Jafari S. Allen’s !Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-Making in Cuba (Duke University Press, 2011) is a meticulously researched and exquisitely theorized ethnography that begins with a queer speculation of the revolutionary inevitable. That is, the cover art to the book, a self-portrait of a the tuxedoed artist Rena Pena, engaging Tarot cards and other visionary practices, can be read as the search for the means to enact the revolution that Afro-Cubans know they will achieve. That’s Venceremos. Or as one of Allen’s informants says, “Here we are fucked, but sill happy ….We are freer than most but cannot leave the Island.” So Allen looks to and theorizes the gender and sexually queer Afro-Cuban subjects in order to locate the possibilities for the “larger freedom” they seek in Cuba. But what’s truly magnificent about this study is the auto-ethnographic impulse Allen endows (“I asked myself how I could justify asking people intimate details about their sex lives, and not share my own”) as well the many reverberations that his fieldwork in Cuba holds for thinking about and working through the politics and the political struggles of African Americans in the U.S.
You’ll enjoy reading !Venceremos? as much as I’m sure you’ll enjoy listening to Allen talk about it.