The Cuban Hustle

Culture, Politics, Everyday Life

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: October 2020

Art and Visual Culture, Latin American Studies, Music

In The Cuban Hustle, Sujatha Fernandes explores the multitudinous ways artists, activists, and ordinary Cubans have hustled to survive and express themselves in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Whether circulating information on flash drives as a substitute for the internet or building homemade antennas to listen to Miami’s hip hop radio stations, Cubans improvise alternative strategies and workarounds to contend with ongoing isolation. Throughout these essays, Fernandes examines the emergence of dynamic youth cultures and social movements as Cuba grappled with economic collapse, new digital technologies, the normalization of diplomatic ties with the United States during the Obama administration, and the regression of US-Cuban relations in the Trump era. From reflections on feminism, new Cuban cinema, and public art to urban slums, the Afro-Cuban movement, and rumba and hip hop, Fernandes reveals Cuba to be a world of vibrant cultures grounded in an ethos of invention and everyday hustle.


“A fascinating dossier about the challenges and preoccupations of post-Soviet Cuba. From negotiating the fallout from a globalizing economy to new movements in the visual arts, music, film, feminism, and racial consciousness, Sujatha Fernandes brings readers up to date on the inventive, evolving hustle that is Cuba's survival.” — Cristina García, author of Here in Berlin: A Novel

“In a complex and nuanced way, Sujatha Fernandes describes Cuba's most recent two decades, focusing on subjects that have not been written about in this much detail. She contributes to a new understanding of present-day Cuba—and its many fascinating idiosyncrasies, tensions, and creative solutions to complicated problems—in an engaging and politically sophisticated style that general readers will enjoy.” — Margaret Randall, author of I Never Left Home: Poet, Feminist, Revolutionary

“For any reader who is curious about the embodiment of Cuban life over the past two decades, Fernandes skillfully provides lucid accounts of ordinary Cubans, who, through pure resourcefulness and innovation, and in times of chaos, work relentlessly to find strategies for survival, in ways that are meaningful and artistically expressive…. The Cuban Hustle provides a necessary contribution to the Cuban diaspora literature; the accounts are timely, and deliver a contemporary understanding of Cuba, and the hardships faced by so many since the collapse of the Soviet Union.” — Mauricia John, Ethnic and Racial Studies


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sujatha Fernandes is Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney and author of Cuba Represent!: Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures and Who Can Stop the Drums?: Urban Social Movements in Chávez's Venezuela both also published by Duke University Press, and most recently of Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
Part I. Cultures of the Special Period
1. Revolution and Rumba: Cuba in the Special Period  9
2. Alice in Wondertown: Interview with Filmmaker Daniel Díaz Torres  15
3. Magín: Feminist Organizing in Cuba  22
4. Vitality in Precarious Conditions: Conversation with Artist/Art Critic Tonel  32
5. Public Art and Art Collectives in Havana  44
6. New Cuban Cinema: Race and Sexuality  53
7. The Capital of Rap: Hip Hop Culture in Alamar  62
8. Cultural Cimarronaje: Afro-Cuban Visual Arts  71
9. Elio Rodríguez: Of Joint Ventures and Sexual Adventures  77
Part II. Normalization: Netflix Meets the Weekly Packet
10. Cuban Rap: Where the Streets Meet Highbrow Art  87
11. Why USAID Could Never Spark a Hip Hop Revolution in Cuba  90
12. Stories that Resonate: New Cultures of Documentary Filmmaking in Cuba (With Alexandra Hakin)  94
13. What Do Cubans Think of Normalization with the United States?  100
14. The Repeating Barrio  104
15. In Cuba, Will the Revolution Be Digitized?  111
16. Afro-Cuban Activists Fight Racism between Two Fires  120
17. Black Diasporic Dialogues in Post-Soviet Cuba  129
18. The Many Shades of Fidel Castro  133
Part III. Cuban Futures and the Trump Era
19. The Cold War Politics of Donald Trump  139
20. Hairdressers of the World, Unite! (You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Locks . . . and a Community to Win)  143
21. How Socially Engaged Activism Is Transforming Cuba  152
22. A Ship Adrift: Cuba after the Pink Tide  162
Epilogue  167
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