ISA Director Lou Pérez: “Why did Fidel Castro enfuriate the U.S. so much?”

ISA Director Lou Pérez is featured in the daily JStor. See the original article here

By Matthew Wills
Nov. 30, 2016

Fidel Castro is dead. The Cuban revolutionary, Prime Minister, and President, who dominated his small island nation’s history for half a century, was 90.

Improbably emerging from the Cuban highlands after a successful guerilla war against the Batista dictatorship, Castro went on to survive the United States’ assassination attempts, sponsored invasion, terrorism, and decades of embargo. He survived, too, the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been subsidizing practically the entire Cuban economy.

Castro was no democrat, but then neither were the right-wing dictators the U.S. supported in Latin America and elsewhere around the world. Castro was different, though: he really got under the U.S.’s skin, wounding American national pride and humiliating and embarrassing the great colossus to the north.

Historian Louis A. Pérez Jr. looks into the “fear and loathing of Fidel Castro” in the U.S. Anti-communism and the Cuban-American exile community went a long way in making America anti-Castro, but there was an even deeper animosity. Writes Pérez, “That Castro embraced communism was insufficient to guarantee US ire. That it happened in a country where the United States had historically imposed its will and gotten its way deepened the insult of the injury.”

Before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Americans thought of Cuba as their property; indeed, before the Civil War, Southerners had wanted to take it for the expansion of American slavery. After Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1898, the U.S. repeatedly intervened diplomatically, economically, and militarily on the island. The U.S. military was there from 1896-1902, 1906-1909, and 1917-1922; the 45 square miles of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay have been continuously occupied since 1903.

By the mid 20th century, Cuba was “a background for honeymoons, a playground for vacations, a brothel, a casino, a cabaret, a good liberty port—a place for flings, sprees and binges,” writes Pérez. It was not a country to be taken seriously by Americans. Castro changed all that, vanquishing the American-allied local oligarchs and expelling the American gangsters who ran the casinos and brothels. He also nationalized $1.5 billion worth of American interests in the sugar, cattle, oil refining, mining, railroads, and banking sectors on the island.

Pérez goes so far as to describe America’s loss of Cuba as a “trauma.” Shocked and perplexed Americans, perhaps not unlike parents who watch a quiet child turn on them, were blindsided by Castro’s anti-Americanism and his turn to communism and the Soviets. Soviet missiles on the island in 1962, 90 miles from the Florida, had a “devastating psychological impact on the American people” wrote Dean Rusk, JFK’s Secretary of State.

The Cuban Missile Crisis ended with the Soviets removing their missiles from the island. As part of the deal, the U.S. removed its missiles from Turkey, on the USSR’s doorstep. And the U.S. renounced the use of direct military force in Cuba. Castro got to thumb his nose at the U.S. for four more decades, a constant reminder, as Pérez says, “of the limits of US power.”

Will Castro’s death mark a new era of relations with Cuba, now that what Thomas Friedman, quoted by Pérez, called the “blind hunger for revenge against Mr. Castro,” has no more target?


Fear and Loathing of Fidel Castro: Sources of US Policy toward Cuba

Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2 (May, 2002), pp. 227-254
Cambridge University Press

Print Friendly

“Fidel Castro: A Life— and Death— In Context,” by ISA Director Lou Pérez

ISA Director Lou Pérez writes for the North American Congress for Latin America. See the original post here.


Fidel’s image in Santiago de Cuba

Among the many tens of thousands of well-wishers to congratulate the newly re-elected President Franklin Roosevelt in November 1940 was a 12-year-old boy writing in halting English. “I like to hear the radio,” the youngster wrote, “and I am very happy, because I hear in it that you will be President for a new period.” The letter was sent from the Colegio de Dolores, the Jesuit boarding school in Santiago de Cuba. The writer was Fidel Castro Ruz, who also added a request to his congratulations. “If you like,” he asked President Roosevelt, “[to] give me a ten dollars bill green american because . . . never I have not seen a ten dollars bill american and I would like to have one of them.”

Can the imagination contemplate the possibility that had 12-year-old Fidel Castro Ruz received a “ten dollars bill green American,” history would have been different? Not plausibly–but it does make for an arresting outcome to ponder.

On the other hand, outcomes no less plausible have acted to shape much of the history attributed to Fidel Castro. How utterly implausible: a revolution of uncommon breadth and depth in a country that before January 1959 was thought of— if thought of at all— as hardly more than a client state, an American playground: a place of license and loose morality; of prostitutes, pimps, and pornography; of bars and brothels; casinos and cabarets; in a country where the United States, former ambassador Earl E. T. Smith was to acknowledge, “was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that…the American ambassador was the second most important man in Cuba; sometimes even more important than the President.”

That the government of Fidel Castro expelled the United States, nationalized U.S. property, and aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union— and also survived decades of U.S. efforts at regime change, including one armed invasion, years of covert operations, scores of assassination attempts, and 50 years of withering sanctions. How implausible indeed…

It was precisely this implausibility that so tormented the United Statess. Fidel Castro cast a dark shadow over the U.S. sense of equanimity, a bad dream that would never go away.


