Skip to content

Learning Cuban history without speaking Spanish

By Kanika Varma, University of Victoria

As part of the University of Victoria’s Cuba Ethnographic Field School: Contrapunteo, I had the opportunity to attend the CASCA conference 2018 and live in Cuba for a month with the UVic field school students and staff. The panel, done entirely in Spanish, was called La Anthropología Anti-hegemónica Contemporánea Retos y Perspectivas II and was led by three Cuban scholars. I won’t be able to give an in-depth description of the panel but I can share my experience of the panel as a non-Spanish speaker.

While sitting in the panel I thought a lot about how difficult it is to stay focused in a space where you don’t know the language, and how weird it feels to not know what’s happening around you. But I also learned to pay more attention to facial expressions and focus my hearing. I was able to slowly pick up words here and there, I know a bit of French so I could recognize similar words. It wasn’t enough for me to really know what was happening but I understood colonialism was said and Anthropology right after. So I assumed the panelists were talking about colonial anthropology or the effect of colonialism on places today. I made a few notes of things I picked up and hypothesized on. One of the scholars also used an English comic as part of their presentation. The comic had a group of native people hiding their modern technologies from the anthropologist. It was a common theme I had heard discussion on before, it was about the myth of the untouched native person who still upheld traditional ways of living and needed to be preserved for the sake of history and tradition. An appealing group of people for Anthropological studies. I really wanted to know what the scholars had to say about this topic because I’d never heard/read perspectives of non-white scholars on it. I later got to ask all my questions to Carlos Domínguez, the Cuban scholar I interviewed.

I asked Carlos what he thinks the future of Anthropology is. Does he think foreign scholars should be doing Anthropology in countries different from their place of birth? And if so, how can they be mindful of local voices and perspectives. Carlos’s presentation on the panel focused on ontological studies, the study of being. He talked about why he does not go to communities and work on being accepted and understanding them. That’s not his way of research, he works in the community he belongs to and he lives his life. The importance of Anthropology from the inside lies in understanding why Cubans need to describe themselves through their own lives to understand where they belong and how they make Cuba. He calls his method ‘interpret anthropology’ and not participant anthropology. According to Carlos, Cubans face funding problems when it comes to doing Cuban studies. Foreign scholars have the money to come to Cuba, get participants, take the knowledge, analyze it, publish it; but he doesn’t have that time, he can watch other people do their studies and he can reflect on their work and other readings. He can engage in philosophical talks and write but he cannot do the type of Anthropology foreign scholars do. But to Carlos what he does is as valuable and important as more “Anthropological” methods of study.

A part of the concept of “othering”, as I understood from our conversation, comes from the way Anthropologists study, by going into a community and immediately beginning the process of research. Thus, creating a different relationship with the interlocuters than Carlos would as a member of the community. I wondered if in ‘interpret anthropology’. Carlos and I spent time talking about what Anthropologists can keep in mind in order to avoid othering but our conversation steered more towards understanding the role of anthropologists in the field and outside the field. What I think Carlos meant was not necessarily that anthropologists need to study their own country but rather they need to pay more attention to learning to live and understand the country as the locals do rather than on actively changing themselves to fit into an image of a “native” as they saw it. He also emphasizes that Cuba with its unique history needs to find its own definitions and descriptions of Cuban culture and Caribbean identity because only Cubans have the level of depth that the topic needs.

[i]Interpret Anthropology

According to Carlos Domínguez Interpret Anthropology is interpreting and understanding daily life and the life of those around him to explain Cuban culture.

 

More from this Volume
Bonjour/hello : de la présidente/from the president

J’ai eu l’honneur d’assumer la présidence de la CASCA dans une année mouvementée … and…

Mot de l’équipe / Editors’ Note

Bienvenue dans le numéro d'automne de Culture, le bulletin d'information semestriel de la CASCA! C’est…

Invisibilité et discrétion ? Conflits énergétiques et destructions socio-environnementales en Alt Empordà (Catalogne, Espagne)

Par Sabrina Bougie, étudiante au doctorat en anthropologie, Université Laval, Québec   La multiplication des…

Les Défis de l’Adaptation Culturelle(s) : Réflexions sur la Communication et la Sécurité en Temps de Crise

Emilie El Khoury, Ph.D, Post-Doctorante, Centre for International and Defense Policy (CIDP), Queen's University  …

Our members in the News/ Suivez nos membres dans les médias

At the University of Toronto, Associate Professor Girish Daswani appeared as a guest on a…

Des membres de la CASCA se distinguent/CASCA members stand out

University of Toronto Scarborough Anthropology Associate Professor Christopher Krupa has been awarded the 2023 Society…

In Memoriam: Megha Sharma Sehdev (1981-2023)

Dr. Megha Sharma Sehdev was a brilliant and creative scholar of law, violence, and care…

Beaver, Bison, Horse: The Traditional Knowledge and Ecology of the Northern Great Plains

As one of North America’s most unique ecologies, the Great Plains have fostered symbiotic relationships…

Conjuring the State: Public Health Encounters in Highland Ecuador, 1908-1945

The Ecuadorian Public Health Service was founded in 1908 in response to the arrival of…

Savoirs, utopies et production des communs

Savoirs, utopies et production des communs Martin Hébert, Francine Saillant et Sarah Bourdages Duclot (dir.).…

L’Europe et l’histoire des sans-histoire

L’Europe et l’histoire des sans-histoire Traduit de l’anglais (États-Unis) et présenté par André C. Drainville…

Autochtonie et question éducative dans les Outre-mer : Une enquête comparative en Guyane et en Polynésie française

Autochtonie et question éducative dans les Outre-mer. Une enquête comparative en Guyane et en Polynésie…

Éloge du raisonnable : Pour un réenchantement raisonné du monde

Éloge du raisonnable : Pour un réenchantement raisonné du monde Raymond Massé Presses de l’Université…

Petite

Petite Francine Saillant Academia, Louvain-la-Neuve, 212 pages, ISBN: 978-2-8061-3596-4 Petite, une enfant exploratrice, se frotte…

Recent Articles
Past Volumes

Contact

Membership

Our members are first to receive information about jobs, awards and conferences.

Back To Top