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Student Project Abstracts: Spring 2012

Monique Baron
Grace Hirt
Sentinaro Sojwal
Nicola Chávez-Courtright
Diana Diaz
Jo Nguyen
Noah Brau
Katherine Huppert
Everett Defieux
Jaime Hamre
Gabriella do Amaral
Samantha King
Suanny Garcia


Monique Baron
“(Sin) Privacidad”
Monique’s field research was based on two multi-generational families living in Havana. Their living situations are uniquely Cuban--their apartments may not be suitable for their needs, but due to post-Revolutionary housing changes, they have changed their needs to fit the apartment. Monique spent an average of four to six hours a week with each family. She photographed daily events within the household, attempting to understand how each family functions within the physical space of their home. Through interviews and conversations, she explored generational differences that exist within these homes. Monique’s final project was a documentary photography exhibition of 25 color prints, each 40 by 30 cm.

Grace Hirt
“Female Bodies, Male Nations: Constructions of Women in Cuban Literature”
Grace’s project centered on careful reading of a selection of Cuban novels from two critically important periods in the nation’s history: the mid-19th century’s political and intellectual thinking and the practice of slavery, and the first decade after the triumph of the Revolution. Her work grew out of an interest in the concept of the female body in the male imagination, and how this body is constructed in relation to a transitional national identity. Her first fully-developed essay focused on “the great Cuban novel," Cecilia Valdés by CiriloVillaverde. She also incorporated readings of three other novels from the same period with similar themes. In the study of this novel, Grace analyzes the ways in which societal tensions and corrupt power relationships are inscribed onto the bodies of Cecilia and the other female characters, all of whom play important symbolic roles but are given little or none of their own agency. Grace then examined three novels from the first revolutionary decade, 1959 - 69: Alejo Carpentier’s El siglo de las luces; José Lezama Lima’s Paradiso; and Edmundo Desnoes’ Memorias del subdesarrollo. In her final composition, she focused on the figure of Sofía in El siglo…, and the implications of Carpentier’s identification and appropriation of the feminine--defined as inextricable from corporality, nature, and motherhood--to construct his grand vision of history and American identity. Throughout her study, Grace incorporated feminist and literary theory to deepen her analysis, concentrating on the idea of the female body as the body of the nation and how this conception has manifested itself in the national literature.

Sentinaro Sojwal
“Exoticism and the Tourist Imagination: An Examination of Cuban Female Identity at Home and Abroad”
In her ethnography, Senti addresses the sexualized and racialized construction of Cuban women in the tourist imagination and examines the juxtaposition between this simplified production and the ideas of Cuban femininity and identity that exist within the nation itself, from the voices of its women. The accounts from Senti’s field research illuminate the interconnectivity of the discourses of imperialism, nationalism, femininity, and globalization and highlight select significant effects of a tourist economy on Cuban women’s lives and self-identification in the nation today. Drawing on academic texts and personal interviews with Cuban women (ranging from scholars to university students to a woman in the sex trade), Senti explored colonial legacies, the historic construction of the mulatta, sex tourism in Havana today, contemporary Cuban sexual attitudes, and the impacts of reggaeton, Cuba’s most popular music, on female identity and sexual expression. Senti upholds that the commodified image of Cuban women that is proliferated today defines her as an exotic object for tourist consumption and silences her voice in the surrounding discourses of history and nationalism, serving a kind of erotic imperialism.

Nicola Chávez-Courtright
“Aquí, Luchando”
Nicola’s time in Havana was spent conducting, transcribing, and editing over a dozen interviews with tobacco-sellers, informal tour guides, jineteros and jineteras (sex workers who cater to tourists), street vendors, and specialists to write her play, “Aquí, Luchando.” The play was created as a piece of documentary theater; that is, all of the characters exist in real life, and their words are taken verbatim as the dialogue. “Aquí, Luchando,” brings to life the informal economies that have grown out of the country’s large tourism industry, and examines the relationships between Cuba, Cubans, and foreigners. Tourism, as the pillar of Cuba’s economy, has been a relatively new phenomenon in the years since the Revolution that has fundamentally changed the fabric of Cuban society. “Aquí, Luchando” examines how these changes have been interpreted and absorbed on a micro level, and looks at what it means when survival depends on selling an image (or a body) to the outside world. The play also portrays Cubans’ thoughts on the social divides that an ever-growing tourist economy has created and/or exacerbated, and the complex and conflicting relationships between Cubans and yumas (foreigners). “Aquí, Luchando” will be staged at Hampshire College in fall 2012 as a bilingual multimedia play that will involve audio and visuals recorded during the course of Nicola’s fieldwork.

