Tag Archives: Cuba

The Politics of Black Hair in Havana: Reflections on Sisterhood and Diaspora Solidarity

 

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August 2017 Hair Natural Hair Conference – Hair model from Mariano, Cuba

Posted by Moriah Ray, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Carribean and Latin American Studies. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

In the Summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Havana, Cuba for three months. To prepare myself for my journey, I did what many black women do in preparation for travel; put my hair in braids. This is one of the multiple popular protective styles that black women commonly use for travel because they are low maintenance and last a long time. I assumed that this style would last me through the three months, but with the hot Havana heat, they did not last as long as expected. Before I could even get my braids out multiple women asked me for the extensions that were used to braid my hair. The first two times I was asked I assumed I misunderstood the women. How would my braiding hair be of any use to them? In the U.S when women take out their braiding extensions they normally throw the hair away. I told them that I could not give them my hair but when my Mom came to Cuba in September I would ask her to bring some. I continued to get stopped and asked about my hair. Who did it? Could they use the hair when I take out the braids? Could I do their hair? My hair connected me to diverse black women throughout Havana. I got their numbers and promised them I would return with packs of hair. After two long months, I ended up taking out my braids. I gave my hair to a close friend of mine who was thrilled to have it. She is still using it now, two years later!

I went to the Centro Comerical in Nuevo Vedado, one of the few “shopping centers” in Havana, to look for some hair products to do my hair. I wrongfully assumed that in a country that is majority black there would be hair products catered towards black women’s hair. There was absolutely nothing. The majority of the products had keratin chemicals to “treat” natural curls. After the centro comerical failed me, I looked in the “black market” stores I knew about, but found nothing. Discouraged, I asked my friend what she used in her natural hair to moisturize it? She told me that she used “cocinero,” a brand of cooking oil! How on earth did black women manage to maintain their natural hair in Cuba? 

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What We Talk About when We Talk About Development

Posted by Sam Kellogg — MA candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at NYU. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

On paper, and according to many observers, the Cuban Internet is many years behind the times, behind the curve. In a formal sense, and according to a linear development model in which countries must develop one step after another along a set path, this is true. Infrastructure is certainly lacking, though this is changing—new fiber-optic cables have been laid in Habana Vieja and new public (though not free—see my previous blog post) wifi hotspots and Internet cafes have been opened across the island. The reasons for the lack in infrastructural development are multiple and layered: government hesitance to adopt the Internet is certainly part of it, though the long-term effects of the US economic blockade have inarguably been devastating to Cuba’s ability to build a robust web architecture, particularly because so much of the Internet’s global development (in terms of physical infrastructure but also in terms of intellectual property, patents, and standards) has been dominated by the United States. There isn’t time to go into further detail here, but regardless of the reasons for Cuba’s relatively slow Internet adoption, what I like to call the “back in time” narrative can be summed up well borrowing the words of a friend of mine, a well-respected Cuban. He told me that Cuba’s Internet infrastructure is about “twenty years behind,” pointing out that the public wifi hotspot model is fundamentally the same one used by other Latin American countries like Perú a couple decades ago. Larry Press has written astutely from this perspective, arguing that Cuba might be able to leapfrog development stages in order to catch up with the rest of the world.

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Poster art in Clandestina: “Welcome to Prehistory!”

While this modal developmental model could be useful when comparing countries on a macro scale, it is limited if we want to understand what’s happening on the ground in Cuba. I would argue that the changes that the Internet has already wrought in Cuban society can hardly be appreciated if we stay at a high level, and argue instead for a ‘thicker’ approach of social and cultural change. From a hardware perspective, the antennas that the Cuban telecom company ETECSA is using in public wifi parks, mostly from Chinese technology giant Huawei, are fast and functional, and while the scratch-off, single-use login card system I described in my last blog post might seem antiquated, the system sits within a line of tried and true models for selling pre-paid access time going back to phone cards in the 1970’s. As a Cuban blogger and independent journalist I spoke with put it, “at least it’s something,” and compared with five years ago when access in cities was almost exclusively through expensive tourist hotels, the difference is almost night and day. Beyond that, though, the Internet and technology that Cubans use to connect is unrecognizable from those of 1997, and it is this fact that makes Cuba’s integration into the global internet at this moment so difficult to understand using linear development models.

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Upcoming Events November 6-11, 2017

CLACS has yet another jam-packed week of events for you to attend, engange with, reflect on, and enjoy. If you are unable to attend the event in person, check out our facebook page, because there is a good chance that there will be a live-stream. This week, events range from critically analyzing the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, celebrating Mexican music, and collaborating with Quechua speakers and students from across North America.

HURRICANE SEASON: SOVEREIGNTY & CATASTROPHE IN THE CARIBBEAN

A roundtable on the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. How have environmental and colonial histories shaped recent events? What fragile infrastructures and uncertain sovereignties have been revealed?

