What Temple University Press staff wants to give and read this holiday season

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read this holiday season. 

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

audacity-of-hoop_smGive: As a recent Press tweet suggested, I’d give Alexander Wolff’s The Audacity of Hoop to those on my list who’ve been in a funk since November 8.

Read:  A review of Maria Semple’s new book, Today Will Be Different, pointed me to an earlier book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and I’ve had it on my list ever since. I love smart, witty, satirical contemporary novels and this looks to be just that.


Karen Baker, Financial Manager
building-drexel_032816_smGive:
 Boathouse Row  by Dotty Brown and Building Drexel, edited by Richardson Dilworth and Scott Gabriel Knowles, as both of these books are beautiful. Since all of my family are born and raised in Philadelphia, they will make great gifts for them.

Read: A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans. This book was just brought to my attention because it is about to be made into a movie, and it looks like a fun read.

 

 

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

boathouse-row_smGive: Boathouse Row, by Dottie Brown. We at Temple University Press have done our part to make holiday gift giving a little easier on Philadelphians this year. Dottie is a terrific writer who is passionate about rowing, the book is gorgeous, and it’s the first full exploration of this fascinating and unique Philadelphia institution. Giving Boathouse Row is practically a required act of Philadelphia civic pride.

Read: American Amnesia, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. These authors argue we have apparently forgotten how a “mixed economy” — with a substantial role for public intervention as well as for free markets — was crucial to achieving American prosperity in the twentieth century. It’s hard to know where we’re headed these days, but with seemingly everything up for grabs this looks like the sort of fundamental civics lesson we could all use.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Ghostly Encounters_smGive: I’ll be giving folks copies of Dennis and Michele Waskul’s Ghostly Encounters.  It’s fascinating, readable, and (at least as far as I’m concerned) nothing says “holiday season” like ghosts.

Read:  I’ll be reading Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Remainderthe latter of which I received as an early holiday gift from a good friend.

 

 

 

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

will-big-league-baseball-survive_smGive: Will Big League Baseball Survive? The World Series this year brought in so many viewers and gave them such a sublime show at just the moment that football looks like it might be losing a shade of its luster. Will baseball fandom remain arcane to casual audiences? Is a breakthrough imminent, possible, or even necessary? Lincoln Mitchell sees the path forward. His book is perfect for the baseball evangelists I know.

Read: Colson Whitehead’s NBA-winning (no – we’re not talking about sports anymore) Underground Railroad and Zadie Smith’s new Swing Time (read her speech on hope and history ) in fiction and I’m curious about Michael Lewis’s take on Kahneman and Tversky in The Undoing Project.


Nikki Miller, Rights and Contracts Manager

Give: Dotty Brown’s Boathouse Row, which takes you through the history of rowing with beautiful pictures along the Schuylkill.  It offers a relaxing balance of history and storytelling which makes it a perfect read for the holiday season.
Read: The holidays give me an excuse to lay by the fire and reread my favorite book: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.


Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

suicide-squeeze_smGive: Suicide Squeeze: Taylor Hooton, Rob Garibaldi, and the Fight against Teenage Steroid Abuse, by William C. Kashatus. This important story of the tragic steroids-related suicides of two up-and-coming student-athletes is an essential addition to the continuing education on the widespread problem of steroid abuse among young people.

Read: I hope to receive The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter, by Tom Mendicino, a novel about two brothers who grow up in 1960s South Philadelphia and then go their separate ways: one staying and taking over their father’s barbershop and the other moving away and becoming a high-society lawyer. When life goes awry, they reveal the strength of the bond between them.


Kate Nichols,  Art Manager
Give: I would give George Lipstiz’s How Racism Takes Place.
 
Read: I have already given myself Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (through a donation to WXPN).

Dave Wilson, Senior Production Editor

City in a Park_smGive: I thoroughly enjoyed working on and reading City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System by Lynn Miller and Jim McClelland. The authors recount a fascinating story of the birth of the park system, and I found myself wanting to visit the many places and houses so vividly depicted by the authors. The accompanying talks the authors gave made me more aware of one of the world’s greatest park systems, one that I didn’t fully appreciate until I had read this book.

