Gratitude and Openings
by Cindy García
A decolonial feminist publication that strives to be methodologically queer, non-hierarchical, and anti-racist takes time, especially across languages, cultures, and time zones during a global pandemic, a Trump administration that incited an insurrection, a neighbohood on fire after police killed George Floyd, and as Cubans continue to grapple with the strangling effects that the U.S. blockade, food and medicine shortages, and anti-Black racism have on everyday life.
How to expand ways of navigating both structural and everyday life racism? How to further unfold the possibilities of shared spaces for Black, Latinx, Black Latinx knowledge and solidarity? What tools and ways of thinking are available outside of capitalism and to what degree do they activate in the United States? And how could we share in Cuba what we have learned while living in our U.S. neighborhoods? The framework I would like to use is not one that places capitalism and communism, the U.S. and Cuba into a binary. I’m interested in the ways that anti-racist activist praxis crosses neighborhoods and creates intersectional relationships. The transnational relationships are not formed outside of power. The United States has enforced a blockade against Cuba since 1962, and this also permeates what is possible in everyday life. My focus is on the social as it is entangled with the structural. Maritza Arango Montalvo, the coordinator of Proyecto La Muñeca Negra, has said to me that anti-racism “es un trabajo conjunto en el nivel social.” Anti-racism is joint work at the social level. Contours amplifies this joint work in digital space.
I would like to thank those who so generously shared their time, knowledge, connections, and friendship with my daughters and I as we lived in the neighborhoods of Cuba. We would like to thank members of the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente (RBA) Coordination group: Martiza López McBean, Damayanti Matos Abreu, Idelsi Bárbara Alfonso Sandrino, and Roberto Zulueta Zulueta. The RBA International Communications Coordinator Geoffroy Delaforcade who helped to open many doors. We would also like to thank our comrades in ASERE for sharing their knowledge, and especially thanks to Louis Seyler for sharing his photographs. The people and projects affiliated with the RBA network highlighted in this issue: Margarita Montalvo and Martiza Arango Montalvo of La Muñeca Negra; Raúl “Kimbo” Dominguez and Yudandia of La Marina; Myrna Padrón Dickson and Siria González of La Casa Tomada mirArte. In particular, I would like to thank Moraima López McBean, Maritza’s sister, who spent many mornings on her patio explaining to me the cultural, historical, and political contexts of Cuba and introducing me to neighbors in Balcón Arimao.
Every article in this edition underwent an intentional collective process of critique. Guest Editor Martiza López McBean and the RBA coordination read over every essay written by all of the Cuban contributors before sending them to Maxine and I. Along with the algorithm that powers Google, I roughly translated the essays into English so that Maxine and I could edit them for meaning together, since Maxine’s dominant language is English. We would then send back our questions to Maritza who would distribute them to each member of the coordination who was a liaison to each of the experiences. Idelsi consulted with Myrna and Siria at the Casa Tomada mirArte, Damayanti consulted with Kimbo and Yudania of La Marina, and Maritza and Roberto consulted with Martiza A. and Margarita of La Muñeca Negra. When revisions were ready, we started the process once more. Enormous gratitude to Assistant Editor Devon Severson for helping to edit drafts of the experiences as part of her Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program project at the University of Minnesota, and for translating, editing, and standardizing elements of the articles across the publication. Amilcar Ortíz helped to edit the writings in Spanish; his experiences in both Cuba and the United States strengthened this collaboration immensely. Maxine and I also carefully read the essays written by the RBA and held virtual meetings with them over each essay. They carefully read over the essays that Maxine and I produced. Virtual meetings consisted of rigorous group text message correspondence through WhatsApp. Thank you to all who participated in this publication for your incredible patience and perseverance.
The University of Minnesota has supported this project in multiple ways. They helped to fund this project in the early stages with a Grand Challenges Interdisciplinary Research Award entitled, “Displacement, Dispossession, Belonging, and Embodiment: Co-creating Translocal Sciences and Arts of Storytelling for Justice.” I was invited to join in this collaborative undertaking by Roozbeh Shirazi and Kristine Miller, benefiting from their early thinking around transnational activations towards justice. The insights of Richa Nagar were crucial to the grant’s overall framing. I thank this team for their deep attention and critical insights to the way this project unfolded in Cuba and in relation to their own sites of research in Paris and Minneapolis. The overarching goal of the larger Grand Challenges project was to co-create global and translocal understandings of displacement, dispossession, embodiment and belonging in relation to one another while also articulating new possibilities of social justice through mutually trusting long-term partnerships. A University of Minnesota Imagine Fund Grant supported the later stages of this publication.
