Scholar Spotlight: Maikel Fariñas Borrego

Maikel Fariñas Borrego was a 2013-2014 CHC Graduate Pre-Prospectus Fellow. A doctoral student in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he authored the following report about his fellowship and his research on “Regional Pressure Groups in Cuba: Local Elites and Conflicting Interests, 1888-1968.” 

Maikel Fariñas BorregoI was in residence at the Cuban Heritage Collection as a Pre-Prospectus Fellow from June through July 2013. The number and variety of sources I consulted have proven to be highly valuable to my project. As my project is focused on the study of local to national and transnational civil society, the elites and their conflicting interests in the twentieth century, the expressions of sociability and associations in particular are extremely important. Between 1888 and the 1930s many new forms of associations were established in Cuba. Both the Spanish traditions and the North American culture inspired a considerable number of organizations. This second influence, however, attracted the elites overwhelmingly. Many of the new organizations started in Havana and later spread all over the country. The social hierarchies and class distinctions were majorly shaped by the actions and members of the new incoming clubs. That is why a case study of Rotary International, its influences in Cuba, and the local Rotary Clubs throughout the archipelago can inform about both civil societies interactions. The Rotarian organizations and the global networks of Rotary Clubs got to spread profusely in Cuba. In this process, aside of their typical philanthropic aims, they intervened in almost every sphere of the country’s economy, politics and even foreign affairs.

Among the pamphlets and books, many materials will allow me to study the special relationship that these social clubs held with chambers of commerce, especially the “Cámara de Comercio de la República de Cuba” and the “American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba.” There are directories which can be studied as databases to identify the common members of the two organizations. In addition, there are other books providing abundant information on these institutions (e.g. American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba. Cuba: Facts and Figures). In rare books we can also appreciate the importance of an American community in Cuba and how far they managed to establish themselves on the Island of Pines (Stephen Chalmers. Isle of Pines: Where the Pine and the Palm Tree Meet). This is particularly relevant to the intervention of Cuban Rotarians on the Cuban claims of sovereignty over the second largest island of the archipelago; which was finally established in 1925 after the ratification of the Hay-Quesada treaty. Many materials are specifically related to Rotary and Lions in Cuba (e.g. Club de Leones de La Habana. Directorio año social 1947-1948 and the Club Rotario Marianao. Directorio 1958-59). These booklets can provide essential information about the membership, the type of Rotarian businesses and even the places they chose for residence on the island. By understanding similar organizations such as Lions Clubs I gain a more in depth comprehension of Rotarians.

Another point to consider is the importance of the close relationship of Cuban Rotarians with their peers in the United States during World War II (Rotary Club of Havana. A hundred letters from the front). Conferences of the Rotarian district (Rotary Club of Marianao. Memoria de la XXXIII Conferencia del distrito 101: sede, Club Rotario de Marianao) left behind abundant sources of information. The many lectures given at Rotarian gatherings promoted a patriotic spirit among Cubans (e. g. Raúl Maestri. Movilización económica de las Américas and Luis Rodolfo Miranda. Homenaje a José Martí en el Club Rotario  de la Habana). It should be mentioned that yearbooks are especially important because of the amount of information they can provide to the investigation (Distrito 25º de Rotary International. Memoria de las actividades desarrolladas por el Dr. Manuel Galigarcía, Gobernador del Distrito 25º de Rotary International).

Abundant archival sources related to the culture of the exile document how Rotarians and Lions formed a substantial part of the integration of Cubans who came to Miami after the Revolution of 1959. The vertical files were informative about this process as well as for many other Cuban institutions and national and local personalities. Other important collections at the CHC contributed substantively to my research (e. g. Gerardo Machado y Morales Papers, Lydia Cabrera Papers, and José Lezama Lima Papers).

The collections are carefully preserved and the work environment that permeates the CHC is very supportive of research. The staff provides the best of services and I want to thank in particular Maria Estorino, Gladys Gomez-Rossie, Annie Sansone-Martinez, Meiyolet Mendez, Rosa Monzon-Alvarez. Thanks to them, their service and the preservation of documents, we can count on these collections to write a significant portion of the history of Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America.