Supplementary Material

Mobilizations of Race, Place, and History in Santiago de Cuba’s Carnivalesque

ABSTRACT I offer a model of racialization, the ongoing process of making race meaningful, by proposing the concept of micro-mobilities: people’s movements through immediate lived space. I examine how qualities of movement in an annual carnival procession normalize racialized bodies and places. In Santiago de Cuba’s carnival, neighborhood-based conga societies participate in official competitive displays and grassroots neighborhood activities. The grassroots Invasion evokes Cuba’s wars for independence. Thousands join the Conga de Los Hoyos to process through the “territories” of other congas. I examine the Invasion as a performed diagram of “routes of Blackness” mapped onto a reenactment of Cuba’s national “roots” to argue that it mobilizes the racialization of bodies, cultural forms, and neighborhoods. My focus on bodies in motion challenges static mappings of identity, place, and history to instead show how Blackness and Whiteness are constituted in the relation between race as embodied experience and object of discourse.


Note: All video clips excerpted from field video filmed by Kristina Wirtz

The first three videos show moments from the 2011 Invasion, while the fourth video shows part of a choreographed official carnival performance by a children’s conga.

1) Conga de los Hoyos Invasion Uphill on Martí

This excerpt from field video filmed by Kristina Wirtz shows a minute from the 2011 Invasion. The camera scans 360 degrees, showing the size of the crowd way out in front of the conga ensemble itself. This far ahead, the conga’s music can barely be heard; instead, one hears the sheer size of the crowd. The location is on the Paseo de Martí, the wide central boulevard of the Los Hoyos neighborhood whose Conga de los Hoyos performs the Invasion sometime in mid-July each year, about a week before official carnival starts. At the point where the video was filmed, we are walking uphill on Martí toward the Moncada (site of Fidel Castro’s famous July 26, 1953, attack on the garrison there), and from there across Garzón Avenue and through the neighborhoods of several other major congas. Just uphill from this scene, a Haitian Ban Rará ensemble was stationed on the left sidewalk playing conch-shell horn and drums to salute the Invasion as we passed by. Also up ahead was a battery of consecrated batá drums of Santería—some of the singing can briefly be heard in the distance. Notice that this far from the music, people are simply walking and socializing as if in any sort of procession or political mobilization. Vendors are moving through the crowd, including one carrying a tower of homemade lollipops.

2) Conga de San Agustin Plays for Approaching Invasion

This excerpt from field video filmed by Kristina Wirtz shows two minutes from the 2011 Invasion. At a point almost halfway along the Invasion’s hours-long route, the crowd ahead of the Conga de los Hoyos reaches the Conga de San Agustín, on Trocha Avenue in the San Agustín neighborhood. Surrounded by neighborhood supporters and “invaders” from the procession, the conga plays and the crowd and musicians sing the call-and-response with the Chinese cornet and se arrollan, sinking low and rising back up at gestures from the conga’s director. Conga de los Hoyos children’s group director Maritza Martínez and choreographer Mabel Castro (both in head kerchiefs) can be seen arrollándose. As the roaring sound of the approaching Conga de los Hoyos increases (a competing thundering rhythm in the background), the two call out to me and two other visiting foreign scholars “let’s go!” They were anxious to stay far ahead of the pressing crowd, chaos, and perceived danger (especially to foreigners with camera equipment) in the thick of the Invasion closest to the Conga de los Hoyos. When two congas meet, they compete by each playing its very best, loudest, and most exciting rhythms, with crowd participation determining the “winner.” The Conga de los Hoyos would then resume the procession until reaching the next Conga ensemble.

3) Carnivalesque Cross-Play during Invasion, Santiago de Cuba, July 2011

This excerpt from field video filmed by Kristina Wirtz shows a minute from the 2011 Invasion. Late in the day, along Calle Cristina between Trocha Avenue and the Alameda (along the waterfront), this small carnivalesque street performance took place well ahead of the Conga de los Hoyos. It features a cross-dressing young man enacting a woman in labor, dancing to a lone Chinese cornet and a chorus singing:

corre corre para el provincial/hospital

run run to the provincial (hospital)

Although the vast majority of the Invasion participants do not dress up, there were a substantial number of cross-dressing men taking part in the Invasion, most young, and most enacting highly exaggerated, campy femininity, complete with wigs, padded breasts and behinds, and lycra and spandex outfits. The dancing of this performer “in labor” is virtuosic, incorporating arrollando and rumba moves, together with a dance partner, who performs the vacuna (vaccination) typical of pair-style rumba.

4) Children’s Conguita de los Hoyos in Performance, Santiago de Cuba, July 2011

This excerpt from field video filmed by Kristina Wirtz shows three minutes from the start of the Children’s Conguita of Los Hoyos performance before the carnival jury in July 2011. Around fifty children and adolescents, three to fifteen years of age, are organized into cuadras (groups) for the carefully choreographed and much-rehearsed performance. As the announcers call out the group’s name, the Conguita processes down Garzón Avenue into the performance space lined by crowd barriers, then stands with restricted access, where the jury, officials, and paying audience are seated. First the flag and lantern carriers (bandoleros and faroleros), then the cape-wearers (caperos), then the conga ensemble itself, which breaks into dance steps and arrollándose. Behind them come several large groups of dancers, divided by age, and each with its own costumes and theme for choreography. Processing down, they are arrollándose and will later each do a full choreographed performance for the judge, accompanied by the conga ensemble, which stops across from the jury stand and state television crew. The Conguita’s director, Maritza Martínez (dressed all in red with red cap) and several of the moms and grandmothers assisting her walk past, as do police charged with keeping the performance space restricted. Official carnival seeks to replicate the carnivalesque energy of grassroots carnival, but in a highly controlled context as spectacle for a seated audience.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *