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Fleeing the Cuban Revolution|Part II–Nina Wei

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Cubamerican Poster

Over the past week, I successfully incorporated an interview and a documentary, Cubamerican, into my analysis of the Cuban Revolution’s impact on Cuban Americans. Inspired by my last post examining the history of Cuban immigrants to the U.S. and the diverse social and political affiliations within Cuban American communities, I decided to interview T. Maria, who came to the U.S. from Cuba with her family at the age of two, and gain second-hand understanding of Cuban refugees’ experience during the Revolution. Cubamerican also offered me insights into specific Cuban Americans’ interpretations of their identity as an emigrant in the U.S. This post will be less informational than previous ones, centering on my reflections while serving as a conclusion to the unit on Cuba.

I designed the interview questions to gear towards learning about T. Maria’s struggles with her identity and experiences that altered her perception of Cuba. T. Maria first highlighted an integral part to her: being a Cuban “refugee” who holds onto Cuban traditions rather than an “immigrant” who is more willing to integrate into American society. Identifying as a refugee who fled under oppression during the Revolution, T. Maria depicts her embrace of her Cuban roots and constant curiosity towards her mother country. While T. Maria was growing up in a Delaware community where her family was the only Cuban-American household, the foreign culture and political views that were vastly different from her family’s challenged T. Maria’s perception of herself. She figured from her family’s preservation of Cuban traditions, music, and food, as well as her family’s hatred towards President Kennedy, that she was indeed raised in a “Cuban bubble,” isolating her from the wider American community. However, she later realized that despite these efforts to retain her Cuban identity, she was different from the Cubans who grew up in Cuba. By corresponding with her cousin in Cuba and learning the differences between the culture in her family and in her cousin’s, T. Maria found herself in an identity crisis, unable to determine whether she identified as Cuban or American. It was not until when she became a mother that she recognized herself as a Cuban raised in America(Alonso).

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Iglesias, Screencap of ‘¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?’

The documentary also narrates similar struggles of Cuban refugees to the U.S. by including an interview with Steven Bauer, the lead actor in America’s first bilingual sitcom—¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?—which examines the lives of Cuban immigrants as they navigate their identities while being immersed in the American community. Bauer in Cubamerican shares that he was very similar to the character he starred as in his teenage years, who was convinced that he was different from Cubans who stayed in Cuba and was determined to be “American” by assimilating into American culture. However, the experience of performing in that sitcom and coming to understand those identity struggles through acting brought him the epiphany that it was possible to be Cuban without actually living in Cuba (00:39:11-00:41:16).

Besides grappling with cultural identities, I also furthered my exploration of generation gaps in Cuban-American communities last week. T. Maria explained that the most intense level of conflict existed between older generations and the understanding beginning to emerge among younger generations. For example, her view departed from her parents’ and older sisters’ on opening up Cuba as a way to foster peace between Cuba and the outside world. After traveling to Cuba this spring, T. Maria corroborated her perception of de-escalating tension among younger generations with her conversation with a bus driver in Cuba, Junior. Junior contrasted his parents excessive concern that American tourists would bring harm to Cuba with his firm belief that exposure to foreign cultures would benefit Cuba to a great extent. The importance of promoting forgiveness is also an essential theme in the documentary, as Orlando Diaz-Azcuy claims that promoting the understanding that conforming to Castro’s leadership was the only mechanism to survive for many Cubans is important to pacify conflicts arising within older generations between the Cuban emigrants and the Cubans who stayed (1:34:45-1:35:01). T. Maria also advocates respect and recognition of those who did not have the privilege to flee Castro’s oppressive regime as she recounts her sympathy towards Victor, a teacher she met on the Cuba trip who lived under the Revolution, when he shared the journey of his survival through the famine in the ‘60s with pride(Alonso).

Although I began the research focusing on mediating generational divide in Cuban-American families, it occurred to me that generation gaps also exist in Cuban families that stayed on the island. And that reconciling diverging views from different generations in native Cuban communities is of equal significance. Mutual understanding from both parties of the conflict would be the key to resolve misunderstandings that arose as a result of the Cuban Revolution. In addition, weaving their own identities living in environments filled with different cultural traditions is indeed a challenge for Cuban Americans, but also an art that inspires diversity and celebrates difference. Each person will decide which parts of the cultures they would like to blend into their own. Similarly, T. Maria expressed at the end of the interview, speaking from her role as a mother, that it is always her children’s freedom to decide on their identities and how much of their Cuban roots they desire to integrate into their characters(Alonso).

