The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba


Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

More about this series

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 2 photographs Published: August 2011

Author: Jafari S. Allen

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Caribbean Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

Promoting the revolutionary socialist project of equality and dignity for all, the slogan ¡Venceremos! (We shall overcome!) appears throughout Cuba, everywhere from newspapers to school murals to nightclubs. Yet the accomplishments of the Cuban state are belied by the marginalization of blacks, the prejudice against sexual minorities, and gender inequities. ¡Venceremos? is a groundbreaking ethnography on race, desire, and belonging among blacks in early-twenty-first-century Cuba, as the nation opens its economy to global capital. Expanding on Audre Lorde’s vision of embodied, even “useful,” desire, Jafari S. Allen shows how black Cubans engage in acts of “erotic self-making,” reinterpreting, transgressing, and potentially transforming racialized and sexualized interpellations of their identities. He illuminates intimate spaces of autonomy created by people whose multiply subaltern identities have rendered them illegible to state functionaries, and to most scholars. In everyday practices in Havana and Santiago de Cuba—including Santeria rituals, gay men’s parties, hip hop concerts, the tourist-oriented sex trade, lesbian organizing, HIV education, and just hanging out—Allen highlights small but significant acts of struggle for autonomy and dignity.


“[A]meticulously researched and exquisitely theorized ethnography that begins with a queer speculation of the revolutionary inevitable…. But what’s truly magnificent about this study is the auto-ethnographic impulse Allen endows… as well the many reverberations that his fieldwork in Cuba holds for thinking about and working through the politics and the political struggles of African Americans in the U.S.” — Vershawn Young, New Books in African-American Studies

“[T]he brilliance of ¡Venceremos? is that it so powerfully presents the lived — and rapidly changing — realities of individual Afro-Cuban subjects. . . . ¡Venceremos? is an engrossing, important piece of scholarship that constructively bridges multiple disciplines and should be of interest to readers both inside and outside the academy.” — Lauren J. Gantz, GLQ

“In this ambitious ethnography Allen tackles some of the most complicated but compelling issues in contemporary Cuba…. The book makes an important theoretical contribution to advancing debates on these issues…. ¡Venceremos? leaves us with the question, “Will we overcome?” but Allen has certainly moved us closer to an answer with this artful ethnography.” — Nadine T. Fernandez, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Jafari Allen’s new ethnography… provides a timely consideration of desires for freedom and possibilities for social equality under the Cuban Revolution…. His is an important intervention for Cubanists, Caribbeanists, and all those interested in understanding the nexus of desire and liberation in processes of racialization, gendering, and sexuality.” — Kristina Wirtz, American Ethnologist

"¿Venceremos? is ... a beautifully written in-depth ethnography on contemporary Cuba." — Heidi Härkönen, Suomen Antropologi

"Allen demonstrates the pertinence of race and sexuality to exercising Cuban citizenship rights, and to (re)formations of Cuban identities, individual and collective." — Ethel Hazard, Transforming Anthropology

¡Venceremos? is an important and engaging book. Jafari S. Allen uses critical ethnography to reveal a changing landscape of race, gender, sex, and nation in Cuba today. The evolving meanings of these categories are propelled by people’s everyday actions toward what Allen calls a larger freedom. It is through his examination of ‘the everyday,’ especially the erotic, that the reader is made to see the creative tension between state-imposed and lived understandings of race, sex, and gender.” — Cathy J. Cohen, author of Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics

“A subtle ethnography that looks at the intersection of sexuality and race in contemporary Cuba through deeply felt experiences and stories. Honoring Audre Lorde’s assertation that ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,’ Jafari S. Allen offers major new insights into the meaning of black sexual liberation in a rapidly changing revolutionary society.” — Ruth Behar, author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba

“This extremely engaging and original ethnography portrays the dreams, political aspirations, cultural politics, and intimate practices of black Cubans in a rapidly changing socialist society. Jafari S. Allen carefully parses the particularities of black Cuban self-making through a magnificently layered account of Cuba’s history and culture and a very queer account of Cuban intimacies—in the home and the street, between men, between women, and between men and women. His careful attention to the socialist context for queer desire in Cuba leads him to insist on an understanding of queer identity that departs from the Euro-American preoccupation with the individual in its focus on communal bonds and modes of belonging. ¡Venceremos? conveys hope for the transformative potential of collective forms of self-making and the various ways that people desire, resist, create, and imagine.” — Judith Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jafari S. Allen is Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Invoking "A larger freedom" 1

1. Looking (at) "Afro-Cuba(n)" 19

2. Discursive Sleight of Hand: Race, Sex, Gender 41

3. The Erotics and Politics of Self-making 74

4. De Cierta Manera . . . Hasta Cierto Punto (One Way or Another . . . Up to a Certain Point) 100

5. Friendship as a Mode of Survival 129

6.  Hagamos un Chen! (We Make Change!) 157

Coda:  Vamos a Vencer! (We Will Win!) 186

Notes 195

References 211

Index 233
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Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2012 Lambda Literary Awards, LGBT Studies category

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