José Martí billboard, Santiago de Cuba

The Cuban revolution, personified by and personalized in the figure of Fidel Castro, challenged long-cherished notions about national well-being and upset prevailing notions of the rightful order of things.Notions of injured national pride, of humiliation and embarrassment —very emotional stuff, indeed— all attributed directly to the person of Fidel Castro, shaped the mindset with which the U.S. fashioned policy toward Cuba. Fidel had to be punished, and U.S. policy toward Cuba with was nothing if not punitive: all Cubans would be punished until they did something about Castro. His mere presence served as a reminder of the inability of the United States to will the world in accordance with its own wishes, a condition made all the more insufferable by the fact that this was a country upon which the United States had routinely imposed its will. U.S. politicians could hardly contain their indignation. Cuba under Castro developed into an obsession and into a peculiar American pathology. The Cuban revolution, personified by and personalized in the figure of Fidel Castro, challenged long-cherished notions about national well-being and upset prevailing notions of the rightful order of things. Fidel Castro became a very personal bête noire for the Americans. Certainly the scores of U.S. assassination plots against the life of Castro could not have made American wrath any more personal.

Cultures cope with the demons that torment them in different ways and indeed the practice of exorcism assumes many forms. Castro occupied a place of almost singular distinction in that nether world to which the Americans banish their demons. He was reviled and vilified, he was denounced as a madman, a megalomaniac, a menace, an anathema and phantasma, given to evil doings, a wicked man with whom honorable men could not treat. Fidel was beyond the pale, an utterly reprehensible man of despicable character, devoid of the most minimal moral credibility necessary to negotiate in good faith. Simply put, he was a wicked man with whom honorable men could not deal, so irredeemably contemptible as to make even being in his company seem as something akin to consorting with the devil and the prospects of rapprochement appear an accommodation to evil.

santiagodecubaapril-193Fidel Castro was in many ways defined through his confrontation with the United States. His uncompromising defense of Cuban claims to self-determination as a matter of a historically-determined mandate and a legacy to fulfil more than adequately validated his moral claim to leadership. To confront the United States in defense of national sovereignty was to make good on the internal logic of Cuban history, a summons to which millions of Cubans could respond unequivocally, without regard to political affinities. It was in Juan Arcocha’s novel Los muertos andan solos (1962) that the poignancy of this moment in Cuban history was preserved in the thoughts of protagonist Esperanza. “At first, when Fidel had put it to the Americans,” the narrator comments, “she had liked that, because finally there was in Cuba a man of integrity who would stand up boldly and speak sternly to the Americans,” who would hold them accountable…

What resonated in 1959 and in the years that followed was the very phenomenon of the Cuban revolution, of a people summoned to heroic purpose, to affirm the right of self-determination and national sovereignty. Fidel Castro was the most visible representative of that people.

To confront the United States in the name of national sovereignty and self-determination catapulted Fidel onto the international stage, as a powerful symbol to sustain Third World intransigence against First World domination. It happened too that the Cuban revolution triumphed in a larger context, at a time of decolonization movements in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. To confront the United States in the name of national sovereignty and self-determination catapulted Fidel onto the international stage, as a powerful symbol to sustain Third World intransigence against First World domination. The Goliath had met his David. That the Cubans could make good on their aspirations resonated across the globe: Cuba as model, Cuba as example. The defeat of the U.S.-organized Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cubans boasted, represented the first defeat of imperialism in the Americas. Cuban bravado reverberated across Latin America.

It is also necessary to pause in the rush to ascertain Fidel’s “legacy.” It would be well in this time of Fidel Castro obituaries, from friends and from foes, from those who would mourn his passing or celebrate his death, to proceed with informed prudence. The temptation to conflate the complexities of historical outcomes with the will of one man must be resisted. The biography of Castro is not the history of Cuba.

The life of Fidel Castro was contingent and contextual. The social forces that crashed upon one another in fateful climax in 1959 were set in motion long before Fidel Castro. This is not to suggest that the Cuban revolution was a matter of inevitable outcome, of course. But to acknowledge that the revolution was not inevitable should not be understood to mean that it lacked an internal logic, one derived from the very history from which it emerged.

However large a role Fidel played in shaping the course of Cuban history, it bears emphasizing that the success of his appeal and the source of his authority were very much a function of the degree to which he represented the authenticity of Cuban historical aspirations. Fidel Castro was actor, of course, but he was also acted upon. He shaped the history of his times in discharge of the history by which he was formed. The meaning of his life must be situated within that history, as it was lived and learned, as the circumstances that acted to forge self-knowledge and knowledge of the world at large, and served to inform the purpose of his presence.

To subsume outcomes of 50 years of Cuban programs and policies to the will of one man is facile. It is bad history. Worse still, it is to dismiss the efforts of countless hundreds of thousands of other men and women who— with ill-will or good intentions— played important roles in the decisions, deliberations, and discharge of the purpose that has moved the history of Cuba over the past 50 years. The Cuban people fell in love with their revolution. Their hopes were lifted aloft by the prospects for a better life, if not immediately for themselves then eventually for their children. They were bestirred to act in discharge of sacrifice and selflessness, exhilarated by new possibilities and new promises, but most of all by the prospects of a better future that seemed to be within their reach and through their efforts. Agency, in a word.