My research on the development of communism in Cuba and on the history of Cuban immigration to the U.S. served as context and a specific lens through which I could further develop my understanding of Castro’s interpretation of Marxist ideologies, his applications of communist ideals in  Cuban society, and the enduring effects of the Cuban Revolution. Castro’s nationalist identity combined with his turn towards the Soviet Union oriented Cuba in a communist direction, spurring radical changes that transformed Cuba and pressured around a million to take refuge in the U.S. Now, I have gained a deeper comprehension of communism in Cuba and its relevance to modern society through examining informational sources, an interview, and a documentary. I plan to complete the Cuba unit this week after reading a few excerpts from Waiting for Snow in Havana, and promptly start the next unit on communism in Cambodia.

Works Cited

Sources:

Alonso, Maria. Interview. 21 Oct. 2018.

Cubamerican. Directed by José Enrique Pardo, 2013.

Images:

Cubamerican Poster. 13 Jan. 2013. Projector & Orchestra, Tim Greiving, projectorandorchestra.com/cubamerican/. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

Iglesias, José A. Screencap of ‘¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?’. Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/article190855869.html. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

Fleeing the Cuban Revolution|Part I–Nina Wei

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Getty Images, Cuban and American Flags

To capture a firm understanding of the effects of Cuba’s Revolution on Cuban Americans, I decided to first explore the history of Cuban migration to the U.S. and the dynamics within Cuban American communities established in the U.S.. In the last three weeks, I focused my research on specific historical conditions that induced waves of Cubans to leave their country, the social makeup of the Cuban population involved in different migration movements, and potential factors that caused divisions within Cuban American communities.  This blog post and the following one will be devoted to sharing my interpretation of the Cuban Revolution and Castro’s Communist rule through the lens of Cuban Americans.

Since Castro’s overthrow of Batista’s regime in 1959, at least four major waves of Cuban immigration to the U.S. took place. Most of the fleeing Cubans who left Cuba were pressured to leave due to decaying economic conditions under the new government (Buffington, “Cuban”). The first wave involving 250,000 Cubans immigrants occurred immediately after Castro’s takeover in 1959 and continued until The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. As mentioned in my last post, Castro was determined to modernize the Cuban economy after claiming his authority by transferring private properties to communal ownership. On one hand, leading his government in this direction largely benefited the poor because of shared goods. On the other hand, Castro’s rule also disadvantaged the upper-middle-class by depriving them of their earned wealth. In addition to including former officials of the Batista government, the first wave therefore was dominated by mostly white, middle-aged, well-educated, and comparatively wealthy merchants, bankers, professors, and businesspeople (Cortés, Multicultural).

As a result of intensified U.S.-Cuban relationship after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the second wave of Cuban immigration to the U.S. began in 1965 and ended in 1973. Cuba allowed the U.S. to organize “Freedom Flights” that airlifted around 340,000 Cubans to Miami, Florida. This migration movement continued to be mainly composed of white and educated people from the middle class, many of whom were relatives of Cubans who had immigrated in the first wave(“Cuban Americans”). Aided by the Cuban Refugee Emergency Center in Miami, founded by President Eisenhower, many Cuban refugees gained assistance in finding employment, healthcare, and education(Cortés, Multicultural).

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1994 Cuban Refugees

 

The next influx of Cubans, known as the Mariel Boatlift, started in 1980 when Castro eliminated restrictions on fleeing Cubans who opposed his regime. These 125,000 refugees, also called “Marielitos,” had a different makeup than previous waves, containing significant numbers of  Afro-Cubans from lower and working classes. Castro’s efforts to sustain his Cuban model after the collapse of Soviet Union in the 1980s did not improve the faltering economy. As more Cubans sought opportunities across the shore, the fourth(and the newest) wave of immigrants reached southern Florida(Buffington, “Cuban”).

