Stephanye Hunter, University Press of Florida acquisitions editor for Latin American and Caribbean studies, shares her thoughts on LASA’s virtual meeting and introduces the new and exciting titles in our LASA virtual booth.
LASA 2020: A Virtual Congress
Each academic conference has its own character, which is partly why it is so fun to be an acquiring editor. I attend several conferences each year, and I really love the Latin American Studies Association Congress: there is so much activity and excitement as people convene from all over the world to discuss fascinating topics. It is often my only opportunity to see my authors in person, as many of them live outside the U.S., and, to my absolute delight, they often greet me with a giant hug. The congress is intense, but I enjoy the excitement of discussing new ideas with scholars, warm conversations with my authors, and stories of past LASAs (and past Gran Bailes in particular). LASA has its own palpable energy, and I’m going to miss that this year. I am, however, very excited about the virtual congress, and I will be attending all the panels I possibly can. Acquisitions editors usually bounce between the exhibit hall, panels, meetings over coffee (lots of coffee), and dinner with authors. This year, I’ll be quietly logging onto panels from my home office (with coffee in hand, of course). While the energy may be different, I have no doubt the excitement will resonate across the many panels and the conversations.
One panel I’m particularly looking forward to was organized by Ruth Behar to celebrate her new book, Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía, coedited with Juanamaría Cordones-Cook and Kristin Schwain. The book is a stunning tribute to the works of Rolando Estévez, the artist behind over 500 handmade books and magazines created between 1985 and 2014. Ruth first told me about the project several years ago (over coffee, there should always be coffee when good books are discussed). She told me about Rolando’s process creating each book, thoughtfully compiling and curating the physical components (sand, a flag, a suitcase) to reflect the author and the text. I was smitten, and this book is the result. To the delight of our book designer Robyn Taylor, Estévez himself provided several of the design elements. Robyn told me, “Handmade in Cuba was a dream project for me and I’m grateful to have had a hand in it. I hugely admire Rolando Estévez and Ruth Behar, their artwork and poetry speak for themselves. I especially love the textures of their books, how well that comes across in the photos.” I highly recommend you attend the panel, and be sure to check out the book, too.
We’ve published several other notable books on Cuban art and culture in the past year, including a book on the history of Cuban art edited by Jorge Duany. Titled Picturing Cuba: Art, Culture, and Identity on the Island and in the Diaspora, this beautifully illustrated book traces the history of Cuban art over the past few centuries. Our acquisitions assistant Mary Puckett is very interested in the role of fashion in history, and she was excited to read María A. Cabrera Arús’s chapter, “Fashioning and Contesting the Olive-Green Imaginary in Cuban Visual Arts.” Mary describes: “Arús shows how the olive-green fatigues of Cuban revolutionaries have become powerful symbols used by artists in many different ways. Artists mobilized by the government to create propaganda used the color to celebrate fidelistas in the 1950s and 60s, but the color was later deployed by artists to critique the regime. The iconic color and style of the fatigues has even been adopted in high fashion designs created by Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld to channel ‘Cuba’s military chic.’”
Mary notes that fashion also crops up as a theme in Cecilia Tossounian’s La Joven Moderna in Interwar Argentina: “La Joven Moderna places young women at the center of debates about modernity and Argentine national identity in the 1920s and 1930s. Tossounian shows how the figure of the modern girl emerged as a product of transnational consumer culture, transforming feminine identity in Argentina. Women embraced new fashions and careers, and started playing sports! The ‘joven moderna,’ the image of the young, independent, cosmopolitan woman, was viewed both as a symbol of progress and strength for Argentina and also as a symbol of immorality and cultural loss.”
Another recent book on Cuban cultural production focuses on theater and its performance of queerness. Bretton White’s Staging Discomfort: Performance and Queerness in Contemporary Cuba takes the reader to theatrical performances of controversial and often censored plays, often in small, cramped, sweltering spaces. White describes the uncomfortable physical experience of the audience and the productions themselves, which, together, challenge the homogeneity and heteronormativity of the Cuban identity.
This focus on Cuban art and culture hasn’t sidelined our books on Cuban history, however. In Operation Pedro Pan and the Exodus of Cuba’s Children, Deborah Shnookal relies on impressively extensive and meticulous research to explore the narrative of childhood following the Cuban Revolution, on both sides of the Florida Straits. By comparing the experiences of youth recruited for Castro’s Literary Brigade in the 1960s with their compatriots whose parents sent them to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan, Shnookal achieves a nuanced examination of the larger dynamics at work between Cuba and the U.S. during the Cold War.