The exercise of national sovereignty and self-determination was the defining paradigm from which the leadership of the Cuban revolution understood the logic of everything else. In this regard, Fidel Castro was uncompromising. Many factors played a part in sustaining Fidel Castro in power. Certainly the oft-cited resort to repression is not without basis in fact. The system has indeed relied on an extensive and efficient intelligence apparatus. It acted on authoritarian reflexes, and was neither slow nor unwilling to apply repression as a means to maintain internal consensus.

But repression alone is not an adequate explanation for the endurance of a government under extraordinary circumstances, during years of withering economic adversity, compounded by five decades of external pressures— active and passive, principally from the United States. The antecedents of the Cuban revolution reach deeply into the nineteenth century, precisely to the point at which men and women across the island arrived to an awareness of nationality and knowledge of the meaning of nationality. For vast numbers of men and women, being Cuban was a fate. No other aspiration so profoundly shaped the formation of Cuban national sensibility as the ideals of nation and national sovereignty. That is, the premise of the primacy of Cuban interests and the principal purpose of la patria, a deepening recognition of the need to relocate power within Cuba and reorder the purpose of power in behalf of things Cuban, but mostly as affirmation of the prerogative of the Cuban in Cuba. No one articulated these sentiments more frequently or more forcefully than Fidel Castro.

The global resonance of the Cuban purpose was coyuntural, representing a time when the resolve of the people of a small island in the Caribbean served as a symbol of hope to peoples in distant continents. The legacy of Fidel Castro? The example of the Cuban people…

Louis A. Pérez, Jr. is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Print Friendly

Sanford Mayor awards UNC BIC team key to the city

sanford_cropped_1Many thanks to Sanford Building Integrated Communities (BIC) for coming together on November 12, 2016, to celebrate their incredible accomplishments. We are honored that the City of Sanford awarded keys to Latino Migration Project Director Dr. Hannah Gill and BIC Researcher and Coordinator Jessica White in recognition of the statewide BIC initiative. Congratulations, team!


Building Integrated Communities (BIC) is a statewide initiative that helps North Carolina local governments successfully engage with immigrants and refugee populations in order to improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication, and improve relationships. As a result of working with BIC, local governments and diverse community stakeholders have the tools to generate locally-relevant strategies to strengthen immigrant civic engagement, linguistic achievement, and economic/educational advancement.

The program is supported by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Print Friendly

New Roots/Nuevas Raíces team member María Ramírez featured in SILS news


From left, Doug Boyd (incoming president of OHA and Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at University of Kentucky Libraries), Hannah Gill, Jaycie Vos, Maria Ramirez, and Rachel Seidman (Associate Director of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC).

Read it now!

We are so pleased to share New Roots/Nuevas Raíces team member and current Master’s student Maria Ramirez is featured in the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) news. She and SILS alumna Jaycie Vos (MSLS ’13) presented their work with New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Voices from Carolina del Norte at the Oral History Association Annual Meeting on October 14, 2016, in Long Beach, Calif. At the meeting, Vos, Ramirez, and New Roots Director Hannah Gill accepted the OHA’s 2016 Elizabeth B. Mason Project Award, which recognizes outstanding oral history projects.

Print Friendly

‘Migration Narratives’ Panel Discussion Explores Immigrants’ Experience of Life in the United States


Left to right: Felicia Arriaga, doctoral candidate at Duke University; Bahij ’17; Hannah Gill, director of the Latino Migration Project and New Roots/Nuevas Raíces; Niklaus Steiner, director the Center for Global Initiatives; Laura Villa Torres, bilingual outreach assistant with New Roots/Nuevas Raíces; Ingrid Smith, manager of global events and exhibitions; Zubair ’18; Katie Bowler Young, director of Global Relations; Katy Clune ’15 M.A. Photo by Alicia Stemper.

See the original post here.

Bahij ’17 came to the United States as a refugee, fleeing the Syrian civil war to a place where, he explained, he could enjoy freedom of speech and feel like a citizen.

“When Americans welcome refugees, one day my kids and their kids are going to talk about how this made America great,” he said.

Bahij was one of several panelists at the Migration Narrativesexhibition reception and panel discussion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s FedEx Global Education Center on Nov. 3. Migration Narratives features projects undertaken by recent alumni and students, taking viewers on various migration journeys from different communities around the world and giving voices to migrants’ experiences along the way.

Panelists included individuals featured in the exhibition, like Bahij, and project creators. They shared how difficult it can be for migrants to leave their homes and integrate into American society, sometimes without knowing any English. Speakers connected these personal experiences of migration to larger changes in demographics across the U.S., and argued for the importance of recording this history while it is being made.

Opening remarks were given by Katie Bowler Young, director of Global Relations. The panel was moderated by Niklaus Steiner, director of the Center for Global Initiatives and a migrant from Switzerland himself. During the discussion, Steiner emphasized the importance of the terms used for different types of migration and how they differ from each other. He said despite varying definitions of terms like “refugees” and “immigrants,” differences between migrants are not always so simple.