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McRae, Exploring Little Havana

The majority of Cubans from the four waves of immigration resided in Miami, Florida, establishing a vibrant and distinct community called “Little Havana.” Cuban Americans differ from other Latino communities in the U.S. and vary in their social and political affiliations. The first two waves were predominantly consisted of higher class and white Cubans, whereas the last two waves had majority of blue-collar laborers and black, the later immigrated Cuban Americans had more difficulties such as rejection and discrimination in adapting to lives in the U.S.(“Cuban Americans”). The immigrants during the last two waves were for the most part blue-collar and black and faced a great deal of difficulties and racism while trying to adapt to life in the U.S.

In addition to learning the social makeup of migrated population to the U.S., I gained insights to factors causing the generation gap within Cuban American communities; this was the field of my interest explained at the end of my last blog post. I discovered that the generational divide might have stemmed from varying political stances in immigrated Cuban families. First-generation Cuban immigrants advocated more staunchly for an anti-communist and conservative stance compared to second and third-generation Cuban Americans. This divide could be evidenced by voting patterns of Cuban Americans in recent decades. According to Buffington, Cuban Americans had the reputation to vote for the Republican Party throughout 1990s to early 2000s, with 70% of them voting for President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election and more than 78% of them supporting Republican candidates in 1998. However, from 2008, the statistics show that although older generations maintained allegiance to the Republicans, about 50% of Cuban Americans under the age of 30 chose to favor the Democratic Party. Also, in 2012, President Obama gained 47% of the votes from Cuban Americans, which was 10% higher than the Cuban American votes garnered in the 2008 election(“Cuban”).

I concluded from several sources that the tendency for older generations to support the Republican Party can be credited to the following factors. First, President Kennedy’s failure to dispose Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion diminished democratic support from immigrated Cuban Americans in the earlier waves of migration. Second, Bill Clinton’s decision to return the six-year-old Cuban refugee, Élian González, that was rescued at sea to his father in Cuba spurred dismay within Cuban American communities. Moreover, this article from 2014 demonstrates that Obama’s intent to normalize the diplomatic and economic relationship between Cuba and the United States upsets older-generation Cuban Americans. Martinez and Jacqueline contend that despite having great historical value, many senior Cuban-Americans strongly opposed Obama’s plan.

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Getty Images, Barack Obama and Raul Castro in 2016

Those who were most traumatized by the Cuban revolution were unaccompanied Cuban children airlifted to the U.S. through the U.S.-sponsored operation named Pedro Pan. The article quoted also Estela Bueno, a participant of the Pedro Pan at 15, explaining her belief that the younger generation had not seen or experienced the cruelty of Castro’s communist government, and that Obama’s intention was “an insult and a betrayal” to those Cuban refugees.

The generation gap becomes apparent as I studied the poll data and stories of Cuban-American communities. Castro’s revolution and turn towards communism was closely related to Cuban migration movements. The upper-middle-class escaped the island under publicization of their properties in earlier stages of immigration; the lower-class fled their homes seeking for economic opportunities abroad, and children were separated from their parents while striving to survive in a foreign community. The development of Communism in Cuba has shaped the Cuban American community to be diverse and divided. Varying social status and political views became obstacles to the community’s assimilation to the U.S. culture.

In next week’s post I will continue to examine the immediate and enduring effects of the Cuban Revolution on Cuban Americans. I am looking forward to strengthening my understanding of this topic by interpreting pieces of literature and conducting an interview, which will be different from my previous approach of analyzing informative reference sources.

Works Cited

Sources

Buffington, Sean T. “Cuban Americans.” Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, 3rd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2014, pp. 591-605. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3273300057/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=cdd95f91. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.

Cortés, Carlos E. Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia. Los Angeles, SAGE Publ., 2013.

“Cuban Americans.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, edited by Timothy L. Gall and Jeneen Hobby, 2nd ed., vol. 2: Americas, Gale, 2009, pp. 166-169. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX1839300147/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=6b28f6c7. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.

Martinez, Michael, and Jaqueline Hurtado. “Generation Gap: Renewed Ties Expose Painful Cuban-American Rift.” CNN, 2018 Cable News Network, 27 Dec. 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/27/world/americas/cuban-american-generation-gap/index.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

Images:

Getty Images. Barack Obama and Raul Castro in 2016. Fortune, 2018 Time, fortunedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/490519636.jpg. Accessed 28 Oct. 2018.

