The Travel Narrative As Source

Arrival at Jose Marti International Airport

First and foremost, I intend for this blog to serve as a type of extended travel narrative on my time in Cuba.  In my case, this is a complicated mission.  Travel narratives are often written with the intended audience being potential or future travelers to the same location…yet, as my audience is primarily US Americans, * some restrictions apply * on our end.  But again, lets avoid politics and get on with the post:

The inspiration for this subject and my personal interest in the travel narrative comes from a course I took with Dr Louis A Perez at the University of North Carolina during my MA program. (For more on Dr Perez, see previous post “Things My Teachers Taught Me“)  The name of the course, it just so happens, was The Travel Narrative as Source.  Throughout the semester our class of 3, which included myself as well as fellow Cuba enthusiast the beautiful & brilliant Miss Bonnie Lucero, read through a selection of narratives dating from the colonial period to present.  The narratives offered a variety of perspectives on life and politics on the island as recalled by authors of diverse backgrounds.  The course readings certainly strengthened my depth of understanding pertaining to many aspects of the islands history, yet what I recall most from the class were our lengthy discussions and debates not on what the book was about, but why the book came to be.

In these discussions we considered some of the following issues:  Who are these travelers?  Why did they choose to write about their experiences?  Who were they writing for?  Who published the travel narrative?  Where on the island did they visit?  How long did they stay?  How did they gain access to the individuals and locations of which they wrote?  What do they choose to include from their experiences?  What do they leave out?  What is the author’s personal and political background?  What country are they from?  How does the time period contribute to their understanding of events?

My first experience with a travel narrative was my junior year at UT Austin.  Dr Frank Guridy assigned C. Peter Ripley’s “Conversations With Cuba” for his Re-Imagining Cuba course.  For the purpose of the course, the book was used as a first-hand account of the changes that took place on the island throughout the Special Period. (Please appreciate that I am not going off on a 4-page rant on the background and significance of the “Special” Period right now…..maybe later.)  I recall reading through the book with great interest and recommending it to several friends and relatives over the following years.  Several years later, I was glad to see it included on the syllabus for the course with Dr Perez.  Of course, for the graduate-level course we were not reading Mr Ripley to hear what he had to say about Cuba so much as to tear it to shreds, perform a thorough background check on the author, and “Question Everything.”

So, how does all this apply to me and this blog/running travel narrative?  That is what I need to ask myself EVERY TIME I post, or journal, or observe, or share a story or thought with family, friends and colleagues.  As a young woman from the US who has spent most of her life in academia, was born in Chicago but educated in the South, has divorced parents and a Christian background, Irish and Italian roots, comes from a family of Chicago cops, a White Sox fan who hates applesauce and loves running and cooking and old music….how does all of this shape the way I see the world in which I am now living?  Who am I interacting with on a daily basis and how did that come about?  What am I choosing to see and what am I leaving out (collectors bias!!)? How much of an all-encompassing understanding can I expect to get while only in one city?  Will my observations ever be truly credible, as I can never change the fact that I am a foreigner?

I must question everything but not be discouraged by my own inherent flaws as “the traveler.”  One can acknowledge the existence of so-called “biases” without being discouraged by them.  What I share here is one first-hand perspective, and though I am determined to include as much as possible, keeping always in mind the mistakes or omissions of past travelers, I recognize that I will only make my own mistakes, omissions and false interpretations.  I ask that all of my readers keep this in mind and consider my words as opinion and perspective rather than FACT.  As a historian, I am of the opinion that there is not one single undisputable “truth” concerning any story or event, but rather a combination of stories and perspectives that, when considered together, give the student the ability to critically determine the most complete story or picture for his or her self.  My stories, therefore, are simply part of a whole.  I encourage everyone to go read what other people have to say!!!

Forget mojitos, fresh Mango juice is OUT OF THIS WORLD!!!!!!!!!