Friday, November 21, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Carmen Jones: El Amor Cubano

Click here to listen.

Carmen Jones. (20th Century Fox, 1954).

A while ago, I had a chance to interview Grammy and Tony Award-winning arranger and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire about his work on a remake of Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones entitled, Carmen Jones: El Amor Cubano.  Lacamoire, who is best known for his arrangements for In The Heights, collaborated with British director Christopher Renshaw and the Cubans Roclan Chávez and Norge Espinosa in a retelling Carmen Jones that changes the backdrop of the story of love, jealousy and violence from the deep American South of the 1940s, to the period immediately preceding the Cuban Revolution of 1959.  With Cuba as a backdrop, Lacamoire added a number of new musical elements that highlighted the island's rich musical diversity.  For Lacamoire, a Cuban-American, the experience was both frustrating and fulfilling.  As he explained, despite the distance between Cuba and the United States, audiences in the Cuban capital were “totally feeling what we were doing.”

Carmen Jones: El Amor Cubano. (La Habana, 2014) Photo courtesy of NBC News.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Race and Immigration in the Americas

Click here to listen.

David Scott Fitzgerald and David Cook-Martín begin their sweeping history of the connections between racism and immigration in the Americas by quoting the Argentine writer Juan Batista Alberdi.  Alberdi, an advocate of white European migration to Argentina, famously observed in the mid-nineteenth century that “to govern is to populate.”  Nearly everywhere in the Americas in the nineteenth century (and continuing well into the early twentieth century), immigration and demography were hotly debated in legislatures, scientific societies and newspapers pages.  Fitzgerald and Cook-Martín’s new book, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas (Harvard University Press, 2014) takes a close and comparative look at the ways in which racism influenced the immigration policies of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and Brazil.  The story they recount, and that Fitzgerald expanded on in an interview with La Vuelta, is one that takes aim at standard interpretations of U.S. immigration history and the seeming incompatibility between U.S. democracy and racist immigration programs.  Indeed, compared with many of the other nations in the Americas, Fitzgerald and Cook-Martín found that the U.S. was a laggard in abandoning racist ideologies in the formulation of its immigration policies.  As we debate immigration policies in the U.S. at the start of the twenty-first century, Culling the Masses sharpens our understanding of how issues of race have always informed which immigrants we welcome into the U.S. and which one we don’t.           

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Images of Latin America's "Dirty Wars" at John Jay College

The "Dirty Wars" of the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America left deep imprints on the societies in which they were waged. The violence and terror of those years shaped everything from political discourse to literature and music. The visual arts, of course, were not immune to the struggles of that era either. Photographers and other visual and multimedia artists captured not only the brutality of Latin America's authoritarian regimes but also the ways in which ordinary citizens resisted them. The theme of resistance is at the center of an exhibition at John Jay College's Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery entitled "Bearing Witness: Art and Resistance in Latin America." Organized by two of my John Jay College colleagues, Roberto Visani and Marcia Esparza, together with art historian and collector Estrellita Brodsky, the exhibition captures images of fear and courageous defiance in the face of government impunity. As Brodsky points out in this interview, the viewer is drawn to these images and is forced to confront the violence head-on; "you can't claim you didn't see it."  Indeed.

Through September 12, 2014.

Bearing Witness: Art and Resistance in Latin America. 
Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery 
John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY
524 West 59th Street, L2.73.14 
New York, NY 10019     

Gallery Hours: 1pm-5pm, M-F, or by appointment
For more information please | 212-237-1439

Saturday, August 16, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: East Los High