“We like to keep our policies and our laws in such black and white terms because it’s easier that way,” Steiner said. “But as soon as you start reading these stories, you realize there’s so much grayness in between that’s not that simple.”

Katy Clune ’15 M.A. researched two projects in the exhibition, Carolina Connections, in collaboration with the Global Relations office, and Home in a New Place: Making Laos in Morganton, North Carolina, which was drawn from a larger body of work she produced for her master’s thesis. Clune began work on Home in a New Place after meeting a Lao woman and being invited to her family restaurant in Morganton, North Carolina.

“I stepped into this world that this family had completely created to self-represent themselves to Morganton,” Clune said. “Laos is the only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, relatively small, and most Americans don’t necessarily know what it is, or most certainly don’t know what role our country had in the nation’s history.”

Refugees fleeing the Laotian Civil War and the communist takeover in the 1970s first immigrated to California, then southern states. North Carolina offered an increased quality of life and mountains that resembled Laos, encouraging migration here.

In both projects, Clune found the experience of isolation to be a common factor, especially when immigrants and refugees come from a country that most Americans do not know a lot about.

The Lao community in Morganton is part of a broader demographic shift in the U.S. In recent years in the U.S. South, demographic changes have been especially dramatic in the Latino community. New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Voices from Carolina del Norte is an oral history project that chronicles North Carolina’s changing Latino population.

“These perspectives are incredibly important to document because they represent a transitional time when many Latinos living in the south still have personal memories and knowledge about their country of origin and settlement in new communities in the United States,” said Hannah Gill, director of the Latino Migration Project and New Roots/Nuevas Raíces. “Thirty to forty years from now, this collection will be an invaluable resource and an historical collection about what it means to be an American.”

Migration Narratives highlights a total of four projects. Divided by the Sea chronicles the experiences of both refugees and community members in Reggio Calabria, a small Italian city caught in the crosshairs of the Mediterranean refugee crisis. New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Voices from Carolina del Norte is a digital archive of oral histories from Latin American migrants to North Carolina and North Carolinians that have worked for their integration. Home in a New Place: Making Laos in Morganton, North Carolina, follows one immigrant family as they adapt and reshape Lao traditions in the small town of Morganton, North Carolina. Lastly, Carolina Connections provides a glimpse into the lives of current UNC students who were forced to flee the Syrian civil war.

The exhibition will be on display until Dec. 9 in the FedEx Global Education Center. This exhibition is sponsored by UNC Global with support from the African Studies CenterCarolina Asia CenterCarolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim CivilizationsCenter for European Studies, Center for Global InitiativesCenter for the Study of the American SouthCurriculum in Global StudiesDuke-UNC Consortium for Middle East StudiesGlobal Relations and the Institute for the Study of the Americas.


By Haley McDougal ’18

Print Friendly

Building Community Networks for Women and Children from Central America

An event for legal practitioners, students, service providers, and researchers who work with women and children asylum seekers.

About | Register

Friday, Nov. 11, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Location: UNC School of Law, Room 5046

Since July 2014, the Charlotte Immigration Court that decides claims for persons in North Carolina who are seeking asylum has had a “women and children” docket of 5,856 cases, 3,242 of which have been resolved. Of the resolved cases, only 636 had an attorney. Only 23 were granted asylum.

The number of women and children who were unrepresented and granted asylum is ZERO. If women and children represent themselves at the Charlotte Immigration Court, they have a 0% chance of getting relief.

In fiscal year 2015, the Charlotte Immigration Court granted only 13% of all asylum cases, a staggering low figure compared with approval rates nationwide. These outcomes for women and children asylum seekers have implications for human rights, domestic and international immigration policy, and local communities.

This event seeks to provide education and training to legal practitioners and others who work with women and children asylum seekers and to create a community network in support of women and children asylum seekers. Much of this support will necessarily focus on legal representation efforts. We hope to collaborate with students, faculty, attorneys, and other community members who are willing to assist with research, interpretation services, and other needed support to develop a coordinated plan to address the needs of asylum seekers.

We will have panels discussing asylum law, federal asylum litigation, successes and trends in the Charlotte Immigration Court, community activism and much more.

Sponsored by: The UNC Law School and the Institute for the Study of the Americas

Print Friendly

Work with us! Job opportunity: Business services coordinator


The Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill seeks applications from qualified candidates for its Business Services Coordinator position. The Business Services Coordinator is responsible for the day-to-day human resources and financial management tasks in the department. Duties of the position include, but are not limited to: serving as the primary point of contact; maintaining departmental calendars & schedules; accounting, financial reporting, budget management, summarizing and reconciling financial data, procurement and expenditures; personnel administration; and special projects. This position ensures that all business activities are completed in a timely, effective, and efficient manner while complying with university, State and Federal guidelines. In addition, this position will also provide website content management; newsletter development; coordination of events (including venue reservations, speaker logistics, catering, promotional materials, audiovisual support, set-up/take-down of event); hire and supervise work study students; act as primary departmental contact with the College or Arts & Sciences Business Center for the purposes of accounting and HR transactions, which includes: general budget oversight, consultation with the Chair, acting as HR liaison for purposes of initiating HR actions, acting as accounting liaison for the curriculum’s fiscal needs, and serving as the time management administrator.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, color, disability, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or status as a protected veteran.

Bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related discipline; or an equivalent combination of training and experience. All degrees must be received from appropriately accredited institutions.

This position requires strong written and verbal communication skills, along with demonstrated knowledge of Microsoft Excel, Word, and Outlook. The selected candidate must also demonstrate interpersonal skills, attention to detail, coordination, leadership, problem-solving, confidentiality and organizational skills while being able to work in a fast-paced environment. The successful applicant will have these demonstrated abilities and be willing to engage in a flexible schedule for ISA program activities and events which require evening and weekend work. In addition, this position requires the ability to multi-task, prioritize deadlines and organize ideas, events and other work tasks. The ideal candidate will be self-directed, recognizing the need for attention to detail while meeting deadlines, and have demonstrated analytical skills.

Knowledge of and experience with University systems such as ConnectCarolina (PeopleSoft) and Infoporte is preferred. Knowledge and experience with EHRA and SHRA policies and procedures, regulations and guidelines for contracts and grants is also preferred. In addition, previous experience of working with students, as well as familiarity with Spanish language is also highly preferred.

Print Friendly

New Roots Wins Elizabeth B. Mason Project Award from Oral History Association


See original post from our friends at UNC Global here.

New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Voices from Carolina del Nortehas received the 2016 Elizabeth B. Mason Project Award in the major projects category from the Oral History Association(OHA), an organization committed to the development of oral history.

The award, which recognizes outstanding oral history projects, will be presented to New Roots at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Long Beach, California, on Oct. 13. Winners receive an award plaque and one-year memberships in the OHA.

New Roots is a research initiative of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that documents the migration, settlement and integration of Latino communities in North Carolina through oral history. Founded in 2007, the project has generated over 160 interviews, with around 40 new interviews conducted annually by bilingual staff and students. The interviews address various themes, such as migrant experience, adult education, youth activism, language and communication.

“It is an honor to be selected for this award, which also honors the many people who have shared their stories and are shaping North Carolina history. We hope the archive will serve as a valuable resource for Latino communities, students and researchers now and in the future,” said Hannah Gill, director of New Roots.

The initiative is led by the Latino Migration Project, a joint project of the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA) and the Center for Global Initiatives, in collaboration with the Southern Oral History Program and UNC Libraries. New Roots also receives support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education.

“We’re delighted by the success of the New Roots initiative and are grateful for this external recognition of their work,” said Louis Perez Jr., director of ISA. “New Roots exemplifies the kind of engaged scholarship that’s possible at UNC, which has a long tradition of interdisciplinary and collaborative research.”

Since 1966, the OHA has helped foster best practices for oral history and oral historians. In 1993, the organization established a series of awards to recognize outstanding achievements in oral history, with results announced during its annual meetings in October.

Print Friendly

Quiceno wins prestigious 2016 CLASP award for K-12 educators


CLASP award winner Ana Quiceno (left) with outreach coordinator Emily Chávez

Spanish teacher Ana Quiceno knows the value of learning a second language. That’s why she not only teaches linguistic skills, but also works to expose students to cultural content and contexts beyond the classroom.

“Spanish is more than just tacos,” said Quiceno. “When students learn Spanish, I want them to know they are learning something useful for their life.”

Quiceno nurtures just that; students in her classes not only practice the language, but they also read and analyze works from diverse authors and connect with peers in Latin American countries over Skype. In analyzing texts from different authors, she encourages students to think about not only the author’s point of view, but also their own behavior and expectations.

“I want students to know there is a world and it is waiting for them, and they can look for it by themselves,” said Quiceno.
Quiceno herself knew what she wanted to be since she was 11-years-old. Coming from a family of educators, she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. When an opportunity through the VIF teaching program came, which encourages global educator development through cultural exchange, Quiceno made the move from her home in Colombia to Siler City, NC.

Since 2012, Quiceno has been a Spanish teacher at Jordan-Matthews, a Title I public high school. Siler City is a town whose Latino population grew exponentially in the 1990s and early 2000s. Latinos now make up around half of the overall population of just over 8,000. Quiceno’s passion to connect students to both the local and global communities in her classes caught the attention of Emily Chávez, outreach coordinator at the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and a member of the Consortium in Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP).

Chávez nominated Quiceno for the 2016 NC Consortium in Latin American Studies Program award for K-12 educators, which recognizes excellence and innovation in the teaching of Latin American and/or the Caribbean among elementary, middle, and high school teachers. Chávez said Quiceno’s creative lessons encouraged not only her Latino students to “take pride in their ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” but they also encouraged other students to “develop respect, appreciation, and interest in the histories and cultures of their Latino peers and neighbors.”

Quiceno’s clear passion for teaching and her students impressed the Consortium in Latin American Studies Program committee as she was named the winner.

“I was so excited [to win the award],” said Quiceno. “I am proud to teach my students, and want them to know that what they learn daily really matters.”