 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

possessive_investment_rev_ed_smGive: I’d like to give a few of my friends copies of The Possessive Investment of Whiteness, by George Lipsitz, a book that illustrates the injustices suffered by and the advantages of white supremacy.

Read: I’m trying to catch up on my reading, so from the 2015 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books list, I just bought Loving Day by Mat Johnson to read over the holiday break.  Peace and love to all this holiday season!

 

 

 

Emma Pilker, Editorial Assistant

framing-the-audience_smGive: Framing the Audience by Isadora Anderson Helfgott, to my art history colleagues. Anyone interested in the social history of art will appreciate Helfgott’s analysis of pivotal 20th century movements that shaped today’s art world.

Read: I have been putting off reading Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller because of the heavy themes, but the end of the year is the perfect time to commit to some historical reflection and cultural

 


Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

consuming-catastrophe_smGive: Considering how 2016 was, Timothy Recuber’s Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster an appropriate gift. Recuber looks at how the media covered four crises–the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings and the 2008 financial crisis–and how our concern for the suffering of others help soothe our own emotional turmoil.

south-philadelphia

Read: I just started read Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, which actually acknowledges a Temple University Press book–Murray Dubin’s South Philadelphiaas source material for the depiction of South Philadelphia in the book. This video of Chabon, made during his Free Library of Philadelphia appearance on December 8 opens with him talking about how Dubin’s South Philadelphia influenced his “autobiographical novel.”

Lou Barletta: Burdensome, Illegal, Alien

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post Undocumented Fears author Jamie Longazel’s recent essay from the Huffington Post about Lou Barletta. 

Donald Trump is reportedly considering Congressman Lou Barletta to serve as his Secretary of Labor.

A Trump supporter from the beginning, Barletta made a national name for himself as mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, when he spearheaded the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA) in 2006. Riding the wave of popularity generated from his hard-line anti-immigrant stance, he went on to unseat longtime Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This potential appointment does not surprise me given Barletta’s loyalty to Trump and the political similarities the two share. However, as someone who grew up in Hazleton and spent the last decade studying the politics surrounding the IIRA, I am deeply concerned.

Undocumented Fears_smAs I chronicle in my book, Undocumented Fears, Barletta pushed the IIRA without any evidence to support his anti-immigrant claims. He suggested undocumented immigrants were wreaking havoc on his city – committing crimes, draining resources, and the like. I show how in reality it was economic policies favoring the wealthy that were responsible for Hazleton’s decline.

Like Trump, Barletta has elevated demagoguery over truth. “I don’t need numbers,” he boasted when confronted with the reality that undocumented immigrants did not increase crime in Hazleton. At the same time he has masked how his own political decisions have done more harm than good for his constituents, including some of his most ardent supporters.

Although there was no evidence to support his claim that “illegal aliens in our city create an economic burden that threatens our quality of life,” there is plenty of evidence of Barletta burdening city resources. Back in 2001, as mayor, he gave his blessing to local developers seeking to implement a state-level corporate welfare initiative that provided exploitative multinational companies with massive tax breaks. Some enjoyed a moratorium on all taxes for a dozen years. Hazleton today provides a clear example of how a city cannot provide its residents with adequate services when its largest employers do not pay their fair share.

More directly, Barletta took advantage of the system for his own benefit by dragging his exclusionary law through a years-long appeal process. While increasing his political capital by refusing to “back down,” he ignored clear pronouncements that this would cost the city immensely. Indeed, it has. Hazleton – which operates on an annual budget of less than $10 million – now owes $1.4 million in legal fees. As the Editorial Board of the local newspaper, the Citizen’s Voice so appropriately put it, “[T]he residents of Hazleton will have to consider [this] an involuntary contribution to [Barletta’s] campaign war chest.”

Silencing critics who sought to add complexity to the debate, Barletta regularly uttered the simplistic, faux-populist line “illegal is illegal.” The hypocrisy of this was in full view as he reacted to the court’s determination that the IIRA illegally overstepped federal authority and violated the Equal Protection Clause, unleashing Trump-like criticisms of judges, immigrant rights groups, and musings about a rigged system.

