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Cyber Diversions: The Digital Cuban Diaspora

Albert Sergio Laguna, Yale University

Cuban Americans have long been legible to scholars and the general public around the concept of “exile” and the political and affective weight that term carries. The discourse on exile in the context of the Cuban experience is distinguished by a series of adjectives that speak to the pain and trauma of dislocation experienced after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. While scholars of the Cuban diaspora have provided more textured historical and political accounts of this community, Cuban Studies continues to emphasize the “exile” experience and the dominance of those who left the island shortly after the Cuban Revolution between 1959 and 1973.           

This paper moves away from two dominant trends in Cuban diaspora scholarship: a singular focus on the exile community that arrived from 1959-1973 and the tendency to make negative affect the privileged framework for cultural analysis. The Cuban diaspora in the US has undergone a radical generational and demographic shift in the last 20 years. More Cubans arrived in the US between 2000 and 2010 than in any past decade, and hundreds of thousands now return for brief trips to the island each year, keeping cultural and kinship networks alive. The 21st century has also witnessed the emergence of a US-born generation that constitutes 40% of the Cuban population of the US.

These changes mirror the rise of the Internet as a form of social engagement and ultimately, fun. In a moment of heightened transnationalism and generational turnover, social media and online content have become a constant for Cubans across generations and spaces looking to engage and (re)constitute community online. A Facebook group called “We’re Not Yelling, We’re Cuban, That’s How We Talk” boasts over 100,000 members and features comedic videos and memes that seek to consolidate a sense of cubanía—a willed Cuban identity—outside of Cuba through the relational power of laughter. Los Pichy Boys, a duo composed of Cubans who arrived in the US as teenagers in the early 2000s, have a formidable presence on YouTube with posts attracting millions of views. Their videos put a comic spin on quotidian Cuban life in Miami and on the island with doblajes—voice dubbing over clips of popular US films that use the action of the movie to make their comic narratives come alive. Despite poor access to the Internet and the “counterrevolutionary” content of their videos, they are also popular in Cuba and circulate clandestinely on thumb drives via informal networks. How do ludic cultural forms and their consumption help us understand the increased fluidity between the island and the diaspora? With freedom of expression limited historically in Cuba and in the conservative climate of Miami, how do online communities created to entertain help us understand the evolution and complexity of the Cuban diaspora? How does “fun” create community while simultaneously patrolling its normative boundaries? I consider these questions through an analysis of online content attentive to aesthetics, forms of production, comments from the community, and circulation.

John F. Kennedy Institute