About the Consortium in Latin American Studies Program (CLASP)
CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities include the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom.

Read more: Click- Official CLASP announcement


Print Friendly

ISA Director on the revival of racialized representations of Cuba in travel relations with the US

The North American Congress on Latin America featured an article by ISA director Louis A. Pérez, Jr. who discusses the transformation of “people-to-people” into an element of U.S.-Cuba policy. Louis A. Pérez, Jr. is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and is the author of, among others, Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos (UNC Press 2011) and The Structure of Cuban History: Meanings and Purposes of the Past (UNC Press 2013), which has just been reissued in paperback. Thank you to our friends at the North American Congress on Latin America for publishing. See the original post below or click here

“Visit Cuba, Before It Changes!”

As relations with Cuba move toward normalization, the transformation of “people-to-people” travel into an element of U.S.-Cuba policy revives old racialized representations of the island and its people.

Louis A. Pérez, Jr.

Over the course of 55 years, the United States has pursued change in Cuba with implacable tenacity and almost single-minded resolve: one armed invasion, scores of assassination plots, years of covert operations, and decades of punitive economic sanctions.  An embargo—“harsher than on any other countries in the world,” as Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson acknowledged in 2015—was designed with malice of forethought: to inflict adversity upon the Cuban people and deepen Cuban discontent through economic privation, in the hope that hardship would bestir the island’s people to rise up and, in one fell swoop, precipitate the overthrow of the Castro government.

Starting in 2014, the Obama administration introduced a new lucidity to U.S. policy—one informed with a more nuanced appreciation of the perils attending political change obtained through economic collapse. The United States’ 55-year-old policy had not worked, the President affirmed outright on December 17, 2014:  “In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”

In principle, Obama’s words represented a remarkable paradigm shift. However, in practice, the President’s actions have thus far been less a change of ends than a change in means. That is to say, a reset of U.S. strategies for change: if not change of regime, in the short run, then change in the regime, in the long run. For 55 years, the United States had insisted upon political change in Cuba as the precondition to normal diplomatic relations. Under the Obama administration, that policy has been turned on its head, establishing that normal diplomatic relations are the condition to obtain political change. “Through engagement,” President Obama explained, “we have a better chance of bringing out change than we would have otherwise.” He elaborated on this when speaking with CNN’s Candy Crowleylater in December 2014: “If we engage,” Obama said, “we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there’s going to be some generational change in that country… I think we should seize it, and I intend to do so.”

The new policy of “engagement” contemplates political change induced from within, not imposed from without, and is a strategy intended to “empower” the Cuban peoplethemselves to act as agents of change.  According to Assistant Secretary Jacobson, “We would hope to bring about change in the regime. And simultaneously, we would hope to empower the Cuban people to be able to make that change.”

People-to-People’s Subversive Intent

Few “change-in-the-regime” strategies have attracted as much policy interest and public attention as the expansion of “people-to-people” travel initiatives. Originally conceived during the 1990s, the idea of people-to-people was informed with subversive intent, as the United States was persuaded that an expanded U.S. presence in Cuba would serve to diffuse American values among the Cuban people, and thereupon to hasten political change. As Fidel Castro warned in 1995, “They seek to penetrate us… weakening us… and destabilizing the country.”

In 2007, then Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) called American travelers the U.S.’s “most potent weapon.” (In October 2000, Dodd maintained that “There is no better way… to communicate America’s values…than by unleashing the average American men and women to demonstrate, by daily living, what our great country stands for, and the contrasts between what we stand for and what exists in Cuba today.”) Americans “will take new ideas, new values and real change for Cuba,” predicted Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) in January 2015. “We’ll see a dramatic change in Cuba if there is more travel.” Indeed, American travel to Cuba has today assumed something of a strategic imperative.  As Vicki Huddleston, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, affirmed in her 2010 book Learning to Salsa: New Steps in U.S.-Cuba Relations (co-authored with Cuban-American diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual), “People-to-people contacts… are a fundamental tool serving a new strategic perspective: change in Cuba must come from within.”

In recent years, the Obama administration has revived people-to-people initiatives and acted quickly to expand authorized travel Cuba. Throughout 2015, the Treasury Department implemented new measures to facilitate licensed travel to Cuba. In early 2016, a U.S.-Cuba civil aviation agreement authorized as many as 110 daily flights between the United States and Cuba, potentially increasing the 4,000 charter flights annually to as many as 45,000 scheduled flights, a “key element” within the President’s broader policy of normalizing relations. U.S. travelers were thus enlisted as agents of change, whose very authorizations to travel to Cuba were granted in function of U.S. policy.

