Camilla Stevens
Rutgers University

A New Family for a New Cuba: Representing the Revolutionary Family

In the task of building a socialist society and molding a new citizen, the Cuban revolution has paid special attention to redesigning the institution of the family. To create a new Cuban identity that reflects a revolutionary conciencia, the regime has sought to instill the family, so fundamental to socializing future generations, with revolutionary values. One method by which the government has attempted to alter people's thinking is through the arts. In particular, the public arena of the theater has been an important site for schooling citizens on modifying traditional Cuban values of the private sphere of the home. This paper explores how the family play in post-1959 Cuba first assumes the didactic goal of staging the changing role of the family in revolutionary society. La emboscada (1980), by Roberto Orihuela, treats the 1960s process of transferring one's allegiance from the individual household to the socialist family of the nation, signaling a less central role of the family in the emerging new Cuban society. Abelardo Estorino's Ni un sí ni un no (1980) shows a positive resolution to family tensions stemming from shifting gender roles in the 1970s. In these plays, the flexible use of theatrical space in the construction of the house underscores the focus on forming a new kind of Cuban family.

By the early 1990s, however, the house that the revolution built was under severe strain because the loss of Soviet support ushered in an ideological and economic crisis. The plays from this period are less didactic and more apt to use the space of the family to examine critically the status of the revolution. The new family in works such as Vereda tropical (1994) by Joaquín Cuartas Rodríguez and Manteca (1993) by Alberto Pedro Torriente cannot rely on the state to provide the services it has become accustomed to receiving. In these plays, the on-stage house has a broken-down air, and family relations are strained. Nevertheless, they portray Cubans turning to family networks to find inventive ways to persevere through the economic crisis.

Just as the family must become more self-sufficient, officials have granted more autonomy to the arts, first, because they cannot afford to fund them and, second, because they understand the importance of allowing an outlet for Cubans to express their discontent with the island's present circumstances. Since the revolution, Cuban playwrights have had to negotiate with a space of possibles that has shifted in accordance with a rather slippery revolutionary cultural policy. Therefore, in portraying Cuban social realities, the diverse approaches of the playwrights examined in this paper vary in motivation and in responses from government officials and the public. Each play, however, examines how Cuban identity has evolved since the revolution by emphasizing changes in the family. Che Guevara, a central figure in the project of revolutionizing Cuba, maintained that the construction of socialism and the birth of the new Cuban was an ongoing process: "His [the new man] image is as yet unfinished; in fact, it will never be finished, for the process advances parallel to the development of new economic forms ("New Man 160). From La emboscada, which suggests to its audience that the bonds of the socialism are stronger than blood ties, to Manteca, which reaffirms kinship as a mode to strengthen the revolutionary family in a time of great uncertainty, the theater has performed the constantly changing identity of the Cuban family and nation.