—. Cuban and American Flags. NBC Miami, 2018 NBCUniversal Media, http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Anti-Castro-Cuban-American-Lawmakers-See-a-Champion-in-Trump-413625483.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

McRae, Hunter. Exploring Little Havana’s Calle Ocho. The New York Times, 2018 The New York Times Company, http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2016/04/07/travel/exploring-little-havanas-calle-ocho/s/10MIAMI-slide-BLPH.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

1994 Cuban Refugees. Latinamericanstudies.org, http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/exile/balseros.jpg. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

Adoption of Communism in the Revolutionary Cuba–Nina

As mentioned in my last blog post, this week I will be sharing my research on the development of Communism in the context of Cuba. Over the last two weeks, I learned the overall historical background of the introduction, proliferation, and application of Communist ideals in Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Similar to my last post, I will first discuss in-depth my findings and then offer my reflection and a snapshot of my upcoming plan. Continue reading

Fundamental Theories of Communism–Nina

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In last week’s blog post, I introduced the main topic of my independent seminar “Comparative Research on Development of Communism” and briefly explained my passion for understanding reasons behind varying interpretations of Communism in three countries. A theme of my research will be analyzing historical narratives of those people who experienced Communist rule, with consideration of people living under the systems and those outside of the systems. But before starting to examine Cuba, I believe exploring the basics of the Marxist Theory and different Communist ideologies will prepare me for in-depth research on the three countries. This week, therefore, I began to learn the fundamental theories of Marxism, Communism in Europe, Communism in Latin America, and Maoism.

marx-eng5The founder of Marxism is the German Philosopher, Karl Marx, who belonged to the larger group of Western thinkers that brought new, secularized solutions to questions regarding the human prospects. Inspired to initiate progressive changes pertaining to issues within institutions in Germany, Marx was determined to pursue his path in the field of philosophy. While working as a journalist in Paris, a center of European radicalism,  Marx began his critique on the revolutionary history of France. He soon discovered the “agent” of revolutionary change that was subjected to economic oppression at the time–the proletariat(working class). Due to the private-property-based economy, workers were unable to achieve satisfaction or attain self-development. Marx criticized this alienation of workers’ products and their producers(estrangement)and integrated this theory to later writings with Friedrich Engels. The video in the link above further explains the working conditions in which the more workers worked, the less they gained. This situation propelled Marx’s desire to unite the laborers for a revolution. Marx and Engels asserted in The Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” According to them, historical process is propelled by class struggles through the evolution of modes of production. They together shaped an ideology of a socialist society and fundamentals of a communist society: devoid of a political state, private property, exchange, and an industrial middle class. But, this theory lacked practical accounts of actual operations in such a system.

The establishment of the Soviet regime in 1917 sparked the spread of communism across the European political sphere, forcing nations to decide whether to accept communism. Communism in Europe began to shift away from Marx’s and Engel’s original theory as the German Communist League collapsed in 1850. Non-Marxists include Peter Kropotkin, a Russian revolutionist who advocated for anarchism and elimination of state and Alexander Herzen, a Russian writer who suggested an agrarian form of socialism and galvanized the peasantry.

Lenin

The rise of Leninism was also a prominent aspect of the development of Communism in Europe. Vladimir Ilich Lenin offered his interpretation of Marxism, considered social circumstances in Russia, and proposed the necessity of a centrally organized party to evoke revolutionary consciousness among the uneducated workers and dedication to promoting active efforts to overturn the capitalist society.

 

Different from the European historical context, the adaptations of Communist systems in Latin America were caused by severe exploitation of the peasant population and an influx of European immigrants. 1890s Latin America instituted a sharply divided two-class structure, increasing productivity, attracting foreign investment and foreign immigrants. Ideas of Marxism also spread through the continent with the arrival of Italian, German, and Spanish immigrants. Starting from the 1930s, leftists parties that supported anti-American nationalism prospered, leading to U.S. intervention in Guatemala to overthrow lefist rule. 

338-0418221405-fidel-obamalikeAs Cuba successfully became the first socialist country in Latin America following the Cuban Revolution, a “Cuban Model” of Communism was born. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro, the government forbade any political dissidence, endorsed improvement policies in areas of health, education, and social mobilization, and employed Guerrilla warfare techniques. However, it is important to note that diverse forms of Communism existed in Latin America, differing largely because of the various historical backgrounds and level of development in the countries themselves.

