Petra Kuivala: ”Así somos en Miami – this is what we’re like in Miami”

With these Spanish words a Cuban-American colleague of mine described our field of research, Cuban Studies. His short remark entails a complete world of its own: a worldview, a paradigm, a narrative and an interpretation of what it is that we do here in Miami.

With an ASLA-Fulbright Graduate Grant, I work as a Visiting Scholar at Cuban Research Institute of Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs of Florida International University. The institute is a leading research center of Cuban Studies in the United States and the rest of the world, acting both as a provider of top-notch research and a bridge between the academia and the society. For instance: during my time in Miami, we’ve regularly had news channels come and go around our office, our leading experts meeting with policy makers and civil society activists, and politicians consulting the institute on matters of domestic and foreign politics.

Cuban Studies is an international, multi- and interdisciplinary field of research focusing on Cuba. What is common to all branches of the field is an interest in not only the past and the present but also the future of Cuba in its social, political, cultural and economic spheres. What varies according to geography and cultural context are the paradigms of research and discourse. In Cuba, Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959 still prevails as the frame of discourse and research conducted within the revolutionary rule. Whereas in Europe scholars often look at Cuba from afar –both geographically as well as mentally and culturally–, in the United States Cuban Studies also stem from local roots closely entwined in domestic realities. With the changes that have taken place in Cuba and Cuban-American relations in recent years, Cuban Studies is currently a particularly relevant and vivid discipline on American soil – and the American way of looking at Cuba is different from all other approaches and paradigms of Cuban Studies.

In Miami, Cuban Studies as a way of understanding Cuba also links to everyday life, as Cuban immigrants are the largest Hispanic group populating the city. In academia, most of the scholars on the field also identify themselves as Cubans of first or second generation. European scholars of Cuban Studies working in the United States are but a few; currently I seem to be the most Northern scholar and the only Finn in the field.

Life in Miami is field work at its best, something that would not be possible anywhere else. I live and work within the Cuban-American community; our bilingual institute often incorporates English and Spanish within the same sentence; we have Cuban coffee in the afternoon. I have had the opportunity to spend a year in Miami during a period marked by rapid changes and transitions of the Cuban revolution and Cuban-American relations. My time at the institute has revealed a world of its own and provided me a vantage point beyond comparison. I have had the opportunity to participate in a multitude of seminars, conferences and lectures, and present my own work for the American audience. With the renowned status of ASLA-Fulbright Graduate Grant and ASLA-Fulbright Alumni Ambassadorial Award I have been privileged to encounter the most prestigious scholars of Cuban Studies, exchange ideas with them and build networks for future communication and cooperation (as it happens, quite many of them have personal experience of Fulbright as well!). Thus I have been able to integrate into the American field of Cuban Studies and deepen my understanding of it as a European scholar of Cuba.

Así somos en Miami, this is what we’re like in Cuban Studies in Miami. We are a rich, vibrant discipline, reaching out to understand Cuba and the Cuban America we see, taste and touch around us every day.

Petra Kuivala
ASLA-Fulbright Graduate Grantee 2016-2017
Identity and Development of the Catholic Church in Revolutionary Cuba, 1959-1986
University of Helsinki
Florida International University, FL