The community partnership with the RBA attempts to co-create knowledge of anti-racist practices. Contours has emerged to trace some of this shared knowledge and to imagine new pathways of moving through racist landscapes.
My relationship with the RBA is formally recognized through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello in Havana and the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts. This MOU supports the scholarly relationship between the two institutions. Instrumental to the formation of the MOU were Maritza López McBean and Geoffroy Delaforcade, as both of them facilitated this relationship from the RBA side in Havana. I especially thank the people of ICICJM, director Elena Socarrás de la Fuente, Rodrigo Espina, and Henry Heredia for your enthusiasm for this relationship. I also have much appreciation for the people of the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance at the University of Minnesota who provided support in creating the Memorandum of Understanding with ICICJM: Meredith McQuaid Associate Vice President and Dean of International Programs, Molly Portz Assistant Dean of International Programs, Coordinators of International Health, Safety, & Compliance Madeline Buck and Alyssa Klein, and Export Controls Officer & Designated Cuba Representative Patrick Briscoe.
Then there is Kristine Miller, my Grand Challenges co-principal investigator, who introduced me to the open access publications through the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing Services by sharing her own digital book, Introduction to Design Equity, with me. I realized that the open access format fit very well with goals of co-creating knowledge and making it as accessible as possible. In conversations with Kristine, the idea of Contours sprouted, and the library awarded me a publication contract. Right away I invited Dr. Maxine Nwigwe to be the Design Editor and together we began to imagine the details of what Contours has become. We are so grateful to the brilliant publishing team at the University of Minnesota Libraries who have joined us in this decolonial feminist project: Shane Nackerud, Emma Molls, and John Barneson.
Much gratitude to you all.
One afternoon, (June 17, 2018), Egle Ferrera came to visit me at the casa particular where I was staying with my daughters in Santiago de Cuba. Though we had not yet met in person, Maritza López McBean had given me Egle’s number so that we could have a conversation about race in Cuba. The RBA’s network did not include any formally affiliated projects in Santiago, but they still had connections there on the other side of the island to organizations like the Centro Cultural Africano where Egle worked. Egle insisted on coming to visit me rather than having me haul the kids to her location. Besides, she was familiar with the neighborhood, and it was easy for her to drop by, she had said. I was struck by her willingness to go out of her way to have this conversation, not simply a generous act, but also a recognition of the significance of the RBA and her shared commitment to anti-racism.
We sit on the patio surrounded by viny plants that snake overhead to protect us from the sun. My daughters pop out of our air-conditioned room to say hello and then quickly abandon the formality and the humidity. We exchange details of our families and projects with the ease of old friends until Egle tells me the story of a group from a U.S. university that had met with her not long ago. They had asked her so many political questions and acted as if they were there to solve the problems of Cuba. She told them that they had lots of political problems of their own to resolve in the U.S. She said she would talk with them not about politics but culture. I emphatically agree with her that these kinds of questions were problematic. And yet, implicated as part of a U.S. university, I replay in my mind what I’ve told her about my project and questions about race. Had I overstepped? Had I in this very first meeting of this trip framed my inquiry as extractive, rather than the way I imagined I’d carefully constructed it in my grant proposals, as a decolonial, feminist project, aware of but with the intention to work through power imbalances, to further the exchange of knowledge towards transnational anti-racist solidarities? Before I can formulate that response into Spanish, Egle tells me that my inquiry is different because it is rooted in my relationship with my Black daughters. For that reason, she will talk with me about the politics of race. In my pursuit to open pathways towards anti-racism for my daughters, they have opened a pathway for this exchange of knowledge.