MaoAnother expression of Marxist ideology is Maoism, which is a broad term that includes Mao Zedong’s  ideologies, political philosophy, and vision towards party leadership in China. Born in a peasant family, Mao was intrigued by tales of rebelling peasants against exploitative middle class and bureaucracy. He became a leading force in rejecting the old Confucian norms of the society which were based on set of social relationships that placed high value on age and order. As Mao witnessed the deterioration of Chinese society under Japanese incursions, he joined the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) during his time in Peking University. His northern expedition and defeat of militarist leaders earned Mao a prominent role in the party. Ambitious Mao adopted series of strategies such as mass mobilization, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s emphasis on upholding the peasant class as the driving force of revolution distinguished Maoism from ideologies of Marxism-Leninism that believed in the strength of the urban proletariat. His personal background, China’s historical context, and Mao’s charisma with his tactics of promoting his theory shaped Maoism.

I discovered through my research last week that various socialists and communist leaders around the world all strived to achieve the “perfect” society proposed by Marx and Engels, but the nature of the societies these political leaders lived under and strategies they adopted were distinct from Marxist communism. For example, Lenin applied the fundamentals of Marxist ideology to Russia and brought forth a system ruled by an active, organized party; Castro utilized his understanding of Marxism in developing his Cuban Model based on a central government against the U.S. and directing movements against a divided class structure; Mao implemented his experience in the peasant class into constructing an ideology mobilizing a revolution. The Marxist ideology is indeed only posed as a general formula and a visionary theory that requires other countries’ own adaptations based on their circumstances. Reading overviews of Communism in different areas this week strengthened my understanding of the reasons behind varying applications of Marxist Theory. I also learned to be more aware of the danger of overgeneralizing the term “Communism” because of the underlying diversity that is often overlooked. With this realization in mind, I would begin my research this week on Cuban Communism and its expression of the Marxist Theory in depth!

Citations:

Image:

Agastia, Dharma. Managing communist-phobia in Indonesia. The Jarkata Post, 3 Feb. 2017, http://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2017/02/03/managing-communist-phobia-in-indonesia.html. Accessed 10 Sept. 2018.

Berry, Sam. Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto. 22 July 2015.Communist Leaders. 2 June 2017. Steam Artwork, Valve Corporation, steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=938329002.

Vladimir Lenin. 31 Aug. 2017. marinaamaral, MARINA AMARAL, http://www.marinamaral.com/blog/2017/8/31/vladimir-lenin. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Rott, Ivan. Cuban communists approve landmark econ reforms. Freedom Phenix.com, Ernest Hancock, 18 Apr. 2011, http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/News/088028-2011-04-18-cuban-communists-approve-landmark-econ-reforms.htm. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Mao Zedong. Liberapedia, liberapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Mao_Zedong. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Video:

Karl Marx on Alienation. Produced by BBC Radio 4, 2015. Youtube, 2018 YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ4VzhIuKCQ. Accessed 23 Sept. 2018.

Sources:

Jian, Chen. “Maoism.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 1335-1341. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300450/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=24b05b85. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Megill, Allan. “Marxism: Overview.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 1357-1364. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300454/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=80088e12. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Rees, Tim. “Communism: Europe.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 414-421. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300151/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=18462c2e. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Wiarda, Howard J., and Esther M. Skelley. “Communism: Latin America.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 421-424. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300152/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=d26bb6c1. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.

Comparative Research on Development of Communism–Project Introduction-Nina

2017_02_03_20745_1486084902._largeMy inspiration for this independent study came from my last year’s classes. In the first semester of Hiroshima to 911, I dived into the Communism unit by examining development Communism in several countries and completing a thorough research paper on the Communist system in Nicaragua. When our class engaged in a harkness discussion on our findings, I was fascinated by the varying expressions of Communist ideology in different countries. In the second semester, I explored the North Korea Nuclear Crisis and the Israel-Palestine Conflict by analyzing each side’s narratives. From watching a documentary accounting The Mass Games in North Korea, comparing a timeline of the nuclear crisis produced by North Korea and the U.S., to understanding the discrepancy of historical narratives in the book Side by Side, I had the opportunity to deliberately assess both sides’ reasoning in depth and draft potential compromises to mediate the conflict through my work on Model Diplomacy. It was through the analysis of merits to claims suggested by both sides that I realized the importance of having an “open mind” when it comes to learning history. Continue reading