Diana Díaz
“Women and Family in Theater and Literature: A Closer Look into Contemporary Cuban Reality”
Diana’s examination of Cuban narratives and plays produced after the 1959 Revolution attempts to reveal the presence of women as literary subjects through the vision of women writers and actresses and their endeavors to reflect their realities, reinterpreted artistically from different points of view. In her assessment, Diana first contextualizes the Cuban woman as a beneficiary of many public policies that protect and support her in becoming a professional, joining the labor force and fulfilling her reproductive role without jeopardizing her professional achievements. Drawing from interviews with writers, actresses and regular women, Diana concludes that it is specially during times of economic distress (i.e. the Special Period and its surviving effects) that women are expected to direct their home regardless of the equal participation commanded by the Family Code. In the selected works of narrative created by women writers of the nineties (Marilyn Bobes, Nancy Alonso, Maria Elena Llana, Lourdes de Armas, and Adelaida Fernandez de Juan) and plays with transcendental protagonist female characters produced by male playwrights after 1959 (Virgilio Piñera, Eugenio Hernandez, Alberto Pedro and Hector Quintero) for the lack of recognized female playwrights-, Diana identified five elements of contact with lived reality: the idealization of women in the private world and their rejection to live in limited societal roles, family in a social context, daily survival--the daily struggles of “resolver,” and emigration as a possible solution--and the crisis of social and family values.

Jo Nguyen
“Cuban Women of the Third Age”
Jo has created an oral history project which is a combination of audio documentary narratives or vignettes and photographic report about the so called women of the “third age.” Her pieces are reflective, amusing, informative or surprising. They are not about accomplishments but instead about a person’s passions, dreams, struggles, and the stories that make up their lives. These vignettes are an attempt to capture the spirit of the city and its residents, and particularly these elderly Cuban women. Key to Jo’s project has been to give voice to an elder generation who is often overlooked by society. Her taped interviews were usually around thirty-minutes so that she could select what the piece's focus would be. She also had several photo sessions to become acquainted with her subjects and be able to capture the singularity of the storyline or narrative. Jo’s four vignettes are not complete, full pictures of a life, but snapshots, glimpses, moments, windows.

Noah Brau
“Galleta Con Pasta de Perro Caliente y Mayonesa: Jews in Cuba and the Idiosyncrasies of an Anomalous Community”
Latin American Judaism is a topic that has been, “Overlooked by Latin Americanists as too few and too marginal to affect the area’s development, they have likewise been regarded by Jewish scholars as outside the course of Jewish history.” (Laikin, XI) Nevertheless, while the Jewish community of Cuba today only numbers around 1500, “Jubans” have been a topic of interest for Jews throughout the diaspora. After the religious “re-opening” that accompanied the Special Period, many Cubans with Jewish roots have chosen to return to their synagogues and their traditions after three decades of pertaining to another “religion”: Marxism. What has caused the religious revival in Cuba? Why are so many Jews motivated to reclaim their Jewish identity? Noah’s project is a self-reflexive journey through the Cuban Jewish world using his own North American Judaism and culture as a point of reference and the reading of historical texts and articles together with the interviews with Jewish leaders and members of this community in Cuba.

Katherine Huppert
Untitled
Katherine’s project centered on two key components: a general observation of “queer”/gay culture in Cuba, in particular the experience and position of queer/gay visual artists on the island whose work deals explicitly with themes of gender and/or sexuality and the technical training and production of paper cut pieces. Underlying this observation were several key questions: Can the specific ideas of culture and identity in the U.S. translate to the Cuban context? How do you create the necessary visibility to have a voice in society while living in a culture with practically no room for individuality? In what ways can you claim, or simply occupy, space in the public sphere while under multiple forms of censorship? Does a culture have to be concrete or highly visible in order to exist? She interviewed the only three visual artists in Havana who are openly gay-identified on their views of the gay underworld in Cuba, the motivations behind their work and viewers’ reactions to it, and the ways in which they navigate both their artistic and personal identities. Responding to these interviews as well as her own perceptions while in Cuba, Katie produced three large-scale pieces in the art of paper cut under her tutor’s supervision, which reflect some of the major themes and contradictions of gay life she observed.

Everett Defieux
“(Agri)cultos, la Fuerza de Supervivencia Autóctona: A Socioeconomic Analysis of Cuban Campesinado”
Everett’s field work research project consisted of an examination of the following: the origin and evolution of campesinos and their organizational structures in the context of Cuban agrarian history, an investigation into campesino cultural and socioeconomic identity, and an exploration of the role of small farmers and campesinado in national food sovereignty, agroecology, the cooperative movement in Cuban society. This investigation consisted of textual research in books, scholarly articles and publications, government reports, and roundtable discussions. For another facet of his research, Everett conducted a series of interviews with eminent agrarian scientists and representatives from a number of relevant organizations, including The National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), and the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez del Hombre y la Naturaleza; small farmers; and members of cultural institutions which manage the preservation and development of distinct campesino artistic tradition. In his final research paper, Everett analyzed how the campesinado facilitated the agricultural transformation during the Special Period and sustained the ongoing development of the current model of agricultural production founded on the valorization of cooperatives, environmental sustainability, and small scale cultivation.