Monday, November 6, 2017
6:00 – 9:00 pm
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Auditorium
53 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

More information about this event can be found here.

MOTHER TONGUES UNITED: LANGUAGE EXPO CELEBRATION OF LESS-COMMONLY TAUGHT LANGUAGES

Every year, The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at NYU hosts “#MotherTonguesUnited”, an event tied to a movement to unite speakers of historically undervalued languages in an effort to dispel myths and stereotypes surrounding those languages. Many languages have been included in this movement, including Papiamentu, Haitian Creole, and Garífuna.

This year, CLACS is excited to be hosting a Language Fair that focuses on less-commonly taught languages! This special edition of #MotherTonguesUnited aims to celebrate the work of various language departments and centers throughout NYU while creating a community space where students can learn about and engage in these languages.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017
4:00 – 8:30 pm
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Atrium
53 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

More information about this event can be found here.

MEXICAN MUSIC IN THE GLOBAL MARKET: EXPLORING THE CULTURAL CHALLENGES & COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

Mexico is the 2nd largest latin market right after Brazil. Yet, it shows no signs of stopping. Join us to as we discuss the impact of Mexican, and Latin music, in the global market, as we unravel the stories of some Mexican professionals in the music industry and musicians, as well as music industry professionals who deal with Latin American content. We will explore the cultural challenges and commercial opportunities that Mexican music has in the American market, and we will also discuss the evolution of Mexico’s music industry.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
NYU Kimmel 405
60 Washington Sq S

More information about this event can be found here.

SOUND X COLOR: SOMOS MUCHO MAS CUBA

Yamay Mejias Hernandez, also known as “La Fina,” will discuss her career as an Afro-Cuban feminist rapper and Director of “Somos Mucho Mas.” Somos Mucho Mas is one of the only female-led hip-hop initiatives in Cuba and serves as an intersectional anti-racist and feminist platform for Afro-Cuban women. As a rapper and community organizer, in a country that claims to have solved issues with racism, La Fina presents a unique perspective as she uses hip-hop to fight for social change.

Friday, November 10, 2017
5:30 – 8:30 pm
Social and Cultural Analysis, Flex Space
20 Cooper Square, 4th Floor

More information about this event can be found here.

3RD QUECHUA STUDENT ALLIANCE MEETING

This annual event aims to promote an exchange of ideas between college students, professors, and the community at large who share an interest and passion for Quechua language and Andean culture. We are working towards creating a space for people of all ages and backgrounds to become dynamic leaders within their communities. Our goal is to foster networks of indigenous language advocates.

Saturday, November 11, 2017
10:00 am – 7:00 pm
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Atrium
53 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

More information about this event can be found here.

App Economies: When Economic Blockades Create New Industries

Posted by Sam Kellogg — MA candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at NYU

In my last blog post I addressed some of the nuances and contradictions of Internet adoption for contemporary Cuban sociality and economics, and discussed how these nuances bear on the ways we think about development. In this post, I’d like to unpack some of the unexpected consequences of the US economic blockade against Cuba, and explain how massive demand has created a unique new local industry around the installing and updating of apps.

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Wifi-enabled public parks are sites of shared virtuality.

One of the more curious, and frustrating, consequences of the US economic embargo for Internet users in the island is that the Apple App Store and Google Play Store become unusable. Since Apple and Google are US companies, they’d be breaking the law if they did business with Cuba without explicit permission. To avoid this, these companies have implemented safeguards: if you try to download an app from the Apple App Store in Cuba, Apple’s servers will detect your location and throw an error code (1009—there are only a handful of places in the world you’ll see this error code). If Apple were a Canadian company you’d be able to download apps in Cuba as normal, but Apple must follow US government regulations, making it that much more difficult for Cubans to use the limited access available to them.

Of course, there are always routes around these kinds of restrictions, passageways available to circumnavigate a barrier. The easiest way to get around Apple’s error code is to install and use a VPN service to trick Apple’s servers into thinking you are in another country: there are a wide variety of free and commercial VPN services available; they are relatively easy to use and work well (read this if you want to learn how to choose and use one). If you don’t already have a VPN app on your phone when you enter Cuba, however, (and how would you if you’re Cuban), you’re once again in trouble: the only way to install apps on an iPhone is through the App Store, and that goes for VPN services as well as games or dating apps.

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Connecting to public wifi using a scratch-off card.

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Un verano inusual en la Ciudad de México

 

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De izquierda a derecha: Yesenia, Alvaro Alcantara, Leopoldo Gaitan, Gabriela Pulido Llano integrantes de la Asociación Mexicana de Estudios del Caribe  

Posted by Yesenia Fernández – PhD Student at Media Culture and Communication at NYU- Steinhardt

Mi primera semana en México ha sido dura. No vine preparada para la lluvia y el frío con que la Ciudad me recibió, una especie de Londres en plena Latinoamérica. Todos me explicaron que era la temporada de lluvias y por suerte me prestaron ropa para abrigarme mejor. A pesar del mal tiempo me sentí bienvenida por los amigos de esa diáspora cubana cada vez más dispersa y también por la fabulosa comunidad académica mexicana.