Because he hails from a hardscrabble former coalmining town, Barletta may look the part as potential Secretary of Labor. Hazleton, after all, has one of the richest histories of labor organizing you will find.

But we shouldn’t let that fool us. Lou Barletta’s pro-corporate / anti-immigrant stance is alien to the working class legacy of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Coal Region. He has more in common with the barons of the mining era than he does with the miners, enabling exploitation more than protecting us from it. What should worry us most is how he has followed in the footsteps of the coal barons, using ethnic stereotyping to pit working people against one another.

It is true Barletta and Trump are both widely popular in Hazleton at the moment. But after sifting through Lou Barletta’s record, I can say with confidence that he does not represent the interests of the working class people living in Hazleton today, despite posturing as though he does. Unfortunately, laborers across the country may soon find out that he does not represent theirs, either.

Looking at the past to see Major League Baseball’s future

This week in North Philly Notes, Lincoln Mitchell, author of Will Big League Baseball Surivive? considers how MLB has changed since Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world.”

On November 23rd of this year, 90 year old former big league pitcher Ralph Branca died. Bianca was a solid pitcher, winning 88 games with a very respectable 3.79 ERA over 11 year seasons in the 1940s and 1950s. Branca, however, is mostly remembered for giving up the most famous home run in baseball history. He was the relief pitcher who gave up a three run home run to Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the 9th inning of the third and final game of a playoff series to determine the National League pennant in 1951. Even casual baseball fans have seen the clip of Thomson running the bases, Branca looking dejected and the Giants fans at the old Polo Grounds in northern Manhattan going crazy while announcer Russ Hodges keeps repeating “the Giants win the Pennant.”

That was, by any measure a great game, unless I suppose, if you were a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Thomson’s home run highlighted the Giants comeback after trailing by 4-1 in the last inning. Five future Hall of Famers, including Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, played in that game between two teams who had been rivals for over half a century. The game was further immortalized by Dom DeLillo who opened his Cold War Epic The Underworld with a fictional scene of Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Toots Shor and J. Edgar Hoover sitting together at that game.

Perhaps the most interesting and overlooked statistic about that game is that there were 20,000 empty seats for this most exciting and anticipated of games. Baseball fans today assume that big league baseball was always played by the best players in the world in front of full stadiums, but for much of baseball’s history that was not true. Ironically, while baseball played a bigger role in our culture then—it is hard to imagine any home run in the 21st century becoming as widely remembered as Thomson’s or known as the “shot heard ‘round the world’—it was a much smaller industry.

will-big-league-baseball-survive_smThis is significant because to understand where Major League Baseball (MLB) is going, it is essential to understand how it got to be where it is. In 1951, only a few years after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers, baseball at the major league level, was still a game played entirely in the northeast and Midwest in mostly empty ballparks. Integration was still in its nascent stage as there were informal limits on the number of African-American players on each team, and Latinos with dark skin were still almost entirely excluded.

Baseball’s journey to becoming a multi-billion dollar industry with the best players from the baseball-playing world vying for lucrative spots on 30 teams in North America was a complex one. Baseball did some things well, like being ahead of the national curve on integration and adapting well to new technologies, notably the internet, but it also encountered problems such as its mishandling of the steroid crisis while poor attendance remained a problem as recently as the 1990s when baseball considered eliminating two teams.

The recently concluded season ended on a high note as the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908. The final game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians drew more viewers than any game in the last quarter century. Since the World Series, the major baseball story has been the efforts to renegotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the players and the owners. The most visible issues that have been raised with regards to the CBA thus far have been the possibility of adding a 26th player to big league rosters and introducing an international draft for all amateur players around the world.

These issues, however, are only very dim reflections of the bigger challenges baseball will confront in the coming decade or two. In the last 10-20 years globalization has brought more top players from everywhere in the world to MLB, but as globalization continues, many baseball loving countries, particularly those with some economic power, will chafe at this system, while MLB may realize that concentrating entirely in North America leaves many markets untapped. Similarly, new technologies and ways of consuming information will make lucrative cable contracts a thing of the past while MLB will need to find ways to more efficiently monetize its impressive advanced media products. Additionally, as fewer American children grow up playing more than one sport, fewer Americans grow into adulthood with a working knowledge of the game, raising important questions about how baseball will find the next generation of fans.