Still, I realize that my status as a fair-skinned, Chicana, U.S. university professor requires that I continuously remember the privileges of nation and race that I hold in my relationships with the Cuban activists, artists, scholars, and culture workers I was to meet in this project. Egle amplified the importance of knowledge as something to share and contributed to the idea of situating my connection to my neighborhood in relation to the RBA’s connection to theirs.
The RBA established the ASERE/Red Barrial Afrodescendiente Facebook page as a way of staying connected during the global pandemic. My first entry on the page further considers the concept of the neighborhood. ASERE is a group of academics and activists living outside of Cuba that maintains a close relationship with the RBA. Maxine and I became part of ASERE in its earliest days in October of 2018, on a trip arranged by Geoffroy Delaforcade, professor at Norfolk State University and the International Communications Coordinator for the RBA. As addressed in Maxine’s photo essay in Reflexiones, this trip included a symposium on race at the Casa de las Americas de la Habana and engagement with the RBA in both Habana and Matanzas. The experience marked an emergent, collective relationship between the RBA and ASERE, an idea sparked by Geoffroy and Maritza. 1Geoffrey Delaforcade and Asere member Devyn Springer wrote a 2020 article about the RBA and this trip in Souls.
April 17, 2020 (my post from the ASERE/RBA Facebook page)
I have often seen us thinking about the RBA/Asere relationship framed by country – Cuba/U.S. But I have also observed us talking at great length about the neighborhood of Balcón Arimao, home of RBA coordinator Maritza McBean and family. Many of us from Asere have visited Kimbo and Yudania to learn about projects in La Marina. Some of us have visited Idelsi in her neighborhood Agrario, Damayanti in Santa Fe, the home of Mirna and Siria in Coco Solo. In each of these neighborhoods I have heard about community projects and thoughtful, unwavering leadership. When I was in Cuba last year, I began to think more about how I might relate to the RBA as a person from the neighborhood of Powderhorn Park in the United States, giving another dimension to how I can think about our relationship.
I wonder how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the neighborhood communities in Cuba and how the work of the RBA may or may not have changed because of it. In Powderhorn Park, I have seen a strong community response from neighborhood activists and residents. Powderhorn Park is a very diverse neighborhood in South Minneapolis in terms of race, class, sexuality, and citizenship status. Many people in this neighborhood are considered “essential” workers: the nurses, grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, and others that continue to physically leave their homes each day to go to work. When the pandemic hit, many people lost their jobs or incomes as restaurants and small hospital clinics closed. Immediately, activist Susan Raffo began discussing the heightened need for mutual aid and she began circulating a document on Facebook that asked people to fill in what kind of service they could offer the neighborhood. The list included people who would go grocery shopping for those who could not, provide loans or money, provide child care for health care workers, give rides to the hospital, etc. The list is now pages and pages long.
When we learned that the U.S. government would be giving stimulus checks to each adult and child, we also learned that our neighbors who were not citizens were not going to get any checks. Many of these neighbors are the ones who need the money the most. Neighbors began circulating messages calling for those of us who can to redistribute our checks to organizations that work with undocumented immigrants, such as Navigate MN, a Minneapolis-focused organization. […]
These smaller stories of mutual aid and resource distribution can seem insignificant given the larger and critical importance of the U.S. blockade against Cuba and its cruel effects. But these neighborhood actions remind me of the neighborhood actions that the RBA performs, where the strength builds from shared resources of a neighborhood. I wonder how each of our neighborhoods or networks might be responding to this time of the pandemic and how learning about these responses might deepen our understandings of how we can grow as a network.2In June of 2021, my neighborhood in South Minneapolis experienced both the pandemic and the uprising after police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Outpourings of grief and anger were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Activists organized protest after protest, and neighbors created George Floyd Square at the intersection of his death, filling the space with flowers, murals, sculptures, music, critiques of racial capitalism, and calls to abolish the current system of policing.
Notes from Memory, experienced 6/28/2018 and written 2/3/2021
My daughters and I look out the window of the taxi, searching for a light blue house in Balcón Arimao in La Lisa, the home of Maritza López McBean. La Lisa, I have been told, has the following characteristics:
- The black population predominates.
- It is a vulnerable neighborhood with little purchasing power.