Let’s just get this out of the way from the get-go: East Los High is addictive.  The Hulu-based series has enough sex, drama, intrigue and double-dealing to make it a worthy heir to the rich tradition of Latin American telenovelas.  But to see the show simply as a U.S. Latino version of the nightly fare on Univision or Telemundo is to miss the its larger point of highlighting the very real health issues facing many Latino teens in the United States.  East Los High, which is a project of the Population Media Center, is the latest successful example of the Sabido Method, an entertainment-education strategy that uses television and radio serials to raise awareness of issues related to health, especially reproductive health.  The program has enjoyed wide success in the developing world but East Los High is the first  attempt to reach Latinos in the United States.  As Kathleen Bedoya, the show’s co-creator and co-Executive Producer, tells us in this interview, the show, which launched its second season on Hulu in July, has not only attracted a large audience because of its story-lines but has been able to change young Latinos’ attitudes about sex, health, and nutrition.  In short, East Los High isn’t your abuela’s telenovela.  (Although she’d probably watch it anyway).   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Newark's Puerto Rican Riots

The riots that shook Newark, New Jersey in the summer of 1967 have long since defined the city.  All of the key issues in the difficult 20th century history of America’s urban centers seemed to be at play in New Jersey’s largest city that July: corruption, police brutality, poverty, white flight and black political ascendancy.  Perhaps no other city in the country—save perhaps for the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, which had its own riots in 1965—has been as identified with a riot as has Newark. 

For years, however, the events of 1967 overshadowed other aspects of Newark’s history.  As deeply connected as Newark has been to the urban history of the United States and especially to African-American history, the city is also home to significant numbers of Latinos.  Today, Latinos account for one third of the city’s population and, after years of population decline, it is they who have helped the city’s population grow from 273,671 in 2000 to just over 277,000 residents in 2010.

The emergence of Latinos as an important part of Newark’s population has led to reexamination of the city’s history and especially its Latino history.  Thousands of Puerto Ricans migrated to Newark starting in the 1950s and while their numbers never reached those of the Puerto Rican communities in neighboring New York City, their impact on the city was obvious, especially in places such as the city’s North Ward.  One example of this search for Newark’s Latino history is a recent exhibition, organized by Prof. Michelle Chase and her students at Bloomfield College, which highlights a long-forgotten violent confrontation between Newark’s Puerto Ricans and the police in 1974.  The Newark Puerto Rican Riots were less deadly and costly than the riots of 1967.  But as Professor Chase points out in a recent interview, they are an important chapter in the political development of Newark’s Latino community.

The exhibition is on view at the Bloomfield College library until August 29th.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Alfredo Corchado's Mexico

In the weeks after I finished reading Alfredo Corchado's Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through A Country's Descent into Darkness, I couldn't help recommending it to friends and colleagues. By masterfully mixing both his own family's recent history and that of his native country, Corchado has managed to create a chronicle of Mexico's unraveling that is as personal as it is political.

At great risk to himself, he presents us with a story where corruption and impunity (and the voracious appetite for drugs from the United States) have managed to undermine the integrity of the Mexican state.  Yet, as we discuss in this new episode of La Vuelta, he also conveys how deeply connected the United States and Mexico are not just by the "war on drugs" but by ties of trade, family and history.  In his telling, Mexico is no faraway place, it is instead a dysfunctional neighbor whose well-being should matter to all Americans greatly.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Tiananmen Massacre as seen from Havana

With all of the coverage today about the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre in China, it's useful to highlight the way one of the Chinese government's allies--Cuba--reported the events that took place a quarter century ago.  Enrique del Risco, who is one of the keenest (and funniest) observers of the "cosa cubana" posted an article from Granma on his blog five years ago that highlights the lengths to which the Cuban government went to defend the brutality unleashed against student protesters in Beijing.  It's worth reading again.  Something about "birds of a feather" comes to mind.