The last decade or two have been almost a perfect storm for MLB. Cable revenues have remained high while advanced media has brought in even more money. Globalization has made the best players available to American teams, while not being quite powerful enough to challenge American baseball hegemony; and there are still enough middle aged and older Americans who grew up with the game to fill stadiums and watch the postseason on television. This won’t continue and how baseball responds to these changing conditions will determine the future of this complicated and rarely fully understood American institution.

 

 

 

Telling the story of a bitter conflict over sexuality in the airline industry

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Patrick Murphy, author of Deregulating Desire, blogs about the flight attendants’s gains. 

In August 2016, flight attendants for United Airlines ratified a new contract that raised the top wage to over $71,000 per year. The deal provides pay and benefits that far exceed the standard for most jobs in the service economy. Whereas workers in restaurants and in big box stores can be forced into overtime at the last minute, United flight attendants get time and a half if they volunteer to work on busy days. Whereas those in retail and in fast food lose pay when business is slow, United flight attendants are guaranteed their monthly wage regardless of the demand for air travel. In an era when white men continue to out-earn other workers, the new United contract delivers a living wage to a majority woman workforce in which half of new hires are people of color.

deregulating-desire_smFour decades of tireless organizing allowed United flight attendants to lock in these gains. Since the middle of the 1960s, flight attendants have been on the cutting edge of social change. In an era when most middle class white women married and had children right out of high school, flight attendants – or stewardesses as the airlines still called them – stayed single, married later, and delayed motherhood. Living in the downtown areas of major U.S. cities, many stewardesses joined the women’s, gay, and lesbian liberation movements, and helped transform dominant cultural ideas about love, sex, and kinship.  As people’s attitudes about sexuality changed in the 1970s, however, the economy failed to keep pace with the social transformation. On the one hand, most people’s families began to look more like flight attendants’, with people marrying later, having children outside of marriage, or choosing same-sex relationships. But on the other hand, the ideal of the traditional nuclear family became ever more important to the political debates of the 1970s and 1980s as phrases like “female headed households,” and “out of wedlock births” became means to blame poor women – and especially women of color – for their poverty.

Rather than avoiding these heated cultural debates, flight attendants made ideas about family and about sexuality the centerpiece of their union agenda. They built alliances with LGBT and feminist groups outside of the industry, and argued that a living wage, affordable health insurance, and a secure retirement should not be reserved for white men in heavy industry and in corporate management. Flight attendants’ new movement was immensely successful, and real wages for flight attendants at many airlines doubled between 1975 and 1985.

While the category of sexuality galvanized flight attendants, it also became the centerpiece of management’s effort to challenge the flight attendant union movement.  Business leaders in the airline industry – and among the Wall Street bankers who financed their operations – argued that a decade of rapid social change had undermined the values that had always made America strong. To alleviate the vast new economic pressures facing the middle class in the 1970s, managers pushed to restore those bedrock values: deferred gratification, personal responsibility, and hard work. Ordinary families’ stability, big business argued, rested on rolling back the cultural changes that flight attendants and many of their allies had initiated in the 1960s and 1970s. The new alliance between pro-business and pro-family activists presented a daunting challenge for flight attendants, and by the 1990s, unions at many airlines had been forced to forfeit many of their previous gains.

Deregulating Desire tells the story of this bitter conflict over sexuality in the airline industry. While it illuminates the challenges that flight attendants and all feminized service workers have faced as neoliberal reforms transformed their industry, the book shows that an ongoing commitment to feminist and LGBT activist movements has helped them maintain a heavily unionized workplace. As the recent victory at United Airlines demonstrates, flight attendant unions have delivered concrete economic resources for their members, resources that most workers – including much of the white middle class – lack in the 21st century. In an age when economic inequality is the centerpiece of national political debates, and when there is little concrete analysis of nuts-and-bolts efforts to fight economic inequality, Deregulating Desire documents flight attendants’ often successful struggle for workplace justice.

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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A posthumous honor for author Randy Martin

This week in North Philly Notes, we reprint Jeffrey A. Halley and Patrick Hebert’s comments honoring the late Randy Martin, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marxist section of the American Sociological Association.

On behalf of the Marxist section, and its Lifetime Achievement Award Committee (with Art Jipson and Rich Hogan) it is with great pleasure that we present this year’s Award to Randy Martin. Many of you knew Randy and are familiar with his work and contributions. Randy unfortunately passed away this winter, after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 57, Professor and Chair of Art, Society and Public Policy, Director, Graduate Program in Arts Politics, at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and in his time he accomplished many things.

I met Randy in New York when he was at CUNY Graduate Center finishing his Ph. D. thesis.  Later in the 1980s we both worked together on the journal Social Text. His B.A. was from UC –Berkeley, where he studied Michael Burawoy, who had recently joined the faculty. For his M.S. Randy then studied at Wisconsin with Eric Olin Wright, and was active in the graduate students’ strike.  A Marxist scholar and also a dancer, he came to New York to dance and to study with Mike Brown and George Fisher at CUNY.

His research can be divided a bit arbitrarily into a number of overlapping categories:

Works on Marxism include:

Books critiquing the neo-liberal university include:

Randy might be best known for his pioneering work on neo-liberalism and financialization, in Financialization of Daily Life and in An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management.  And he had just completed Knowledge, LTD: Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative, published posthumously in spring 2015.

Finally, he worked at the confluence of politics and culture, more specifically, dance and culture, in his Performance as Political Act: The Embodied Self; Socialist Ensembles: Theater and State in Cuba and Nicaragua; Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics; and the edited Routledge Companion to Art and Politics.

Randy was also an institution builder, as editor of journals, serving on the board of directors of the New York Marxist School, as Chair and acting Dean at Pratt Institute, and finally at New York University, where he was Chair, Professor of Art, Society, and Public Policy, and Founding Director of the Graduate Program in Arts Politics, Tisch School of the Arts.

Randy combined Marxist scholarship, organizational commitment, and a magnetic presence as teacher.

We are honored to confer this award on him.  To receive it, I want to introduce his colleague Pato Hebert from New York University.

Patrick Hebert:

It’s an honor to accept this award on behalf of Randy’s brilliant wife Ginger and his wonderful children Oliver and Sophia, and to represent my colleagues and our alumni in the Art & Public Policy Department at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. Randy ingeniously envisioned, built and chaired our department, and so it is also he whom I have the privilege and challenge of representing tonight.

Although I am honored to be here, I am also deeply saddened to be with you. I so wish it were Randy’s probing, punning, imploring, prancing presence that was before you now. Back home at the department we will soon be embarking on our first new school year without our gentle but fierce leader. This beginning anew in the space of loss will not be easy. Randy was as gifted as he was gracious, and he always made time for everyone even as he shepherded countless book projects, panels, formations and initiatives.

I miss him. He took a chance on me three years ago and made room and resources for my strange, amoebic practice, guiding, pushing and supporting me along with hundreds upon hundreds of others — colleagues, students, strangers, you, our world, the under-commons. Randy was incomparable. At his services last spring were shared many heavy hearts, but mostly endless currents of gratitude, admiration, awe and delight. People still speak continuously of Randy’s kindness, warmth, generosity, his catalytic creativity, principled yet supple politics, and his devastating intellectual acumen. I miss this marvelous mind and spirit, his energy and example. Every day.

But although I am still so full of sorrow, I am also thrilled to be here with you, his comrades, a most special crew among his many magical worlds. I am buoyed by the work that you and Randy have done, or will do, helping us to better understand how we are so interconnected with one another, the messy and sacred intricacies of the social, which here is to also say the political, and the still to be determined. Randy deserved to stand before you tonight, receiving this award and the recognition he has so rightfully earned but would no doubt so modestly deflect. He cannot be with us in the flesh now, but his spirit and wisdom are everywhere. No more committee meetings, deadlines, bureaucracies or brain cancer, just a legacy as lithe as it is large.

