Friday, November 21, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Carmen Jones: El Amor Cubano

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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

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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.