"Tank Man" (1989) (Photo courtesy of

Sunday, May 25, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Ilan Stavans on the life and legacy of Octavio Paz

When the Nobel Prize-winner Octavio Paz died in 1998, he was one of the most prominent public intellectuals in all of Latin America and certainly the most famous and celebrated one in Mexico.  His work as a poet, essayist, critic, publisher and diplomat gave him remarkable access and freedom to chronicle the changes that took place in Mexico during the 20th Century.  But his career was also marked by streaks of imperiousness and self-regard that alienated many fellow writers and intimidated a generation or more of Mexican writers who labored in his enormous shadow.  
Octavio Paz (Photo courtesy of El Universal)
As we mark the centennial of Paz's birth and in order to better understand his legacy in Mexico and throughout Latin America, we spoke to Ilan Stavans, whose book, Octavio Paz: A Meditation, (University of Arizona Press, 2002) examined not only Paz's contributions to Latin American literature but the ways in which Paz served as a bridge between Latin America and the world of letters in Europe and the United States.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Cuba, Castro and Reform: An Interview with New York Times reporter Damien Cave

I first began reading Damien Cave's reporting when he covered Cory Booker's second and successful run for mayor of Newark, New Jersey.  The New York Times often ignored my hometown and Cave's coverage of the 2006 election helped to place the city's heated debates about poverty, crime, race, and authenticity in a national spotlight.  In the intervening years, Cave has gone on to cover everything from Miami to the war in Iraq.  He is now based in Mexico City from where he has written extensively about Cuba and, in recent years, the see-saw of reaction and reform that is Cuba under Raúl Castro.  Earlier this year, during a visit to Cuba that coincided with the CELAC Summit, Cave published a number of pieces that gave readers some insights on a regime that is struggling to hold on to power in the face of growing popular discontent and economic challenges.  Those articles served as the basis for my wide-ranging conversation earlier this month with Cave about what he has called, the "Cuban Evolution."    

Thursday, April 17, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: "When Mexicans Played Ball," An Interview with Prof. Ignacio García

One of the many benefits of hosting La Vuelta is that I get a chance to interview historians whose work I admire greatly.  Anyone familiar with 20th Century Mexican-American historiography knows Ignacio García's groundbreaking work in books such as "White but not Equal" and "Viva Kennedy: Mexican-Americans in Search of Camelot."  García's most recent book, however, is a break with these political histories.  "When Mexicans Played Ball: Basketball, Race and Identity in San Antonio, 1928-1945," (University of Texas Press, 2014) is a history of the young Mexican-American boys who played basketball at Sidney Lanier High School in San Antonio and the ways in which the teams coached by the legendary Nemo Herrera, challenged deeply-held stereotypes about Mexican-Americans in Texas.  For García, a graduate of Lanier High School, writing about the Lanier basketball squad was a labor of love; a love that comes across in both his writing and in the interview I conducted with him a couple of weeks ago.

To download or stream my interview with Ignacio García, visit:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: CELAC and the Future of the OAS, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the life and legacy of photographer Frank Espada.

February came and went and we weren't able to put together a new episode of La Vuelta.

How can we make this up to our listeners? By launching a March episode that may be our best yet.

We start by speaking with Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue about the recent CELAC Summit in Havana and about the challenges facing the Organization of American States.  Anyone who follows Latin American policy debates knows Shifter is one of the nation's leading experts on the region and his insights on the current political landscape in Latin America are worth a listen.

Next, we turn to the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil.  Soccer (football, futebol, futbol--take your pick) fans across the globe are setting their sights on Brazil for what promises to be a fierce competition featuring some of the world's greatest soccer players.  But there is more to the games than what will happen on the pitch.  Debates and protests have been raging in Brazil about the costs of the games while many wonder whether the South American powerhouse will actually be ready to welcome soccer fans this summer.  We spoke with Marcos Peres, a U.S.-based blogger and journalist for Brazilian communications giant UOL, about how Brazil is gearing up for the games and what are some of the challenges it faces.  We also got him to tell us the teams to watch this year. (Spoiler: he didn't think much of the USMNT's chances.)