I, myself, am just beginning to dip more fully into the work and pathways Randy Martin has left for us. Randy’s dexterity and agility were astonishing. He was able to write incisively about academic administration, progressive dance and financial derivatives with equal grace and grit. He used to tell our students that they were working to create a GPS for a world that does not yet exist, but that they would bring into being through their work and efforts. Conjuring the pulsing plurality of our needed response, he reminded us all that we share not a practice, but a predicament. The predicament of this moment, as well as our communal possibility.

Given this special collective assembled here tonight, I thought I would close with some of Randy’s own words from his article, “Marxism after Cultural Studies,” published in 2008 as the financial crisis crested. Given the market’s bungee jumping the last few weeks, I can’t help but wonder what Randy would’ve analyzed and intuited. But here is what he wrote so presciently some seven years ago:

Financialization is more about technique than idea, more effect than intention, less a consensus than a dispersion of consequences. As such, it is less coherent than a ruling idea and pricklier than a regime whose time can pass. It does not replace these other terms for naming what we are up against, but nestles among them. It surely cannot account for all that transpires in the present, but does insist upon reconciling the vast complexity in our midst through some means of accountability.

Finance culturalizes risk by rendering it a calculable gain from an expected outcome. Risk spreads the culture of accountability and as such forms a way of knowing or epistemological conjuncture that both cuts across disciplines and renders those claims to methodological monogamy mute.

Risk suggests more than an attack on traditional partitions of specialized knowledge and expertise. It also invites another figuration of being.

By examining financial reason ‘manifest as risk management’ across an array of sites from war, to domesticity, to education, a richer trajectory for Marxism and cultural studies can itself be more readily imagined. For Marxism to now emerge as the unrepresentable within cultural studies does not demand a return to the classical formulations with their prior stabilities and separations. Rather, this Marxism makes room for the cultural as it manifests and multiplies in those spaces and affects that capital lives off of but remains indifferent to. This Marxism is also a cultural studies, but one that asks what life we lead together when all that concerns us can be placed at risk. It allows us to pose the question of value, including that of our own theoretical labors, when these would be denied both a history and a futurity. From the little difference that we make can be derived a field of studies to survive and even thrive these pre-criminal crises.

 

 

December 17, 2014

This week in North Philly Notes, Yolanda Prieto, author of The Cubans of Union City discusses President Obama’s landmark Cuban policy change, while reflecting on her own experiences as a Cuban American.

As a Cuban American who favors the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, I choked up with emotion when watching President Obama’s historic television address on December 17, 2014 announcing that he was changing the policy of isolation towards Cuba. After all, Obama explained, more than 50 years of acrimony between the two countries had not accomplished anything. Instead, engagement could lead to a more fruitful relationship, and it could possibly bring economic improvements and more freedoms to the Cuban people. Americans could also travel to Cuba under a broader range of categories, which could generate more contact and understanding between the two countries. These changes would happen even though the economic embargo, imposed by the United States on Cuba in 1962, would remain in place. To lift the embargo, Congress would have to repeal the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which strengthened and extended the existing embargo on the island. Regarding the embargo, Obama urged lawmakers in his speech to lift it because the law was anachronistic and it no longer served any real purpose.

At exactly the same time, President Raul Castro made the same announcement on Cuban television. In both countries, the news was received with great surprise. The road ahead would be difficult, but these steps marked a historic beginning.

Cubans of Union CityIn Cuba, people were elated. Praise for President Barack Obama abounded, and American flags were displayed on balconies and bike taxis. In Miami, where most Cubans outside of Cuba reside, the reaction was mixed. Many Cubans approved of President Obama’s plans, but many others disapproved. Relations with Cuba, they think, would only serve to enrich the coffers of the Cuban government in Havana.  But the majority of Miami Cubans favor normalization of relations. A survey conducted by Bendixen and Armandi International in March, 2015 revealed that 51 percent of Cuban Americans support the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, while 49 percent do not. Approval for the politics of normalization is growing among Cubans who do not live in Miami; 69 percent of Cuban Americans who live outside of Miami support normalization.

Although approval is high among younger generations of Cuban Americans, it is declining among the older population. Disapproval is also vociferous among Cuban American Congress members. In Cuba, some dissidents oppose normalization while others welcome it. It is also possible that some in the Cuban government do not agree, especially those hard-liners that see any contact with the United States as detrimental to Cuba.

