Memories of the Cuban Revolution

Research Project

Project Director- Elizabeth Dore 

Missing from the worldwide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution are the voices of men and women living on the island. The research project Memories of the Cuban Revolution redresses that absence. Drawing on 100+ in-depth life history interviews collected across the island from 2004 through 2008, the study analyses how Cubans of different generations, social positions, racial, gender and religious identities, and political views narrate their experiences of living the revolution. The project delves into what ordinary Cubans have to say about the achievements, limitations and failures of the revolutionary process. Encouraging women and men to talk about what matters most to them, rather than to their government, or its nemesis in Miami, allows the expression of a torrent of memories, some expected, many unexpected. People talk about the ecstasies and the agonies of the 1960s; how the withering away and later resurgence of social stratification affected their lives; the ways gender and race relations changed (and didn’t change); their religious faith, and their pleasures, dreams, and disappointments. Older Cubans often express pride in accomplishments, individual and collective, while younger people generally despair that the jobs they sought have disappeared. 

Pressures in Cuba to talk the talk cultivates silence in the public sphere. But these interviews are laced with hidden histories of unsung satisfactions and frustrations. They dramatize the ways people embraced, succumbed to, and resisted conforming to the official model of the good Cuban. Keeping in mind that oral history combines past and present ‘in a single breath,’ the interviews reveal how economic difficulties influence Cubans’ recollections of the past. 

The life histories were collected by a team of eight Cuban and two British academics, under the direction of Elizabeth Dore. While members of the research team shared a common goal-- to understand the diversity of experiences of ‘living the revolution,’ we also pursued our particular interests: the revival of religion, sexuality, race and racism under the revolution, the progress and limitations of equality between women and men, the elimination of class, the recent rise in inequality, political diversity and its various expressions, how people reassess their past, generation gaps, and migration.

This was the first large oral history project authorized by the Cuban government since a similar study led by Oscar Lewis was closed down in 1970. The project was carried out under the auspices of the University of Southampton in the UK, and the Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (CENESEX) in Cuba. The research project was funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and The Ford Foundation. The British Academy, Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK (AHRC), the Leverhulme Trust, and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University provided grants to write books and articles based on the interviews. These will be published in English and Spanish.