how it is used, which is why they got the lease from the FECAIPAC. I was told that in 2007 when they took over the site it was very much in disrepair and had all but been abandoned. Pucara Tambo was originally built by the FECAIPAC in the 90’s but with the leadership of the organization turning over every 2 years, the organization lost interest in the site, took away their funding and never completed the original plans for the site.

So how does all of this relate to my research, well what I thought was a community museum run by the FECAIPAC is actually owned by Cachamsi and the Duchicela Family. They fund the site with the profits from Cachamsi and funding they solicit from the Ecuadorian and US governments and have total control over what is presented in the museum and how the objects are interpreted. In the 3 weeks I have been here I haven’t seen a single person in the museum (other than during the festival), which is kept locked unless I ask for it to be unlocked. There could be many reasons for this, one of which is that there is no sign that says Museo, so if you didn’t already know nothing would indicate it is a museum at all. Just today I was actually asked to take a visitor who didn’t speak Spanish through the museum…so I guess I am the english speaking guide here in Pucara Tambo.

More on the museum next week!

Posted by Sarah Szabo — MA Candidate in CLACS/Museum Studies at NYU

Reading Haven in Oaxaca City

Francisco Toledo Toad Fountain at BS Biblioteca InfantilFrom the moment I arrived in Oaxaca City I fell in love with this city’s beauty and friendliness.  Expecting to ground my research with interviews and archival research, I have quickly realized that the city itself has offered some of the most stimulating and fascinating experiences.  I came to Oaxaca in order to gain a better understanding of the COCEI political and social movement that began in Juchitan, Oaxaca in the 1970s.  Even today, the cultural renaissance led by COCEI continues to promote Zapotec culture and language in Mexico through cultural centers and the works of prominent Zapotec artists, like Francisco Toledo who took a prominent leadership role in COCEI’s cultural projects. Internationally renowned, Francisco Toledo currently lives in Oaxaca City and has become a symbol of the democratization of art in the region; a process that places art at a juncture where politics, indigenous identity, and everyday life interact. Continue reading

Visual Evidence, Historical Memory, & the Production of Knowledge in Post-Franco Spain

Exhumation in NavarraThe application of forensic science to the study of political violence in contemporary Spain has become an integral part of national and local attempts to recuperate and re-narrate an aspect of the country’s history that has often been ignored or simply forgotten: the political violence and forced disappearance of persons both during the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing Fascist dictatorship led by Francisco Franco.  Focusing on the intersection of forensic science, photographic practice, and memory discourse, I began my research in Madrid by contacting anthropologists, photographers, and art historians to discuss the different ways in which visual representations of exhumations of mass graves have been deployed as a strategy for making memory politics and once-silenced experiences with violence more visible within everyday Spanish life.  Many of these discussions revolved around a sense of urgency that was characterized by the need to collect the stories of an aging generation as well as an awareness of the reticence on the part of some to revisit the country’s violent past.  This tension between attempts to remember and desires to forget often became the backdrop to discussions about the role of visuality in present-day negotiations regarding the political and social functions of historical memory in Spanish society.

Recently assuming a more visible, public space, exhumations of mass graves have become sites in which personal testimony, private experience, and the politics of narrating the nation’s past have begun to overlap and coexist.   In fact, the acts of unearthing unmarked graves and exhuming the remains of fusilados have become the conceptual, as well as literal and physical, processes through which narratives about experiences with political violence during the Civil War and the dictatorship are produced.   As material, osteological, and biological evidence of violence is uncovered and made visible, the fosa has become a key site for the production of knowledge regarding Spain’s violent history. Continue reading