Transnational landscapes and the Cuban Diaspora
Andrews-Swann, Jenna Elizabeth
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This study explores the multiple meanings of landscape and the creation of place within the Cuban Diaspora. Landscape encompasses not only the external physical environment or a particular geographical space, but the concept also represents collections of personal experiences with, and memories linked to, various pieces of the physical environment. Diaspora is an association that is not restricted to a geographical place but formed by cultural nationalism shared by members of a transnational community. The research sites in this study are Moultrie, Georgia, and Miami, Florida. These sites were selected to represent some of the diversity (e.g. rural/urban, established/newly arrived) inherent in the Cuban Diaspora. In light of current scholarship on these themes and the issues facing members of the Cuban Diaspora today, the principal questions addressed in this study are: How are landscapes (re)created and given meaning at locations in the Cuban Diaspora? and How does the context of migration or exile affect the (re)creation of landscapes? To address the research questions, an integrated set of mixed ethnographic methods comprised of participant observation, interviews, life history collection, cognitive mapping, and archival research was used. Results show that the manner in which members of the Cuban Diaspora in the United States left Cuba indeed impacts their relationship with the island and how they experience Cubanidad, or Cubanness. Based on the data collected, many members of the Diaspora who were jailed or otherwise persecuted in Cuba tend to shy away from addressing volatile issues, such as Cuban politics or religion, and choose instead to (re)create a private sense of Cubanidad. Others, who left the island under less weighty circumstances, may more openly express their version of Cubanidad. While the former situation tends to confine Cubanidad to the home and to religious spaces, the latter leads to the (re)creation of a broader, more public Cuban landscape, replete with architecture, businesses, language, food, music, and art that combine to reflect a collective sense of Cubanidad and a more highly visible version of Cuban identity in the U.S. The goal of the dissertation is to contribute a new element to current anthropological research on the transnational experience by considering people’s connections to landscapes. Landscape is a particularly useful concept for studying the ways transnationalism is embodied as it represents a highly personalized version of, and interaction with, one’s surroundings, including natural and built environments as well as the memories attached to those. The Cuban diaspora in the U.S. represents an especially interesting setting for research on transnationalism since the U.S. has only recently begun to relax its long-standing travel restrictions that limit the frequency and duration of émigré’s return visits to the island, as well as Cuban residents’ visits to the U.S. Because of these restrictions, transnationalism, and membership in the Diaspora community more generally, has been enacted without frequent access to the home landscape. Even with intermittent access, many members of the Cuban diaspora refuse to claim contemporary Cuba as a homeplace because the island they remember has ceased to exist under Fidel Castro’s control.