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Exploring Cuban Culture with Paul Ryer

Feb 25, 2019


Why study Cuba? Why care? I would like to see a world where we understand each other better and are less likely to misread each other. The last time the United States misread popular sentiment in Cuba, it led to the Bay of Pigs. That led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The CIA truly believed that the Cuban people were tired of Fidel Castro. That kind of misreading might not be so dramatic in the case of Cubans wearing the U.S. flag, but I do think we misunderstand what we are seeing when we visit a place like Cuba. – Paul Ryer

During his decades-long professional and personal fascination with Cuban culture, Paul Ryer happened upon a popular expression to describe the United States and its citizens: La Yuma.

Believed to have come from the 1957 film 3:10 to Yuma, which was playing in Cuban theaters at the time of the revolution, La Yuma represents an idealized understanding of American culture. In a recent interview with KSFR’s Abigail Adler on The Last Word: Conversations With Writers, Ryer, the director of scholar programs at SAR, discusses the origin of the Cuban term and more.

Paul Ryer, Scholar Programs Director, School for Advanced Research

In his interview, Ryer expresses hopes for sharing with readers of his new book, Beyond Cuban Waters: Africa, La Yuma, and the Island’s Global Imagination,(Vanderbilt University Press, 2019), the way Cubans imagine the world and their place in it. Using a series of ethnographic vignettes, Beyond Cuban Waters explores La Yuma and other evolving complexities of Cuban culture, including Marxism, racial equality, and even bodysuits covered with the stars and stripes of the American flag.

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