Summer 2010 Undergraduate Scholar

Queering Cuba: Discovering the Lesbian Presence in Post-Revolutionary Cuba

Amanda Gomez is a junior at the University of Miami, where she studies English Literature. She was motivated to apply for a CHC Undergraduate Scholarship to further develop her research skills in anticipation for pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature, in particular to gain experience in doing research in a special collections setting. The scholarship was also the perfect occasion for her to pursue a research question regarding the lesbian community in post-revolution Cuba. As Amanda observes, “I wanted to work on it just because I’d never heard of a single Cuban lesbian in my life, and I’ve lived in Miami forever so I obviously have a lot of interaction with Cuban exiles. That is, I was sure that they existed, but I’d just never heard anything about them. So I wanted to find out why that was, if there was a queer female presence in Cuba, and what the dynamic of their community really was.” She was prompted to pursue this topic by way of a book she read in a course taught by her advisor, Giovanna Pompele, titled Down to the Bone which was a young adult book written by a lesbian Cuban exile that lives in Miami.

As an English major, Amanda wanted her research to take root in the literature that emerged in the post-revolutionary period. What she found was that although there did not exist much queer female literature from the decade immediately following the revolution, a lot of women had written reflecting on that time in their past. Amanda utilized the Cuban Heritage Collection extensively to provide contextual and historical information about the period, particularly regarding political conditions and social forces that influenced the queer experience in Cuba. She consulted several historical sources, including Del Otro Lado del Espejo¡Ay, Qué Rico! : El Sexo en la Cultura y la Literatura Cubana, and Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, as well as a photojournalistic work titled El MuroEl Muro is about a seafront wall in Havana called El Malecón which served as a meeting ground for Cuban gay males. “Reading about El Malecón led me to wonder why there are such prominent gay male spaces but no similar spaces for lesbians to meet and develop a sense of community,” she notes. The fact that so little was available, however, Amanda understood to be of considerable interest: “What was most interesting about my research the Cuban lesbian community is that it was so invisible; in fact, the research ended up being about something that isn’t rather than that is, which presented its own set of difficulties. However, it confirms that there is this double standard even within the queer community, and that there can exist this strong presence of gay men and even male-to-female transvestites in Cuba while lesbians are seemingly nonexistent.”

Amanda looks back positively on her research experience and the way in which it fit into her academic career at the University of Miami. “I think this fellowship gave me the research experience that I never really would have gotten otherwise as an undergraduate at UM,” she observes, “especially because most other research positions are saved for pre-med or psychology students; there is not a lot of space for an English major who just wants to read a bunch of things. So it was really rewarding that I was finally able to get a research position and do my research on a topic that I am curious about and enjoy studying.”