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We are what we now eat: food and identity in the Cuban diaspora.


Among the definitions of national culture given by Fernando Ortiz (1939) was the word ajiaco, a traditional stew found in Cuban cuisine. His metaphor alludes to the history of the country, acknowledging the role that the Spanish, African, and Chinese cultures had played in developing national identity. It also allows for a vivid understanding of Ortiz's concept of transculturation, in the sense that ajiaco was originally a native dish, which was adopted by Spanish settlers and later by slaves, who also contributed with their own ingredients. Ajiaco is thus uniquely Cuban.

Until 1959 there was an accepted notion of what Cuban food meant, although this food showcased differences along racist and selective lines. (1) As with most other facets of everyday life, food felt the impact of the Revolution. In the early years of the new government, food became scarce due to increasing demand as a consequence of both the higher purchasing power of the population and low productivity resulting from changes in the country's agriculture, land ownership, and livestock (Alvarez 2004). This led to the rationing of food and the distribution of a quotas booklet (libreta) in 1962 (Benjamin et al. 1986). The booklet was supposed to guarantee the caloric and protein intake of the population, but it was conceived rather optimistically. For example, Prime Minister Fidel Castro predicted in 1965 that food rationing would end the following year; however, the system continues today (Benjamin et al. 1986). When socialism was established in the country, issues of food scarcity and food security became avenues to express either support for or criticism of the Revolution (Alvarez 2004). While opponents criticized a system incapable of maintaining a constant level of food production and provision, supporters backed the booklet as a way to provide regular supplies to households. In any case, the distribution system has remained centralized and guided by state-defined nutritional needs. Over the years, food production has been valued more in terms of calories and levels of nutrition than in satisfying taste and local preferences (Wilson 2009).

Within the bounds of the family, the lack of food and cooking ingredients not only influenced the ability to prepare traditional Cuban recipes but also affected the way Cubans perceived food as a marker of identity. In contrast, Cuban-Americans, for whom food scarcity did not become an issue, were in a better position to cook traditional food. However, diasporic food practices did not overcome the racial prejudices of 1950s Cuba. In both Cuba and abroad, Cubans could not remain immune to different stimuli that influenced the preparation of traditional meals. Within Cuba, cooking became a forum of improvisation based on the availability of ingredients; in the United States, traditional recipes also depended on the ingredients available, but gradually became a mixture of Cuban elements and other ingredients from US, Latin American, or Caribbean cuisine. As a result, cities such as Miami experienced the emergence of a New Cuban Cuisine, characterized by refined and stylish dishes that illustrated the notion of what was Cuban in the United States, as seen through the eyes of a visitor from the island (Fowler 2002, 107).

The emergence of the Cuban diaspora in London can be traced back to the mid-1990s. (2) The Cuban authorities had relaxed some of their travel restrictions, and Cuban nationals were allowed to visit other countries. Those who came to the UK fit into a more "selective" emigration plan (Aja Diaz 2002; 2010): they chose not to reside in the United States. Recent studies on Cuban emigres outside the United States (Wimmer 2001; Charon Cardona 2004; Berg 2007, 2009, 2011; Ackerman 2007; Duque 2007; Sanchez Fuarros 2008) coincide in portraying an "invisible" emigre community still very much influenced by the relationship with the homeland and the possibilities of travelling back and forth. According to this research, the decision to emigrate responds to a selective way of thinking that prioritizes the choice of migrating to other destinations over the United States.

Other research examines Cubans abroad by focusing on specific elements that highlight differences with the Cuban-American community. For example, Euridice Charon Cardona (2004) observed the food practices of Cubans in Australia to conclude that food is used to re-create the national taste, which also influences the emigrants' sense of identity. The experience of being Cuban is generally achieved in Australia in domestic settings rather than in more public spaces, which is more a feature of Cubans in Miami. Mette Berg (2011) has expanded upon the reasons many migrants put forward when choosing Spain as their final destination. She uses the concept of diasporic generations and divides them into the Exiles, the Children of the Revolution, and the Migrants, with the last two sharing many similarities in the sense that they migrated in the 1990s, having lived most of their lives in revolutionary Cuba. According to Berg (2011), the decision to settle in Spain implied taking distance from territorially-based nationalism that existed both on the island and among Cuban-American exiles (2011, 98). However, given the complicated nature of Cuba's migratory laws, settling in a country other than the USA appears to be easier. In Ex-Generacion (Vidal Alejandro 2008), a recent documentary about Cubans in Mexico, for instance, many interviewees admit they just planned to leave Cuba without paying much attention to the country of destination. However, unlike some of their compatriots who settle on American soil, Cuban-Londoners had to emigrate through legal channels. Most of them (including the participants recruited for this study) arrived after marrying British or Western European citizens. Others came for academic purposes, cultural exchange trips, or sport-related events.