Finally, we interviewed New York Times columnist David Gonzalez about the life and legacy of celebrated photographer Frank Espada.  If, like us, you're a fan of his work as contributor to and co-editor of the Times' Lens Blog, you already know about Espada from Gonzalez's essays here and here. Beyond his personal recollections of Espada, however, Gonzalez also explained the Puerto Rican artist's work within the broad context of the history of social documentary photography in the United States.

This month's episode is exactly the sort of show we envisioned when we launched La Vuelta last year: conversations that are varied, timely and in-depth.  We hope you agree.

La Vuelta's success depends on its supporters and audience.  How can you help?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Each episode of the show is available for streaming or download at  Follow us on Soundcloud and share our episodes with your friends and colleagues.  And let us know what you think about our show, our guests, or share ideas for future interviews.
  • Follow us on Twitter at @lavueltablog where we post updates about guests and upcoming shows as well as regular commentary on Latin American and U.S. Latino affairs.
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  • Have you read an article recently about Latin America or Latinos and the U.S. and would like to hear more from the author? Have you published a book or article recently in Latin American or Latino Studies?  Are you or a client working on project that impacts Latin America or Latinos in the U.S.?  Let us know.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Huber Matos, 1918-2014

The legendary Cuban leader Huber Matos died today in Miami at the age of 95.  In his long life he want from farmer and teacher, to military commander, to exile leader.  In October, 1959, he resigned his rank in the Cuban Revolutionary Army.  His resignation letter to Fidel Castro (a copy of which follows) remains one of the key documents in the history of the Cuban Revolution and an eloquent condemnation of its move toward one-party rule.   

Camagüey, octubre 19 de 1959
Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz
Primer ministro
La Habana

Compañero Fidel:

En el día de hoy he enviado al jefe del Estado Mayor, por conducto reglamentario, un radiograma interesando mi licenciamiento del Ejército Rebelde. Por estar seguro que este asunto será elevado a ti para su solución y por estimar que es mi deber informarte de las razones que he tenido para solicitar mi baja del ejército, paso a exponerte las siguientes conclusiones:

Primera: no deseo convertirme en obstáculo de la Revolución y creo que teniendo que escoger entre adaptarme o arrinconarme para no hacer daño, lo honrado y lo revolucionario es irse.

Segunda: por un elemental pudor debo renunciar a toda responsabilidad dentro de las filas de la Revolución, después de conocer algunos comentarios tuyos de la conversación que tuviste con los compañeros Agramonte y Fernández Vilá. Coordinadores Provinciales de Camagüey y La Habana, respectivamente: si bien en esta conversación no mencionaste mi nombre, me tuviste presente. Creo igualmente que después de la sustitución de Duque y otros cambios más, todo el que haya tenido la franqueza de hablar contigo del problema comunista debe irse antes de que lo quiten.

Tercera: sólo concibo el triunfo de la Revolución contando con un pueblo unido, dispuesto a soportar los mayores sacrificios... porque vienen mil dificultades económicas y políticas... y ese pueblo unido y combativo no se logra ni se sostiene si no es a base de un programa que satisfaga parejamente sus intereses y sentimientos, y de una dirigencia que capte la problemática cubana en su justa dimensión y no como cuestión de tendencia ni lucha de grupos.

Si se quiere que la Revolución triunfe, dígase adónde vamos y cómo vamos, óiganse menos los chismes y las intrigas, y no se tache de reaccionario ni de conjurado al que con criterio honrado plantee estas cosas.

Por otro lado, recurrir a la insinuación para dejar en entredicho a figuras limpias y desinteresadas que no aparecieron en escena el primero de enero, sino que estuvieron presentes en la hora del sacrificio y están responsabilizados en esta obra por puro idealismo, es además de una deslealtad, una injusticia, y es bueno recordar que los grandes hombres comienzan a declinar cuando dejan de ser justos.