- Religious par excellence, predominantly of Afrocuban religion with Yoruban roots, although there are many others.3Maritza Arango Montalvo, Facebook message to author, February 8, 2020. Translated from the original Spanish.
The taxi driver was unfamiliar with this neighborhood and seemed unhappy that he had agreed to take us so far off the customary tourist routes. He had stopped to ask directions from about ten different people once he got into the municipal of La Lisa, looking for the address in Balcón Armao. “It’s up by the cemetery,” they’d said. “Before you get to the school and near the Casa Comunitaria Paulo Freire.” The people of the neighborhood helped the driver and I forge a map of a place we’d never been.
When doing a literature search on anti-racism in Cuba about a year before in 2017, I came across the RBA through the website, AfroCubaWeb, and was stunned by the number of articles that addressed racism in Cuba, collected on the site since 1999. Then, I realized that 1999 was around the time that the Special Period in the Time of Peace 4The name given by the Cuban government to the economic crisis that Cuba suffered after the disappearance of the socialist camp in Eastern Europe. was drawing to a close. A 2015 article by Daisy Rubiera, “Seguiremos el Camino,” presented the RBA as a space: “Espacio de reflexión y diálogo antiimperialista, anticapitalista y antihegemónico, emprendería acciones encaminadas a un mayor reconocimiento y valoración social de las y los afrodescendiente.” In English: “Space for reflection and anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-hegemonic dialogue, would undertake actions aimed at greater recognition and social appreciation of Afrodescendants.” The three founders of the RBA, Maritza López McBean, Hildelisa Leal Díaz, and Damayanti Matos Abreu had also written a 2017 article published in Afromodernidades, linked to the AfroCubaWeb, that outlined RBA objectives including: “Sensibilizar y capacitar a l@s integrantes de la Red Barrial Afrodescendiente, para que puedan captar las expresiones de estereotipos, sexista, racistas y negativos, perpetuadores de viejas y nuevas formas de discriminación racial para su identificación y enfrentamiento.”5Published January 4, 2017; accessed August 18, 2017. In English: “To sensitize and train the members of the Red Barrial Afrodescendientie, so that they can capture the expressions of stereotypes, sexist, racist and negative, perpetuating old and new forms of racial discrimination for their identification and confrontation.”
As Maritza was to remind me many times, the RBA is not an institution, and it is not an organization. The RBA is a network. The network supports the ideological and structural changes of the revolution and actively works against racism at a micropolitical level, in the cultural practices of everyday life. As a cultural theorist who focuses on social choreographies, I wondered if I could contribute to their objective by analyzing movement and interactions in everyday life. Part of my early research was to begin to map out the contours of the network – the people, projects, and the neigbhorhood and transneighborhood relational landscapes. Martiza and I were about to have a conversation about it.
She hears us as we hop out of the taxi and before we can greet each other as new friends who’ve only ever met through email and phone calls might, she says, “Go ask the driver to pick you up later because taxis don’t come here. You won’t be able to leave.” My daughters and I were to live in La Lisa for five months, alongside Maritza. She and her family were to help us learn the social and cultural rules of this neighborhood. Maritza’s sister Moraima López McBean was to nurture my relationship with La Lisa through many conversations on her front patio and introductions to neighbors who would stop to chat. Moraima is the coordinator of Proyecto Rizos, an RBA-affiliated project that promotes Black women’s beauty with a focus on hair.
Once I had beseeched the driver to return in two hours and paid extra for that service, Maritza and I could finally begin.
- 1Geoffrey Delaforcade and Asere member Devyn Springer wrote a 2020 article about the RBA and this trip in Souls.
- 2In June of 2021, my neighborhood in South Minneapolis experienced both the pandemic and the uprising after police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Outpourings of grief and anger were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Activists organized protest after protest, and neighbors created George Floyd Square at the intersection of his death, filling the space with flowers, murals, sculptures, music, critiques of racial capitalism, and calls to abolish the current system of policing.
- 3Maritza Arango Montalvo, Facebook message to author, February 8, 2020. Translated from the original Spanish.
- 4The name given by the Cuban government to the economic crisis that Cuba suffered after the disappearance of the socialist camp in Eastern Europe.
- 5Published January 4, 2017; accessed August 18, 2017.