Jaime Hamre
“Luchando por la identidad: How Cuban food culture survived the Special Period”
Through food, Jaime’s research opens with the formation of the Cuban nation--when the Spanish colonizers brought rice and pork to Cuba, African Criollos invented el congrí, and Cuba unknowingly trapped itself into an unending cycle of wheat importation upon abandoning its cassava bread experimentations--arguing that food has always been a fundamental part of the Cuban identity and an indicator of its history and the socio-political state of its people. She claims that this could never be truer than during the Special Period when the material foundation of the Cuban diet disappeared, and Cubans were pushed into a culture of “resolver”--to obtain food (i.e. informal economic exchanges, dependence on friends and family, and small-scale self-subsistence) and by inventing with what was available. Rooted in historical research and interviews with families and food experts her analysis concludes that in the waves of globalization and crisis that have washed instability over the island, Cubans have remained rooted in their food identity, continuing the struggle to surpass the Special Period, which many Cubans believe still exists today.

Jasmine Washington
“The Sacred and The Popular: Santeria and The Rumba. An Exploration of Afro-Cuban Trans-Acculturation Through Dance”
Jasmine’s project focused on the trans-acculturation processes visible within Afro-Cuban culture through studying and observing Afro-Cuban dances focusing specifically on the cultures enslaved Africans brought to Cuba and the colonial Spanish cultural influence present in Cuba. During the first half of Jasmine’s project, she was introduced to the dance techniques of two Afro-Cuban Dance forms: three Orishas (deities) within Santeria; Eleggua, Obbatalá, and Yemayá and three dance forms within the style of The Rumba: Yambú, Guaguancó, and Columbia. Besides dance techniques, Jasmine studied the historical context and evolution of these dance forms and interviewed believers and experts in the field. Her final project was a multimedia video comprised of photographs, video clips, audio from interviews and a music soundtrack.

Gabriella do Amaral
“Resistiendo: redefining rap, redefining selves, imagining a future”
Gabriella’s work centers on an investigation into the qualities of a contemporary Cuban hip-hop and the location of raperas within the field. Her work draws on an extensive examination of hip-hop in La Habana including engagement with its public sphere(s), its performances, its music and interviews with its artists. In a socio-economic climate where reggaeton has claimed the majority of the existing music market, and wherein the first “generation” of Cuban rappers have, in large part, emigrated, she studied the manner in which Cuban hip-hop has historically provided a space for political education, reclamation of a diasporic identity, and a platform from which to express opinions and generate dialogue. Her extensive field-work delves into this history from the memories of women associated with hip hop, and situates raperas as problematically isolated from Cuban social space and Cuban rap space. In her final paper, Gabriella analyzes how, from a position of social and political margins, raperas today understand and develop hip hop space.

Samantha King
“Sin el negro Cuba no sería Cuba: Impacts of Race in Cuba”
Samantha’s research explores the topic of race in post Revolutionary Cuba. Beginning with a brief introduction to the history of race, her 38-page analytical paper focused on how the Revolution sought to eradicate race through means of legislation and its eventual silencing of the topic within social discourse. Race resurfaced during the Special Period (1989–2006), augmenting problems of prejudice and racism that had previously existed but lain dormant during the 1970s and 80s. With this amplification emerged artistic and intellectual discourses designed to publicly address the problems that persist today. Samantha’s essay explores some of these works along with political demands in an attempt to realize some possible changes in the way racial prejudice interacts with and impacts the general Cuban public.

Suanny García
“Cuban Women: Clothing and Identity”
Suanny designed a project that evaluates the image Cuban women choose to display through their clothing. Her 19-page historical and analytic paper compares women’s choice in garments grouped by age, economic status, sexuality, and identity. Through interviews with women on the streets of El Vedado, Old Havana, and Central Havana--and a small number in Santa Clara--as well as fashion designers on the island, Suanny evaluates the relationship connecting clothing and identity. Her two primary subject groups were: women ages 18-25 who are studying or just entering the work field and 35-50 year old women, who have experienced numerous changes in Cuba’s political and social climate. She sought to understand what differentiates the two groups, what sets them apart, and if it was possible that Cuban women could express a collective identity through their image.

 

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