Mi conexión con México comenzó años atrás investigando sobre la internacionalización del baile cubano. Era una reminiscencia constante para mis entrevistados hablar de las Rumberas del Cine de Oro Mexicano. Para mi fortuna la investigadora Gabriela Pulido Llano había publicado recientemente su libro “Mulatas y negros del teatro mexicano” sobre la influencia de esos tropos raciales en la escena del entretenimiento en México. Fue ella quien me convidó al Congreso de la Asociación de Estudios Caribeños en México, desde la cual cultivé los contactos preliminares a los archivos del cine en el país.

La AMEC es en verdad una familia académica de gente que investiga, disfruta y conoce apasionadamente los circuitos culturales del Caribe. Y aunque las universidades durante mi estancia están cerradas, pues, logré encontrar muchos de estos investigadores en pausas de café, comidas caseras y reuniones improvisadas. Leopoldo Gaitan fungió por décadas como director del Centro de Documentación de la  Cineteca Nacional. Colateralmente ha trabajado sobre la música cubana y el tema negro en la cinematografía mexicana. El cine es en él segunda naturaleza, conoce la cronología y sus rincones, sus desvíos y sorpresas. Es el guía ideal para esta busqueda despues de nuestro primer encuentro me siento confiada de entrar a los archivos.

 

The Underground Economy Supporting Public Internet Use in Cuba

Posted by Sam Kellogg — MA candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at NYU

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The Wi-Fi park on 14th and 15th street, Vedado, Havana.

I met *Victor the second or third time I visited my local Wi-Fi park, on the corner of 14th and 15th streets in Vedado. Vedado is a neighborhood in Havana a mile west of the city center known for its tree-lined boulevards and grand houses, many of which were converted into shared living spaces or dedicated to municipal functions following the Cuban Revolution’s triumph in 1959. It’s in one of these converted houses I’ve been living for the past few weeks.

In the mornings, I sometimes pass by the park on 14th and 15th street to check my email, and most mornings until noon Victor is there, lounging on a green park bench beneath the extravagant orange flowers and merciful shade of the Flamboyán trees. His hustle is selling tarjetas to park visitors—single-use cards with scratch-off codes that give buyers access to the Internet for a set amount of time, usually an hour or two.

This is how most Cubans and island visitors get online, check their emails, scroll through Facebook, and listen to the latest music. The process of connecting goes something like this: Visit your local Wi-Fi-enabled park, turn on your device’s Wi-Fi, and connect to the public network. Usually the network will be named “WIFI_ETECSA” (ETECSA is the state telecom company, and the sole Internet provider on the island). Once connected to the network, a pop-up screen with spaces to type in a username and password allows you to log in. If you’re using the scratch-off single-use cards that Victor sells to connect, you’ll type in two twelve-digit numbers printed on the back of the card for your username and password and cross your fingers. Wait a few seconds, and if you typed in the numbers correctly (I often don’t), you’ll see a green check-mark and emails and notifications will start pouring in.

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Front and back of a five-hour single-use login card.

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Early Latin American Migration to the U.S. Focus of Next Indocumentales

Post by Gretchen Kyle Shaheen, CLACS MA Candidate and Graduate Associate for K-12 Outreach

On Monday, November 23, CLACS will be presenting the second film in this semester’s installation of Indocumentales.  Starting at 6:30pm, we will be screening Empire of Dreams (1880-1942) of the PBS Series Latino Americans.

The second part of the Latino Americans Series, this film highlights immigration to the U.S. from Latin America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Empire of Dreams documents how the American population begins to be reshaped by the influx of people that began in 1880 and continues into the 1940s, as Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans begin arriving in the U.S. and start to build strong Latino-American communities in South Florida, Los Angeles and New York. 

The screening will be followed by a conversation with award-winning journalist, author, and 2015 Andres Bello Chair in Latin American Cultures and Civilizations at NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Juan González, and Maribel Hernandez Rivera, Executive Director of Legal Initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

To read more about the screening of Empire of Dreams (1880-1942), and register to attend, click here.

Viewers interested in K-12 education can find more information on ways to incorporate the themes explored in the film into their classrooms by clicking here.

Indocumentales is a film and conversation series exploring the immigrant experience. This series is done in partnership with Cinema Tropical, and What Moves You?.  For more on Indocumentales, click here.

Our last screening of 2015 will be the award-winning film by Diego Quemada-Diez entitled La Jaula de Oro. This film will be showcased on Thursday, December 17. More information here.