Unlike other emigrants from the territories historically connected to the British Empire, Cubans who moved to Britain chose a country that had no important or historical links with their homeland. While the choice of the UK may have been circumstantial, it is difficult to escape London's importance as one of the most multicultural cities of the world. The United Kingdom represents a more challenging setting for Cubans than, say, the United States, where a sustained welcoming policy has benefited the Cuban diaspora over any other ethnic group. In London, being Cuban is not an important distinction. The geographical distance between the two countries also differentiates the migratory experience, especially in terms of class, and educational or professional backgrounds. Those Cubans choosing the United Kingdom as a final destination might fit into the generalizations suggested by Castles and Miller (1993), who argue that during the 1990s migrants were more frequently people of intermediate social status.

Food, Identity, and Diaspora

Diaspora is a space where food practices can acquire power to help migrants reinforce their notions of identity and to contest previously learned notions about themselves. It is true, however, that much of the research conducted in the field shows that immigrant and ethnic minorities try to maintain their own cooking and eating habits as long as possible, even against strong pressure to change them (Mennell, Murcott, and Van Otterloo 1992). In their study of Bangladeshis in East London, Nasima Mannan and Barbara Boucher (2002) have demonstrated that ethnic food is maintained in the diaspora community, even when eating patterns and foodstuffs are found to be the cause of specific health conditions such as diabetes and bowel cancer.

The impact of diaspora on food habits and traditions can be examined as part of the transnational flows that link homelands and host countries. Influences are diverse and do not always follow a particular trajectory. Richard Wilk (1999) uses the example of Belizean food as a cultural construction that was transnational in its origin. He claims that Belizean cuisine is a concept almost entirely invented outside Belize (Wilk 1999, 253). Diasporic individuals had opened ethnic Belizean restaurants in the United States long before the Central American nation achieved independence in 1981. These entrepreneurs returned to Belize in the early 1990s to operate the first self-proclaimed Belizean restaurants. In this case, notions of an authentic national food were forged outside the homeland, but were later incorporated as part of the "local" tradition. As Wilk points out, the concept of Belizean culture lost its associations with political rhetoric and was appropriated by the majority of the country's population (246).

Food in diaspora is one of the main elements that influence the construction of space. Sally Chang (2002) examines Chinese restaurants to illustrate how ethnic groups decorate social places, such as restaurants, with homeland artifacts and decorations to attract other co-ethnic migrants. Chinese restaurateurs, according to Chang, exploit the ethnic differences of the community by offering catering in typical Chinese surroundings where Chinese music, decor, and staff are supported with cultural elements such as lion dances and martial arts demonstrations (175). Patria Roman-Velazquez (1999) has described how Latin Americans in London (mainly Colombians) utilize spaces and "ethnicize" them for a public display of ethnic identity. Similar processes are also acknowledged by Jessica Meyers (2006) when she explores the way the Eden Centre shopping complex in Washington, DC, promotes a public representation of Vietnamese-American identity. She claims that the place appeals mainly to a Vietnamese diaspora that desires a connection to their homeland, which supports their subject construction. However, the public consumption of ethnic food cannot overshadow the private space, the domestic setting. Anne Kershen (2002) claims that migrants reserve their dietary culture for their private space. According to her, "it is in the private sphere that the eating and ceremony of ethnic diet enables the retention of links with, and memories of, kith, kin and homelands left behind" (7). In other words, the private sphere provides the space for a comfortable display of the cultural identity.

In this article, I use the notion of cultural/national identity that, according to Stuart Hall, are those aspects of our identities that arise from our "belonging" to distinctive ethnic, racial, linguistic, and, above all, national cultures (1992, 274). I aim to show how identity construction develops in diaspora, indicating the role national culture plays as one of the principal sources of cultural identity. The term "cultural/national identity" facilitates an understanding of identity formation outside the homeland and a characterization of diaspora as a lived experience. Diasporic humans are likely to be understood as nationals of a distant homeland but also as social actors of a present and experienced host society. They are defined by the interactions produced in diasporic spaces and, particularly, in a hyper-diverse setting such as London. However, the participants in this study are analyzed as ethnic nationals, as well as individuals; therefore, my emphasis is on their identity with regard to national culture.

I use Hall's conceptualization of a post-modern identity because of its parallels with the phenomenon of human dispersal. Hall postulates the decentring of national cultures as a consequence of globalization and hints at global particularities to define identity (1992, 277). Diasporas exemplify the presumed dislocation that migrants undergo when they realize that the ancestral homeland has lost its dominance in influencing their notions of belonging. Diaspora also becomes the perfect setting for the interplay of identities, where migrants are presented with a variety of possible identities, any of which they can identify with.

Cuban Food Identity

Although periods of food scarcity have been common since 1959, Cubans did not radically change their food habits with the Revolution. Research conducted by the Centre of Anthropology of the University of Havana shows that, when comparing data obtained in 1958 and in 1988, Cubans in both periods considered rice, beans, viandas (tubers such as potatoes, taros, yams, and sweet potatoes), and meat as the essentials in the national diet (Nunez Gonzalez 1999). What did change were certain social practices related to food. For example, dinner emerged as the most important occasion in the family milieu for gathering around the table and sharing the best dishes. As Cuban scholar Mayda Alvarez Suarez notes, in the 1990s the family kept its importance as one of the main areas of daily life (1997, 112). It was in the family domain where the daily consumption of food would be valued and rewarded, but little research has been carried out in this field to support conclusive arguments.

