Accepted Paper:

Paradoxes of continuity and change: Cuba's children of the revolution  

Author:

Mette Louise Berg (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores paradoxes and disjunctures of continuity and change for Cuba's diasporic 'children of the revolution' in Spain. They have embraced cosmopolitan discourses yet are continually confronted with nationalist-territorial discourses.

Paper long abstract:

After turning to socialism in 1961, an important policy aim of Cuba's revolutionary government became to create - in Ernesto Che Guevara's words - a 'New Man' who would be 'untainted' by the 'original sin of capitalism'. The generation who were born and grew up under the revolutionary government consequently benefited from investments in education, healthcare and culture. These children of the revolution attended selective schools and many went on to further studies in European socialist countries. Theirs was a world of socialist cosmopolitanism, which nonetheless simultaneously was infused with commitment to a national, territorially-based political project: an independent socialist Cuba.

After the breakdown of European socialism in 1989 and the subsequent severe economic and political crisis in Cuba, many of these New Men and New Women, now intellectuals, writers and artists, decided to leave the island nation in favour of residence in Spain, the former colonial power. Some have been branded as 'traitors' by the government and even by their own families. In response, many have embraced cosmopolitan and postmodern discourses of identity. They are a generation caught in paradoxes of continuity and change: largely loyal to the original aims of social equality of the revolution, they nonetheless find it impossible and stifling to live in Cuba in the current political and cultural environment; forsaking nationalism and having been excluded from the territory-based national project on the island, in diaspora they are often foremost identified as Cubans and expected to perform as such. This generation of Cubans are thus caught in multi-layered paradoxes of continuity, change and disjuncture (between here and there; then and now; belonging and not-belonging). This predicament is particularly poignant given the current romance of Cuba in Spain in which imperialist nostalgia mixes with capitalist expediency to produce representations of Cuba as the lost and beloved colony fixed in time, newly available again through sexual and economic conquest by Spanish tourists and companies.

This paper explores how some of the children of the revolution who are now living in Madrid and Barcelona negotiate this predicament. While theirs is to some degree an instance of actually existing cosmopolitanism, it is fraught with the difficulty of avoiding the national slot. The paper explores in particular the gendered aspects of cosmopolitanism, and the tension between cosmopolitan discourses and day-to-day diasporic living in which the national keeps popping up.

Panel W017
Problems of continuity and change