Sujatha Fernandes

 

On her book The Cuban Hustle: Culture, Politics, Everyday Life

Cover Interview of January 13, 2021

A close-up

I hope readers who encounter the book at a bookstore might flip to the back of the book and see the ingenious and creative projects Cubans are creating, even in the dark days of the Trump era. We hear so much about the poverty and shortages induced by the tightened sanctions of the Trump administration, but I would also want people to see the ways that Cubans created a culture of resistance against the isolation that Trump tried to impose on the island. In recent years, a hairdressing school in the Old Havana barrio of Santo Ángel has involved its students in organizing activities for the children and seniors of the neighborhood. Young children filmmakers in the rural town of La Conchita made a documentary about the imminent closure of a factory that was the lifeblood of their community. Unlike their counterparts in the West, Cuban teenagers do not have unlimited apps and games to distract them on their phones; this group made their own fictional pieces and documentaries about the stories of their communities.

What many of these cultural phenomena share is a broader concern with social justice. Even when propelled by global markets and NGOs, cultures take on their own local shape, oriented toward the community. This is the legacy of the ideals, educational systems, and shared ethos of the Cuban Revolution. Cultural art forms have been closely connected with the development of social movements in Cuba. Afro-Cuban artists and hip hoppers used their art to raise issues of race and racism in Cuban society. They sowed the seeds for a rich array of racial justice organizations in the new millennium, such as ARAAC, the Red Barrial, and Alianza Unidad Racial. Artists have been at the forefront of social justice initiatives. Organizations such as Color Cubano and Magín have been led by artists, poets, and writers. The musician Silvio Rodríguez embarked on a tour of marginalized barrios to share his music with residents and understand their everyday struggles.