Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
My field site is situated about as close as you can get to the United States while remaining, in the collective imaginary, exotic and remote: which is to say, 90 miles off the coast of Key West. In the 2000s, I worked with self-employed market vendors in urban Cuba for my doctoral research, understanding their tangled webs of solidarity as a kind of subaltern socialism against the socialist state. Since then, the exigencies of life and, paradoxically, of career have made it hard to return to Havana on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the scarcity of internet access on the island and the exorbitant cost of long-distance communication has until recently presented a major obstacle to keeping in touch and following developments, except through the news. In the last few years, however, changes in personal circumstances and in the Cuba-U.S. political climate have altered this dynamic, presenting new opportunities and challenges. In this paper, I reflect on the problem of reestablishing contact with friends from the field after a long hiatus, finding each other changed, our children grown, and many of the same old asymmetries along lines of global inequality stubbornly persisting. While many of my interlocutors are still struggling to make ends meet, and, in some cases, to leave to the United States — to bring the field to me, others are calling on me to give back, as a teacher and mentor, generating new insights about the ethics of fieldwork and what it means to collaborate with our subjects.