People-to-people programs are licensed by the Treasury Department, and authorization is based on whether the tour itinerary “is structured to enable participants to have direct and individual people-to-people dialogues with the Cuban people and how the trip will allow for such dialogues.”  Until March 2016, people-to-people programs were limited to group tours organized by travel agencies and tour operators, offered under the auspice— per Treasury Department regulations— of “an organization that sponsors and organizes educational exchanges,” including college alumni associations, local chambers of commerce, museums, and educational groups, among others.  In March 2016, the Treasury Department expanded licensed travel to allow “individual people-to-people travel,” with the proviso that the “traveler engages in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

Selling Cuba

“Selling Cuba” has become a subject of expanding interest among travel agents and marketers at travel conventions and in trade publications—often for exorbitant prices.Changing U.S. policy has propelled Cuba travel into a growth industry.  Scores of licensed tour providers, travel agencies, and tour consultants compete for institutional clients and individual customers in an increasingly crowded, but highly lucrative, market environment.  “Selling Cuba” has become a subject of expanding interest among travel agents and marketers at travel conventions and in trade publications—often for exorbitant prices. In fact, a host of survey companies are presently engaged in ascertaining the demographics of prospective American travel to Cuba.

The fiction that the people-to-people program is a form of “cultural engagement” and not “tourism” is assiduously maintained. In fact, something of a colonial anthropology, as if taken from tourist ethnographies of the nineteenth century, informs the discourse of people-to-people engagement, with Cubans presented as a people with exotic charm who are eager to please American visitors.  “The natives welcome Americans with open arms,” one travel writer has assured visitors to the islands. The Cultural-Explorations tour has promised travelers “a local perspective” through “interactions with welcoming natives.” According to a tour offered by Arizona State University, Cubans are a “warm and friendly people,” who approach life with “an ability to dance and sing even in the most difficult times.”

The most commonplace facets of everyday life, ordinary people—boys and girls, the elderly and the ill, farmers and fishermen—going about their daily lives in ordinary ways, have been incorporated into the sightseeing itinerary of many people-to-people tour operators. The Friendly Planet tour includes a visit to a Havana primary school for travelers “to interact with children in their classroom.” InsightCuba has promised the opportunity to “indulge and laugh and play with Cuban school children” and the Travel Experts tour visits a Cuban daycare center and holds out the promise that “the children may even delight you with a song or two.” A Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce tour includes a visit to Pinar del Río, “where you will get to know an authentic tobacco farmer [and] enjoy a visit inside the farmer’s home,” which is touted as an “exciting encounter” and “a superb opportunity to witness up-close how Cuban families live in a rural setting.” The Travel Experts tour of Pinar del Río notes:  “Before you know it, you’ll be part of the family and will be made to feel very special.” A recent tour offered by Arizona State promotes a visit to a daycare center where “children can share stories with you and you can relate through stories of your children or grandchildren,” while the Road Scholar tour offers multiple opportunities to engage in people-to-people interactions.  In Havana: the opportunity to “meet members of either a Senior Center or Down’s Syndrome community center to share conversation and perhaps exchange a song or two.” In Cienfuegos: “At the Farmers Market, try making purchases with Cuban Pesos to understand the cost of living for Cubans and learn how much basic necessities cost.” In rural Camagüey: “Meet the teachers and students of the two room schoolhouse and discuss how education works in this remote village.  Visit the humble homes and meet the village families.  Try a few words of Spanish and perhaps share a few moments of true intercultural exchange.”

Cuba’s “locals” are represented as a curious lot, for whom the traveler is asked in advance to exercise benign forbearance.  “Some locals dress outrageously,” a tour with the University of Arizona tour alerted travelers, “[They] pose eagerly for camera-ladened tourists.  Of course, after a click, they eagerly reach their hand for a peso.”

In all of these descriptions of Cuba that are offered by people-to-people travel programs, Cuba appears as a place of the mysterious Other—at once a post-colonial and post-revolutionary destination, a country previously prohibited and proscribed to which Americans suddenly have access, and a “long-forbidden island” with “forbidden shores.” The prospective traveler is asked to contemplate Cuba variously as “a mystery to most Americans;” “a mystical place;” an “exotic location,” and “one of the world’s most enigmatic countries.”

The Cuban Time Warp Trope

To visit Cuba is to experience changelessness, to move among a people in the throes of hard times, contemplating the prospects of better times and improved circumstances, to be sure, the very imminence of which threatens to spoil Cuba as a sightseeing experience. Time is of the essence. “Want a chance to see Cuba before it changes forever?” the tour operator InsightCuba, recently asked its prospective customers.  “Better run!” Meanwhile, the GeoEx tour predicted in 2015 that Cuba’s “culture will inevitably change,” and emphasized that “the time to go is now!” Similarly the words used by Cuba Explore tours are almost rhapsodic: “Imagine a nation still pristine and innocent—where strip malls, billboards, neon lights, McDonald’s and Starbucks are absent.  One-in-ten cars are more than 60 years old.  Cuba’s like a time machine with the dial set to the 1950s…There’s a real feeling that everyone wants to get there before it changes too much…”

The narrative of changelessness allows too the inclusion of arrested economic development as a reasonable sightseeing attraction: Cuba as a “time warp” in which to delight in the sensation of time having stood still in a neo-colonial past. Havana “looks firmly stuck in the 1950s,” CNN has marveled.  “Vintage cars roam the streets, the landscape is absent of strip malls and global chains, and the buildings—though crumbling—hark back to a grander time.  It is these throwbacks that lend Havana, the country’s capital, an undeniable charm.  A charm that, some worry, is in peril once the U.S. embargo lifts.” To visit Cuba is to enter a time capsule, to experience life as it was lived a half century ago.

