Distances and proximities : Havana and San Juan from the point of view of literature and oral histories

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2015-05

Authors

Mercado Diaz, Mario Edgardo

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Abstract

Cuba y Puerto Rico have for long been considered sister islands, fighting together against the influences of the Spanish Empire and the United States. The decade of the 1950s, however, proved to be the splitting point for both islands, sending them into very different trajectories of development. In their shared experience of Spanish colonization and USA interventions, how do San Juan and Havana residents perceive and use space today in their particular socio-political contexts and how does this affect the resident's sense of citizenship? I closely engage with the different urban spaces using ethnographic data and photographs taken during my recent fieldwork, creative texts describing said spaces and case studies examining the formation of racial, gender and class identities. Focusing on a specific place on the Malecón, Havana's iconic esplanade, I examine how practices of leisure, intimacy (e.g. erotic homosexual and heterosexual encounters), and self-expression challenge the revolutionary rhetoric of "sameness" (i.e. absence of race, class, crime or gender violence). As for San Juan, I dissect the layers of significance in public visual representation, as exemplified in the artwork painted over an abandoned house in Santurce, the site for queer, artistic and marginal expression. The scene, two black women drinking on the porch, rescues a sense of citizenship lost to the class and racial polarization, fragmentation, and the "ruination" of San Juan. Finally, I argue that an archipelagic city, composed of the descriptions of specific places in different cities, has been created in the sea, a space of crossing, endurance and death, within these inter-capillary exchanges of people, cultures and habits. This archipelagic city, not spoken about directly but referenced semantically, aids in the construction of trans-national identities and perspectives, specific perceptions on time and space, and the production of media and cultural forms of expression. My goal is to tie together these narrative strands linking trans-oceanic places into an urban map surpassing its own geographical context.

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