Sujatha Fernandes


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

Cover Interview of January 13, 2021


I hope that the book encourages people to see beyond Western media representations of Cuba. The media has been preoccupied with the idea of Cubans as trapped within a one-state autocracy, yearning for political and consumer freedoms unavailable to them. Cubans are generally depicted as repressed entrepreneurs: a world of small businesspeople, dissidents, bloggers, and others who want freedom of speech and freedom of commerce. The progression of Cuban society is its journey toward capitalism, the evolution of Cubans to become more like us. Such representations betray a deep failure to understand Cuba on its own terms.

There are many trajectories and models that loom large in the worldviews of Cubans, from the Black Radical tradition in the United States to the model of Chinese market socialism and the Pink Tide revolutions that swept Latin America. Some want more space to speak out critically or engage in commercial activities. And the growing presence of corporations such as Airbnb and Netflix is fostering new capitalist rationalities. But we must also understand the ways that consciousness and modes of being are deeply shaped by values of collectivism, egalitarianism, and voluntarism, derived from the socialist and post-independence past.

We hear much about Cuba’s transition. These essays depict a society in transition, but not necessarily one that is moving in a unilinear direction toward an embrace of capitalism. Rather, they reveal a range of utopic and liberatory visions that often take a socialist worldview as the horizon of the taken-for-granted, while also reflecting the multiple influences that have come to play a role in Cuban society from antiracist, anticapitalist, feminist, and LGBTQ movements to open-source information sharing, gamer culture, rock, hip hop, and reggae.