Saturday, November 14, 2009

The best thing (about Cuba) I've read (in Spanish) this week (I): Haroldo Dilla - "Cuba: algo mas que un simple chancleteo"

Today I will inaugurate a new weekly (mas o menos) feature on my blog.

Some of the best writing about Cuba is published not surprisingly en cubano (as famed Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen liked to say) and thus largely inaccessible to my unfortunately many, many Yuma compatriotas (para no decir companeros), who do not easily read, speak, or understand the language (yet).

Until they learn cubano (hasta cuando?), I will help the cause of inter-American understanding (entre nuestra America y la otra America, como diria Marti) by highlighting one story, essay, blog, article, song, speech, joke, etc. not available in English.

While I can't promise a full translation (I do still have a day job), I will provide a quick summary and link to the original source (en cubano).

Ojo: My highlighting of a "best thing" should not be taken as an unequivocal endorsement of its content, sentiment, judgment, or political positioning. Instead, I aim to draw attention to what I consider important, thoughtful, serious contributions to critical dialogue and debate (whether I agree with them or not) - often from heterodox points of view.

So, here goes...
Haroldo Dilla - "Cuba: algo mas que un simple chancleteo"*
"Cuba: Something More Than Mere Gutter Talk"

Pull quote: "But in this 'ciberchancleteo' Yoani rescues two ideas that are vital for the future of Cuba. Above all, she defends her right, as well as that of her fellow bloggers and of the many millions of Cubans (including exiles), to live in their homeland, freely express their opinions, and work to realize their goals. In the second place, she calls attention to the duty of those in positions of power to open up public spaces to all opinions, above all when these same officials have used public spaces (in this case nothing more and nothing less than a university in Miami) to sloppily disqualify those who already suffer from repression and stigmatization by the reigning power."




Dilla begins this essay (published on the website of the Dominican newspaper 7 dias (7dias.com.do) on November 8, 2009), by defining the "elitist and arrogant" term "chancleteo" as a reference used by "presumptuous intellectuals" to identify the culture and language of Cuba's flip-flop (chancleta) wearing "poorest and least educated classes." Dilla continues, these are "just those people intellectuals study and say they admire as representatives of Cubanness, but from afar."
After a quick recap of what I will call "la polemica del ciberchancleteo" between a "well-known Cuban intellectual, director of the prestigious magazine Temas" (Rafael Hernandez) and blogger Yoani Sanchez (chronicled by me here), Dilla declares, "Yoani won - she pitched a no-hitter (dar nueve ceros)."
For Dilla, this episode is evidence of what he calls "a Cuban society transitioning through a final phase of its post-revolutionary period, that is to say a phase in which the revolution ... ceases to be even a temporal reference." While Dilla categorizes both Temas and Generacion Y as "post-revolutionary cultural products," he goes on to make a number of other provocative, incisive, and quite accurate and original points about the two publications (Temas and Generacion Y) and personages (Hernandez and Sanchez).
Some of his best points (in my translation and paraphrasing)...

Temas/Hernandez: "The director of Temas is a solid Cuban intellectual who has in his favor the undeniable merits of having addressed relevant topics in the national intellectual debate, broken through obstacles allowing better communication with North American academics, and maintianed such an important space that is the magazine Temas itself. He has also succeeded at this always with a sophistocated theoretical eclecticism where Marxism never was an important ingredient.
"But all this has come at a price, the greatest of which has been being a party to the political pact that grants to only certain designated intellectuals the right to travel, make money, say an occassional heresey, and have an e-mail address. In exchange, these intellectuals agree not to overstep certain limits and - especially important - agree not to attempt to spread their pathetic priveleges to the rest of the Cuban population.
"In attacking the bloggers and the debate that they promote, the director of Temas pays his implicit political toll of fidelity in the pact that he knows well. But at the same time he is able to defend the critical and analytical space of his intellectual project..."


Generacion Y/Sanchez: "Yoani, for her part, is a permanent construction. She constructs herself with surprising abilities and courage, one day exhibiting the humility of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, while the next day showing the mystical aggressiveness of Joan of Arc. She is also constructed by her detractors, who attack her with epithets so offensive that they end up provoking sympathy for her even from those of us who don't always agree with her. Finally, she is constructed by those who dote on her transnational blog, filling her chest with international medals (most coming from the global right-wing), which undoubtedly her talent could deserve in the future, but for the moment her work does not.
"...Her messages reflect a simplistic sweetness and a not-so-memorable style, but I recognize that Yoani is not writing for me, nor do I think she is interested in doing so. Her themes, which recreate various scenes from daily life, are aimed at the Cuban youth, who are overwhelmed by transcendent political slogans but simply aspire to more discrete goals during their brief time opon this earth. She does not promise a glorious future, only a hedonistic present. She does not write for the intellect but for the emotions. Her message is genuinely post-revolutionary.

"But in this 'ciberchancleteo' Yoani rescues two ideas that are vital for the future of Cuba. Above all, she defends her right, as well as that of her fellow bloggers and of the many millions of Cubans (including exiles), to live in their homeland, freely express thier opinions, and work to realize their goals.
In the second place, she calls attention to the duty of those in positions of power to open up public spaces to all opinions, above all when these same officials have used public spaces (in this case nothing more and nothing less than a university in Miami) to sloppily disqualify those who already suffer from repression and stigmatization by the reigning power."

*Thanx to my new colleague Katrin Hansing at Baruch College for the head's up on this article.

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