What led to this change in the American position toward Cuba? According to William Leogrande and Peter Kornbluh’s book Back Channel to Cuba, there has been ongoing, secret, often surprising, dialogue between Washington and Havana. Along with the invasions, covert operations, and assassination plots, there have been efforts at rapprochement and reconciliation. However, most of these efforts had fallen through the cracks. Discussions between the two governments have been largely limited to specific problems, mainly in times of crisis, such as migration talks and more recently, talks about drug trafficking.

Recently, there were rumors that President Obama might tackle the U.S.-Cuba relations issue during his second term. Many believed that the incarceration of Alan Gross, the American contractor employed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was the main obstacle to a change in policy. He was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and then prosecuted in 2011 for bringing sophisticated telecommunications equipment into the island against Cuban law.  At the same time, there were three Cubans jailed in the United States. They were part of the Cuban Five, a group of Cuban nationals convicted in Miami in 2001 for conspiring to commit espionage and for conspiring to commit murder. Two had already been released.

The December 17. 2014 announcements were preceded by 18 months of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials.  They met in Canada and in the Vatican. Canadians helped, as did Pope Francis, who wrote letters to Obama and Castro urging them to work for an end to the impasse. Finally, on December 17, Cuba and the United States announced that they had agreed to exchange prisoners: Cuba would free Alan Gross and a high-level Cuban working for the Americans serving time in Cuba for espionage. The United States would in turn free the three jailed Cubans. Additionally, Cuba would free 53 Cuban political prisoners.

Since December 17, 2014 there have been talks between U.S. and Cuban officials to work out the details of normalization of diplomatic relations. There have been two meetings in Havana and two in Washington, with an additional one scheduled for May 21 in Washington. One topic of concern has been the reopening of the embassies. Simultaneously, a flurry of activity has taken place. Trips and delegations of politicians, businessmen, artists, have arrived in Cuba looking for their space in this new climate. Representative Nancy Pelosi went down with a delegation early this year. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, visited the island in April accompanied by business leaders, including some executives from pharmaceutical companies. A number of officials, from government to private industry are urging that the embargo be lifted to completely normalize relations. Other major changes have taken place or are in the works. For example, President Obama recommended that Cuba be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. There have been advances in the area of telecommunications, banking, trade, U.S. exports to the private sector in Cuba, and travel, both by air and sea.

Among recent visitors was French President Francois Hollande who met with Raul and Fidel Castro.  He also urged the United States Congress to lift the embargo.  More recently, Raul Castro met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The reason for his visit was to thank the Pope for his efforts to promote rapprochement between Cuba and the United States and to prepare the way for the upcoming visit of the Pontiff to the island in September, 2015.

Who benefits from normalization? First and foremost, the Cuban people. One expectation is the increasing economic development of Cuba through investment and trade. Hopefully, ordinary Cubans will gain through an improvement of the economic situation, both in terms of greater possibilities for consumption and possibly the creation of jobs, especially for the poor, who lack material resources due to meager salaries and lack of money through remittances from relatives abroad. The very poor and non-whites are often the ones who do not have family in the United States. There is also a very positive effect on Latin American regional relations. Obama probably had that in mind all along, as the Summit of the Americas in Panama revealed. Most Latin American countries wanted the return of Cuba to the Latin American family. The United States had opposed that. The meetings in Panama showed how the change in the U.S. position positively altered the climate among all nations.

Finally, these changes could be very beneficial for the Catholic Church, other religious groups, and other members of Cuba’s civil society. The Catholic Church already participated in talks with the government in 2010 to release political prisoners. Before and after those talks, the Catholic Church and the government have maintained a constructive dialogue. In the words of Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega, “for the church, the improvement of bilateral relations will be very beneficial… It will be easier to obtain help that we receive from other world churches to do our charity work in Cuba. The dialogue between church and state will not be broken, it will continue.”

Normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States will not be an easy journey. For one thing, the U.S. embargo of Cuba presents legal obstacles to many of the changes that the two governments want to implement. But the process has already started, and it seems that there is no way back.

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