[Marxism] Cuba perspectives, from Columbus to Castro (book review)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Feb 16 12:46:41 MST 2004

(The first name of Aviva Chomsky's father is Noam...)

The Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Feb. 15, 2004  

Cuba perspectives, from Columbus to Castro
Ambitious anthology examines health, education, 
Catholicism, dance, music, film and literary cultures.

THE CUBA READER: History, Culture, Politics.

Edited by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr and Pamela Maria
Smorkaloff. Duke University. 712 pages. $26.95.

Although you might know the Pete Seeger popularization of
Guantanamera in the United States -- ''Yo soy un hombre
sincero'' -- you may not know that it came from a poem
written by Jose Marti, considered by many to be the father
of Cuba. ''In exile in the United States,'' the editors of
The Cuba Reader write, ``he successfully forged alliances
and developed the ideologies of a popular antiracist,
anti-imperialist nationalism that still has resonance for
Cubans today.''

Marti's poem and some of his other writings are included in
this ambitious and impressive anthology, a sweeping
collection of source materials by and about Cubans both on
the island and living in other countries. The editors --
Aviva Chomsky, professor of history and coordinator of
Latin American Studies at Salem State College; Barry Carr,
director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at
LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia; and Pamela
Maria Smorkaloff, director of Latin American and Latino
studies at Montclair State University -- have wisely chosen
songs, paintings, photographs, short stories, essays,
speeches, government reports, cartoons and newspaper
articles that span Cuban history.

So much valuable material in one place can be overwhelming,
but the editors have arranged their selections into time
periods that correspond with some of Cuba's major
historical turning points, such as the struggle for
independence from Spain and the Cuban Revolution. The book
is mercifully chronological, beginning with a look at the
island's original inhabitants, the Ciboney and later the
Taino, people who left no written accounts but whose
cultures have been reconstructed by anthropologists and

When Christopher Columbus ''discovered'' Cuba in 1492, one
of his scribes recorded in the ship's log book, "The
Admiral says he had never seen a more beautiful country. It
was covered with trees right down to the river and these
were lovely and green and different from ours, and each
bore its own fruit or flowers." Columbus then went ashore
and found the homes of a couple of fishermen, who fled in

And they were smart to flee, the editors conclude. Things
were never the same afterward, as Cuba endured rule by the
Spanish. Of the original 100,000 Indians living in Cuba at
the time of Columbus, only 5,000 remained 40 years later.

The forests that extended to the river would also
disappear, replaced by sugar and coffee plantations worked
by slaves. Slavery would last some 300 years on the island.
The Cuba Reader contains fascinating accounts by slaves,
including an excerpt written in the early 1800s by poet and
house slave Juan Francisco Manzano. He writes about his
frequent whippings, often in the presence of his mother. He
suffered even more anguish when she was punished for trying
to help him.

The Cuba Reader contains not only a selection of the
writings and speeches of Castro and but also works by
Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara and other revolutionaries. The last
two sections of the book focus on Cuba and the modern
world, with contributors tackling feminism, Santeria and
Havana Jews among other topics. There is an interesting
sampling of photos and stories by members of the Venceremos
Brigade, Americans who went to Cuba to help cut cane at the
invitation of the Cuban government. The book also contains
several essays on the cinema. Julio Garcia Espinosa's
critique of Cuban film, ''For an Imperfect Cinema,'' is
reprinted here, and it's easy to see why it is regarded as
a classic.

What The Cuba Reader does extraordinarily well is to reveal
the nuances and complexity of the Cuban experience. All
shades of politics are here, and they infuse Cuban dance,
music, film and religion. Who, indeed, is a Cuban? the
editors ask. Perhaps a Cuban is our fictional narrator of
Guantanamera, who sings ``I come from everywhere, and I am
going everywhere.''

Susan Fernandez is a writer in Bradenton, Fla.

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