CUBA: Ever the Twain Shall Meet


Despite the image of a united Cuban society presented by the ruling Communist Party, ethnomusicologist Rebecca Bodenheimer reveals the deep divisions, including a marked regionalism, that shape political and personal relations on the island.

Derived from the late-19th-century writings of Cuban national poet José Martí during the struggle for independence from Spain, the notion of Cubanidad — “Cubanness” or the essence of Cuban identity — has always imagined a unified, hybrid nation where nationality trumps all other axes of identification. This projection of national unity became even more crucial following the 1959 Cuban Revolution, which ushered in the socialist regime, as the island has faced an ongoing political threat to its sovereignty by the United States for the last half-century. However, despite the revolutionary government’s unifying rhetoric celebrating the population’s dedication to socialist ideals of egalitarianism and cooperation, expressions of regionalism are pervasive, and many Cubans cling tightly to their regional identities. Not only is there fierce loyalty to one’s province of birth, but often explicit antagonism toward people from other provinces, particularly between habaneros (people from Havana) and Orientales (people from the eastern provinces). These regionalist antagonisms are often entangled with notions of race. This article examines various manifestations of contemporary regionalism in Cuba and the ways that race is mapped onto different regions and cities on the island, a racialization and regionalization of Cuban society that challenges the nationalist notion of a unified Cubanidad...

Rebecca Bodenheimer
Publication date: 
August 19, 2015
Publication type: 
Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies Article