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Cuba is as much a fantasy as a real place. Cuba is a steamy and exotic Caribbean island, with rumba dancing and free-flowing rum. Cuba is a repressive and secretive regime. Cuba is a test workshop for socialist ambitions the world over. Cuba is a fantasy.
It was ideas like these about Cuba, Cuban politics, and Cuban people that drew me there in the first place, and the resulting book — built on those months of ethnographic research and on the doctoral dissertation that followed — has recently been released under the title From Cuba with Love: Sex and Money in the Twenty-First Century University of California Press From Cuba with Love is a book about sex, politics, resistance, identity, freedom, oppression, and happiness.
It contains chapters about identity, labelling, and language ; violence and resistance; state power, governance, and love; and identity-formation and new kinds of resistance. It is roughly chronological, in line with my field research, and unfolds through a series of stories about the people I met and the things I witnessed in Cuba.
The book centres around the figure of the jinetera , a uniquely Cuban neologism denoting a woman who dates and sleeps with foreign men — a phenomenon and an identity that has captured both Cuban and international attention of various kinds in the last two decades or so.
The jinetera emerged in the wake of the Soviet collapse, when Cubans confronted crushing austerity as their economy faltered, and some came to embrace economies of sex, romance, love, and money as a means of survival and escape. Together, institutions ranging from the police and the Ministry of the Interior to the Federation of Cuban Women created an atmosphere of fear not only for jineteras , but for any woman who fit the popular understanding of the jinetera : young, attractive, Afro-Cuban or mixed race.