Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Dána-Ain Davis

Committee Members

Julie Skurski

Michelle Fine

Elise Andaya

Subject Categories

Elementary Education and Teaching | International and Comparative Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Keywords

Cuba, Social Reproduction, Teachers, Race

Abstract

In November of 2018, Dr. Miriam Nicado García was appointed Rector of the University of Havana, making her the first woman of color to hold the position in the institution’s 209-year existence. This is undoubtedly a historic event that serves as a starting point to consider the intersections of formal education and social difference on the island from the perspective of education workers. Despite claims that Cuba is a racial democracy in which all citizens are unified by a shared national identity, an assessment of the education system through the experiences of women educators can be used as a diagnostic for progress toward that purported achievement. There are few studies that critically engage the life and work of Cuban teachers. The majority of existing texts about Cuban education homogenize the teaching force and instead focus on the achievements of the 1961 Literacy Campaign and quantitative markers of student achievement.

This research is a feminist analysis of labor and the politics of nation building that focuses on the lived experiences of women primary school educators in Cuba. Between 2017 and 2020, I conducted mixed-method research with twenty-one Cuban women primary school educators, the majority of whom were based in Havana. I use social reproduction theory and a Black feminist frame of analysis to argue that the experiences of Black women teachers in Cuba throughout the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are in many ways shaped by the colonial legacies of slavery and gender inequality, which the 1959 Cuban Revolution failed to rectify. As a result, these women perform essential socially reproductive and economically productive work for the sake of the nation, while their capacities to fully participate are curtailed by long work hours, familial responsibilities, and discriminatory employment practices.

In addition to reframing understandings of Cuban education, the findings from this research contribute critical interventions in the study of women’s labor experiences. The majority of research about women’s labor practices in Latin America and the Caribbean focuses on women’s employment in sex tourism and domestic labor, thereby reifying long-standing geographic divisions that mark the region as a site for the extraction of goods and services to circulate in the transnational economy. There are fewer studies, however, that highlight women’s work in service of fellow citizens and for which women are professionally trained. This research also expands the theoretical landscape of social reproduction theory by analyzing the socially necessary tasks required for economic production in a noncapitalist context. Social reproduction theory originated as a critique of capitalism; however, I contend that many of the same concerns related to the undervaluation of socially reproductive tasks can be applied to the Cuban context, whether defined as state or market socialism. Critically engaging themes of race, gender, and social reproduction helps to push beyond the usual foci of research related to the Cuban education system and women’s work in the region. The work that these women perform contributes to reproduction of Cuban society at various scales including ideological, institutional, material, and relational. Neither the 1961 Literacy Campaign nor the competitive academic achievement of Cuban students would be possible without the work of teachers, who make those achievements a reality. The stories presented in this research are a means to open a new line of inquiry about what it has meant and continues to mean to be a teacher in Cuba.

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