Victor Triay’s The Mariel Boatlift: A Cuban-American Journey won the gold medal for nonfiction at the Florida Books Awards this year. A carefully curated collection of oral histories, this book offers a rare glimpse at the experiences of Cubans who left during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. Called the scum of Cuban society by Castro, Marielitos were often seen as criminals and deviants in the U.S. In this book, Triay tells the stories of the real Marielitos, the many individuals and families who immigrated to the U.S. and worked hard to become teachers, lawyers, and government workers in their new country. Over the past few years of working with Victor, I have been impressed by his dedication. The many months Victor spent gathering stories, meticulously confirming his transcriptions, and piecing together the testimonies culminates in a book that restores the voices of the Marielitos themselves to the record of this historic event.
Using similar oral history techniques, and embracing a similar determination for finding truth, María Padilla and Nancy Rosado collected stories for their book about Puerto Ricans fleeing the island during and after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Unlike the Mariel Boatlift, this was an exodus that I watched in real-time. Padilla and Rosado approach their interviewees with such compassion and thoughtfulness, taking the reader into the motels of Central Florida where families have been living in motels, sharing a single room, for months on end. Uncertain of where they would be the next week, these families have navigated a new life in Florida: finding jobs, sending children to school, and grappling with the guilt of leaving family behind. I hope Tossed to the Wind: Stories of Hurricane Maria Survivors helps the reader understand the very human casualties of the fraught relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
We’ve also released several books in our new Reframing Media, Technology, and Culture in Latin/o America series, which is edited by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste and Juan Carlos Rodríguez. Established only a few years ago, the purpose of the series is to explore how different forms of media reframe and reconfigure social, economic, and political discourses. The books published in the past year do this mission justice as they span the continent and encompass many types of media. Eli Lee Carter’s The New Brazilian Mediascape: Television Production in the Digital Streaming Age looks at the production of Brazilian television at the advent of internet streaming, which has threatened the decades-long hegemony of TV Globo. As a result of these multiple platforms, television portrayals of Brazil have become more diverse, a better reflection of contemporary Brazilian society. Aldona Pobutsky canvases a gamut of cultural products in her book, Pablo Escobar and Colombian Narcoculture, from television and music to T-shirts and fashion in order to understand how notoriously violent drug lord Pablo Escobar has become a cultural symbol in Colombia. When I first read the manuscript, the introduction had me hooked: Pobutsky opens with Pepe, a hippopotamus Escobar brought to his ranch, Hacienda Nápoles. Years after Escobar’s death in 1993, Pepe was at large in Colombia before he was killed by hunters. The media frenzy around Pepe’s death in 2009, says Potbutksy, illustrates how engrained Escobar remains in Colombia’s consciousness.
Also in the series, The Insubordination of Photography: Documentary Practices under Chile’s Dictatorship by Ángeles Donoso Macaya considers how the violent dictatorship of Pinochet changed Chilean photographic practices. When faced with the disappearances of thousands of their compatriots, Chileans strategically and creatively manipulated photographic practices to circumvent censorship laws and protest the regime.
Finally, series editors Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste and Juan Carlos Rodríguez published their volume Digital Humanities in Latin America. The volume combines contributions from academics, such as Paul Alonso’s exploration of Ecuadorian internet comedy series or Anghardad N. Valdivia’s chapter on Latinas/os and the myth that new technology will solve larger societal problems, alongside interviews with bloggers, digital activists, and researchers at the forefront of digital humanities in Latin America and the Caribbean today.
Two books published this season point in a new direction for Florida’s list on Latin American and Caribbean studies, books that explore the nature-society dynamics in Latin America’s history and present. Geopolitics, Culture, and the Scientific Imaginary in Latin America edited by María del Pilar Blanco and Joanna Page provides an excellent foundation by examining the significance of Latin American scientific contributions to studies of technology, medicine, and the natural world.
I’m fascinated by the exploration of posthumanism in Latin America, which is the subject of Lucy Bollington and Paul Merchant’s Latin American Culture and the Limits of the Human. Posthumanism, the editors write, “opens the figure of the human beyond ‘man’ as authoritative, rational subject” (5). Sections of the volume explore multiple posthuman subjects at the edge of what we consider human, such as the boundaries between life and death, between humans and animals, and between humans and the environment. I’ve just finished reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, and I found Bollington and Merchant’s section on necropolitics particularly helpful in understanding the role of the archive, testimonio, and witnessing in Bolaño’s forensic fiction.
I’m very proud of the books we are presenting at LASA this year. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on them, and I hope you find them as interesting and exciting as I do. While you are attending LASA, feel free to drop me a line and tell me what panels you recommend, which books you are excited about, or what you are currently working on. I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, stay safe, keep reading, and, as always, drink more coffee.
View our new Latin American studies titles in our virtual booth and use code LASA20 for deep discounts and free shipping on all orders.
View our ad in the annual meeting program.
If you were hoping to meet with Stephanye at our booth to discuss a book project, feel free to get in touch.