Every time I approach the immigration counter at Havana’s José
Martí International Airport, the same scenario plays itself out. ‘‘Are
you Latina?’’ I am asked cautiously. ‘‘No.’’ ‘‘So why do you speak
Spanish?’’ ‘‘Because I learned Spanish when I first came to Cuba.’’
‘‘Then why is your last name Fernandes?’’ ‘‘My parents are from the
part of India in the south that was colonized by the Portuguese,’’ I
repeat, almost by rote. ‘‘But you have an Australian passport.’’ The
official is getting a little agitated now. ‘‘Yes, my parents moved to
‘‘Yes, I went there to do my PhD.’’ ‘‘So why are you studying Cuba?’’
Over and over I am called upon to justify and explain my choice
of research locale. Such constant probing can be unsettling, but it
has forced me to confront and articulate the reasons why I chose to
dedicate several years to a study of the arts in Cuba, and what this
studycan illuminate about contemporary Cuban politics. From the
start, I saw the arts as a window into an extremely complex and
contradictory moment of transition in Cuban society. I felt that I
could learn so much more about howordinary Cubans were under-
song than by reading an article or listening to a news report.Yet as
I continued with the project, I found that the arts were not simply
a reflection of what was going on in Cuban society. In some ways,
artistic activities were constitutive of that society and the changes
taking place within it. The more I investigated, the more aware I
became of the interconnections between Cuban socialist ideology,
forms of popular culture such as rap and film, and the resilience of
the Cuban state. I began to see the role played byartists in the grad-
ual emergence of the Cuban system from the worst of the crisis.
Besides a fascination with the peculiarities of the Cuban situation,
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