The implication is that to visit Cuba is to time travel, an opportunity to see a people actually living real life in the past, making do and getting by as they did more than a half-century ago. Not a few contemplate the future of Cuba preserved in the past as a living and lived-in museum, to be experienced as a way of life on the cusp of extinction. Perhaps the promise of Cuban resurrection is to be fulfilled with Cuba as a parody of itself, preserved in the cinematography of the American imagination as an “atmospheric” condition, all of course to the deepening dismay of many Cubans—circumstances that, as Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez (writing for the New York Times) indicated, produce among Cubans “the annoying experience of being viewed as something like an exotic species.”

The “frozen-in-time” metaphor serves as the narrative logic through which to delight in Cuban adversity— “crumbling and captivating,” is how one exulted traveler put it recently. The University of North Carolina tour of Old Havana has promised “a step back in time, to observe the neglect.” Rough Guides offers a tour to Centro Habana, “full of broken sewage systems, potholed roads and piles of rubbish,” and adds that the city “It isn’t for the faint-hearted.” Meanwhile, a program run by Bryant University describes the island as a place of “faded glamour,” that is “now a shadow of its former prestige,” and “a world where time is held captive.”

This is Cuba mired in circumstances of adversity as a photogenic object of the sightseer gaze, and an island living under impoverished material circumstances whose plight as a historical condition offers a visitors’ attraction. An exultant Steven Rattner, writing for the New York Times, traveled to Cuba to bear witness to an “economy crumbling,” and discerned in Cuban prostration a cautionary tale that he wanted his own children to witness up-close: “I wanted my children to see firsthand the ineffectiveness of socialism at creating prosperity.”

All in all, the moral of their story is simple: capitalism works while socialism does not.  Therein lays the supposed promise of U.S. capitalism: to rescue the island from the follies of Cuban socialism. The traveler is expected to offer words of wisdom, to point out to Cubans the error of their ways and tout the virtues of capitalist system. This is not to suggest insidious intent or mischievous purpose.  On the contrary, Americans—mostly—of good will, eager to be helpful during times of adversity, will offer counsel about this and make suggestions about that, all with the best of intentions: something of a “people-to-people” capitalist exchange. All in all, the moral of their story is simple: capitalism works while socialism does not.  At the “people-to-people” level, this is seductive stuff, particularly in an era ofcuentapropismo—that is, a time when small Cuban entrepreneurs are launching their own new businesses and making a go of it in an emerging market environment, with a little bit of help from their new-found friends.

Adversity serves as an opportunity for Americans to understand “the very real challenges [Cubans] face every day,” a tour operated by Penn State has suggested. Classic Journeys has satisfied the voyeurist impulse by enabling travelers the opportunity to “shop in the local [Havana] markets on a typical Cuban’s budget for food;” and Friendly Planet’s tours visit “alocal ration store,” where the Cuban host “will explain the system of rationing.” Travelers on the Arizona State tour visited a small farm, an experience to provide insight into “the challenges” faced due to the “lack of modern equipment.”

Beyond depicting the Cuban economy as stuck in a ruinous past, tour itineraries have also prepared Americans to anticipate Cubans as needy recipients of Americans largess, thereby discharging the humanitarian purpose for which the Treasury Department authorized travel.  Penn State has provided numerous sightseeing occasions in which to enact the humanitarian exchange and encourage donations: a visit to a maternity center, a primary school, and a senior citizen center. An environment-friendly Cornell tour to Pinar del Río provides the occasion to “plant a tree with your fellow travelers.”

These voyeuristic experiences of adversity provide an opportunity to further a U.S.-centric narrative that disseminates U.S. values. These are, it bears repeating, the very function of the visitsWhat is sinister about these efforts is not the donations themselves, but the auspices under which they are presented. These voyeuristic experiences of adversity provide an opportunity to further a U.S.-centric narrative that disseminates U.S. values. These are, it bears repeating, the very function of the visits, and while it would be facile to suggest that these “dialogues” occur on every occasion, of course, there is no doubt that these interactions do occur. People-to-people travel, International Expeditions explains to prospective travelers, requires participation “in cultural experiences and direct contact with the Cuban people to learn more about them and their culture, while they [Cubans] learn about the American way of life.” Bloomberg News recently reported on U.S. contact with ordinary Cubans by contending that “Fueling [Cubans’] rising expectations is a powerful subversive act.”

These are threshold moments, a time in which peoples of both countries are in the process of renewing familiarities.  It would be an extraordinary turn of events indeed if, after 60 years, Americans presume to renew their relationship with Cubans with a combination of the arrogance and ignorance that informed their attitudes during the pre-Revolution period of 1950s. But to date, that has largely been the case as people-to-people tourism revives the tropes reminiscent of “First World meets Third World” narratives. Only now, to such narratives is added a triumphalist claim: that a change of U.S. policy will rescue Cubans from the straits into which they have plunged themselves.  These are the early formative moments of the next phase of an evolving and complex Cuba-U.S. history, but they represent an inauspicious beginning indeed.

Print Friendly