This is a project to create and analyze a data set from the blog Negra cubana tenía que ser (Black Woman I Had to Be) written by an Afro-Cuban woman named Sandra Alvarez. The project titled, “Contemporary Afro-Cubana Feminisms: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Havana” aims to use digital humanities technologies to examine how antiracist, antisexist, and anti-homophobic themes in blog show the limits of state censorship in Cuba and the reach of Cuba’s new activist movements.
This research is part of a new project that that builds off of my first book Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). The book traced Cuba’s nation-wide campaign to eliminate racial discrimination launched by Fidel Castro and other leaders of the 26th of July Movement in March 1959 and declared complete in 1961. This campaign opened a brief (3 year) debate about how to incorporate Afro-Cubans into the revolution, integrated previously white-only spaces, and created unprecedented social opportunities for blacks and mulatos. Today, large numbers of Afro-Cuban professors, doctors, and lawyers attest to the ways revolutionary actions brought about change and opened doors for Cuba’s citizens of African descent. Yet, revolutionary denouncements against racial inequality were uneven and contradictory. The book found that racism was able to co-exist with antiracism throughout the in the 1960s despite state proclamations to the contrary.
Having completed this book project, I am now interested in how Afro-Cubans challenged state attempts to silence debates about persistent discrimination after the government announced that racism had been eliminated in 1961. And while, black and mulata women (Afro-Cubanas) have participated in constructing Cubanidad since the beginning of the Cuban republic in 1902, the largely male-dominated national narrative that has made Che Guevara’s “New Man” famous since 1959, frequently overshadows their interventions. Despite this public silence, Afro-Cubanas have consistently challenged narratives of exclusion and contributed to antiracist and antisexist movements in Cuba. Today, activists like Alvarez are leading these efforts in Cuba’s fight for equality.
On this project, we will create, code, and analyze a digital data set from Sandra Alvarez’s blog Negra cubana tenía que ser. I plan to analyze the contents of the blog to see how Alvarez uses technology, revises history, makes strategic alliances, and pushes an intersected agenda in a minimal computing environment. By studying this online archive, written by an Afro-Cubana queer woman who recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of her blog, the project will examine how Afro-Cubanas challenge negative stereotypes about black women, work both inside and outside of Cuba’s state-sponsored women’s movement, and have crafted a space for racial and sexual rights in Cuba’s emerging economy.
Alvarez’s blog is a part of a new antiracist movement in Cuba that emerged during Cuba’s economic crisis of the 1990s. Following the collapse of Cuba’s chief trading partner, the Soviet Union, the island’s financial transactions came to a near stand-still as the United States tightened its trade embargo instead of offering aid. Black and mulato Cubans suffered these hardships even more than their white counterparts because of their limited ability to access foreign currency—they did not receive remittances from family members in the United States, nor did they have the fair or white skin, the so-called “buena presencia” (good presence/appearance), needed to qualify for tourist jobs in Cuba’s new economy. Black activists like Alvarez began writing, meeting, and advocating against this new racial discrimination. However, for newly 50 years, revolutionary leaders claimed there was no racism in Cuba and talking about race and blackness was considered taboo. The economic crisis created an opening for long-needed debates about continued racism and Alvarez provided a platform for her readers to discuss black womanhood and queerness at the same time.
This projects aims to trace the spread and impact of Alvarez’s blog both in and outside of Cuba. I plan to map visually how frequently certain terms are used and when the highest number of blogs are posted. What topics most interest Cuban readers? How does Alvarez’s topics respond to popular current events in Cuba? Which blog posts have the most comments? Are they from inside Cuba or the diaspora? Answering and mapping these questions, will allow me to decipher which dates, anniversaries, historical figures, and themes are most important to Alvarez and other women in the AfroCubana movement.
Once we have created and analyzed the data set from the 10 years of the blog, I plan for us to present our findings at the Southeastern Conference on Latin American History annual meeting and publish an article on this work in the Hispanic American Historical Review.
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