Quiero aclararte que nada de esto lleva el propósito de herirte, ni de herir a otras personas: digo lo que siento y lo que pienso con el derecho que me asiste en mi condición de cubano sacrificado por una Cuba mejor. Porque aunque tú silencies mi nombre cuando hablas de los que han luchado y luchan junto a ti, lo cierto es que he hecho por Cuba todo lo que he podido ahora y siempre.

Yo no organicé la expedición de Cieneguilla, que fue tan útil en la resistencia de la ofensiva de primavera para que tú me lo agradecieras, sino por defender los derechos de mi pueblo, y estoy muy contento de haber cumplido la misión que me encomendaste al frente de una de las columnas del Ejército Rebelde que más combates libró. Como estoy muy contento de haber organizado una provincia tal como me mandaste.

Creo que he trabajado bastante y esto me satisface porque independientemente del respeto conquistado en los que me han visto de cerca, los hombres que saben dedicar su esfuerzo en la consecución del bien colectivo, disfrutan de la fatiga que proporciona el estar consagrado al servicio del interés común. Y esta obra que he enumerado no es mía en particular, sino producto del esfuerzo de unos cuantos que, como yo, han sabido cumplir con su deber.

Pues bien, si después de todo esto se me tiene por un ambicioso o se insinúa que estoy conspirando, hay razones para irse, si no para lamentarse de no haber sido uno de los tantos compañeros que cayeron en el esfuerzo.

También quiero que entiendas que esta determinación, por meditada, es irrevocable, por lo que te pido no como el comandante Huber Matos, sino sencillamente como uno cualquiera de tus compañeros de la Sierra -¿te acuerdas? De los que salían dispuestos a morir cumpliendo tus órdenes--, que accedas a mi solicitud cuanto antes, permitiéndome regresar a mi casa en condición de civil sin que mis hijos tengan que enterarse después, en la calle, que su padre es un desertor o un traidor.

Deseándote todo género de éxitos para ti en tus proyectos y afanes revolucionarios, y para la patria -agonía y deber de todos- queda como siempre tu compañero,

Huber Matos

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Energy Reform in Mexico, Latinos and HIV/AIDS in the United States

This month’s episode of La Vuelta Podcast begins with an examination of recent energy policy reforms in Mexico.  Last summer, President Enrique Peña Nieto introduced a series of proposals to end the monopoly of the state-owned PEMEX (Petróleos de Mexico) energy giant by allowing foreign investment in the country’s energy sector.  The move set off a series of high-profile protests by opponents of the Peña Nieto administration, accusing him of compromising the sovereignty of the Mexican state by attacking an institution born, in a celebrated nationalization of foreign oil interests, during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s. Noel Maurer, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, who has written extensively on the Mexican oil industry, spoke with us about the history of oil and politics in Mexico and the impact that President Peña Nieto’s reforms might have on the Mexican energy sector.

Next, we turned to the complex issue of Latinos and HIV/AIDS infection in the United States.  Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reveal that Latinos are disproportionately infected with HIV.  In a recent article, Erika L. Sánchez, a Chicago-based writer, examined some of the ways in which Latino cultural taboos regarding sex and homosexuality might be influencing the persistence of the disease in the Latino communities of the U.S.  Sánchez joined us to discuss some of the stories she discovered of Latinos infected with HIV/AIDS and the ways in which some Latino communities are responding to this crisis.

La Vuelta's success depends on its supporters and audience.  How can you help?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Each episode of the show is available for streaming or download at  Follow us on Soundcloud and share our episodes with your friends and colleagues.  And let us know what you think about our show, our guests, or share ideas for future interviews.
  • Follow us on Twitter at @lavueltablog where we will be posting updates about guests and upcoming shows as well as regular commentary on Latin American and U.S. Latino affairs.
  • Like us on Facebook at
  • Have you read an article recently about Latin America or Latinos and the U.S. and would like to hear more from the author? Have you published a book or article recently in Latin American or Latino Studies?  Are you or a client working on project that impacts Latin America or Latinos in the U.S.?  Let us know.