When we think of Cuba and the Cuban people, our minds often jump to the Cuban Revolution, the familiar faces of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and perhaps the infamous Bay of Pigs incident. Today we know Cuba as a relatively closed-off socialist state, governed chiefly in the past by the pseudo-monarchical Castro brothers. But this vision of Cuba is certainly not what Cuban pre-revolutionaries envisioned their Latin American island nation to be. Indeed, before the Castro brothers rose to power, Cuba was a nascent democratic nation, a mere five decades past its independence from Spain.
To understand the Cuba that could have been, Fordham Lincoln Center senior Olivia Cabrera examines films made by pre-revolutionary Cuban intellectuals, some of which were designed to attract and educate participants of literacy camps across Cuba, in an attempt to draw out their vision for the nation. Cabrera is a comparative literature major, concentrating on Spanish film and television, with minors in communications and cultures. Her thesis and subsequent paper seeks to define and extract the differences between the national identity wished for by non-Communist Cubans and the reality of the national identity today as it has been shaped by Castro and the Communist regime.
After studying abroad in Granada, Spain for one semester and conducting a final project involving interviews in Spanish around the city, Cabrera has many experiences that have supplied the foundation for studying these pre-revolutionary films as independent works of literature. What is incredible is not necessarily the difficulty of procuring such films for the thesis—in fact, according to Cabrera, Fordham’s Latin American studies program is fortunate to have fluent professors who were able to redirect her to these plentiful resources—but rather the historical training and intricate logical reasoning necessary for constructing the appropriate background to such a project. Cabrera entrenched herself in the revolutionary works of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, simultaneously contrasting these with the works of intellectuals from the same era to paint a picture of difference.
Throughout this process, Cabrera has been careful not to blunder across the fine lines of her thesis. Specifically, she focused her work on the varying initial purposes and end goals of the revolution, as opposed to the Cuban Revolution itself. She stated that her thesis seeks to recreate what Che Guevara and Fidel Castro saw as the purpose of the revolution. In the process, she must walk the fine line between the Cuba that the revolutionaries initially dreamed of and the Cuba that the revolutionaries shaped. “I didn’t notice when I was writing the proposal, but my advisor told me that I was contradicting myself in a way, where I was implying that the films themselves were trying to recreate Castro’s Cuba, but I’m trying to recreate the people’s Cuba that Castro tried to build,” said Cabrera. On the way to exploring the possibilities of what Cuba could have been, Cabrera stated that she must also steer clear of any biases towards the revolution, as her thesis is not a critique and not intended to persuade readers to adopt her viewpoint on the revolution. “I’m not here to promote communism or the revolution, of course, but rather what the revolution was for and why it happened in the first place,” she added. Of course, her proficiency in analyzing larger-than-politics patterns and her experiences in mock trial will certainly assist her in this process.
Beyond the thesis itself, Cabrera is looking forward to working in news copywriting positions before heading to graduate school a few years down the line. For now, we can look forward to a compelling, detailed comparison of the Cuba that is and the Cuba that could have been.