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Speaker: Professor Horacio Sierra, Bowie State University

This presentation examines how the musical careers of Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, and Pitbull have defined and challenged Cuban-American identity over the last sixty years. Their musical and ideological commentary parallels the evolving attitudes and identities of the Cuban-American community towards Cuba and its politics. Each successive artist is a little more ambiguous about her/his political leanings in the American political sphere, but each of them continues to oppose Cuba’s Communist regime while trading in the musical currency of nostalgia for the Cuba of yesteryear. In the vein of Gustavo Pere Firmat’s watershed analysis of Cuban-Americans’ hyphenated identity, these artists demonstrate how their identity exists in a liminal cultural space that lives in the present and plans for the future with one foot planted firmly in the fantasy of an Edenic past. As Cuban-born artists, Cruz and Estefan often sing of an idyllic, even Edenic, pre-Castro Cuba. Estefan leaves the terrain of salsa for the Cuban-born-and-raised Cruz to establish herself as an American Top 40 wordsmith. Yet, the imaginary and rhythms of both Cruz’s and Estefan’s songs evoke nostalgia for a Cuba that is unreachable because it is history and fantasy at once. Pitbull, steeped in the rawness of rap and hip-hop, engages more explicitly with the hardline politics of Cuba because he was born and raised in the exile community of Miami wherein such discourse is commonplace. Having never set foot on the island, his lyrics are underscored by experiencing Cuba as an outsider. More American than Cuban in many ways, Pitbull unleashes invectives against Cuban and American politicians with the brash confidence of someone who has always enjoyed the privilege of the First Amendment. Despite their differences in terms of age, gender performance, racial identity, and immigration status, the three artists have assured their success by carefully negotiating their place in the mainstream music market by utilizing Cuban-American narratives to trade in the universal themes of pride, nostalgia, loss, and hope.

Dr Horacio Sierra is an Assistant Professor of English at Bowie State University. He earned his B.S. in Communication from the University of Miami and his PhD in English from the University of Florida. His teaching and research interests include Renaissance literature and culture, Shakespeare, religious discourse, gender, sexuality, popular culture, journalism, new media, and Hispanic literature and culture.
Dr Sierra has published articles and reviews in Comparative Drama, The Sixteenth-Century Journal, Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, MESTER, Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, The Journal of Florida Literature, CEA-MAG, and Theatre Journal. His edited collection, New Readings of the Merchant of Venice, was published in 2013 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. He has received several research grants including an NEH research grant to work at the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid and an MSI Research Grant to work in the Benson Collection at the University of Texas-Austin.

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