Food practices also help to illustrate Cuban society in terms of the gendered division of labour. Kitchens have remained a woman's domain. Before the Revolution, kitchens could tell stories of class and power, since middle-class women generally employed domestic workers who were overwhelmingly non-white (Vera, Rosendahl, and Pereira 1998; Folch 2008). After 1959 women were encouraged to leave the house and look for paid jobs. Working women were given social benefits such as child-care facilities; however, attitudes toward domestic work followed the same pattern of earlier decades (Rosendahl 1997). Conducting ethnographic research in Cuba, Isabel Holgado Fernandez (2001) concludes that working women weakened the hegemonic role of Cuban men as providers of the family income. While this contributed to a redefinition of social roles, it did little to change the traditional division of labour within the domestic setting (2001, 178). During and after the Special Period (Periodo Especial) of deprivation in the 1990s--caused by the collapse of the socialist bloc, which provided 80% of Cuban foreign trade and imports--women "returned" to their kitchens (Pertierra 2008). Food preparation became a key issue in asserting a gender identity, since Cuban women were forced to inventar (invent) and resolver (solve), especially after the tenth day of each month when the subsidized quota disappeared from the family cupboard (Holgado Fernandez 2001).

Much has been written about the representation of the reality of Cuban food in literature during the economic crisis. In his study of the works of Cuban writers Leonardo Padura and Senel Paz, Stephen Wilkinson has shown how passages referring to food and drink in the texts are not only imbued with notions of guilt and illegality but also with ideas of Cubanness (1998, 2). In the early 1990s the selling of food at the retail level dwindled noticeably, as the agricultural system and its infrastructure proved ineffective in bringing minimal supplies to the Cuban table. Therefore, the only way of providing sufficient food was through the underground market or other illegal sources. The act of preparing, consuming, and enjoying food was limited to behind the closed doors of the family kitchen, creating a kind of secret place not related to the outside world because it did not operate according to legal norms.

The most acute years of the Special Period (1992-94), defined by Cuban economists as "the survival stage," came as a shock because of its visible effects in human suffering and the destruction of social capital (Valdes Paz 2005, 104). A weakened state could not provide for many of the social programs hailed as revolutionary achievements in the past. Food production and distribution suffered to the point of scarcity of traditional staples of the Cuban diet such as rice and beans. In the popular imaginary, food associations overtook the most dramatic narratives of the period, a story that up until recently had not been told. (3) This situation changed slightly when the Cuban government introduced a package of economic reforms that included the legalization of the US dollar. Cubans who owned hard currency could now access the special markets and stores that were created to sell many sought-after items and food. The same package included the creation of small private enterprises, many of which were restaurants and food-preparation facilities. The privately owned restaurants, popularly known as paladares, made it possible to rediscover many traditional dishes of Cuban cuisine. The boom in paladares features distinctively amongst Raul Castro's recent economic reforms, since they have sprung up in the majority of Cuban cities and towns; in many cases, they rivalled state-owned establishments, even many that catered only to international tourists.

In studying the Cuban diaspora it is worth considering the way food and its praxis contribute to the creation of notions of identity. The core of traditional Cuban food has been kept to very precise ingredients that are essential to the notion of the national dishes. Cubans have maintained their traditional food habits rather than adopting new and drastically different ones. Food practices account for a reassertion of migrants' ethnicity and for the promotion of what Ghassan Hage (1997) calls "positive nostalgia," in this case the desire of being in the homeland while living in diaspora.

Using in-depth interviews with 40 Cuban-Londoners (20 men and 20 women) conducted in London during 2006-07, this article contends that despite its associations with poverty, food is a valuable subject to theorize cultural identity in the Cuban context. First, the article will explore how food cannot be considered a push factor for the emergence of the diasporic community, although it was one of the factors responsible for people's decision to leave their country. The impact of the Revolution with its egalitarian food policies is acknowledged as one of the reasons for the deterioration of food and food practices. Interviewees seem to believe there was a core sense of Cuban cuisine that was transformed after 1959. Despite government policies and issues of food scarcity, participants perceived that sometimes the availability of food or typical Cuban food was dependent on the family cook's creativity. Cuban food also denotes a particular division of domestic labour because in the homeland the preparation of food remains the work of women.

The article then discusses how the insistence on presenting certain food and dishes as the only exemplars of national food supports essentialist views of national culture that participants dismissed. Because there is not only one way to be Cuban, they reject the notion that there is only one way to prepare and present Cuban food. National food is also conceptualized as social practices, such as gatherings to share meals in everyday settings and on specific celebratory dates and holidays. The study of these practices provides evidence about changes in Cuban society throughout the years. Finally, the article argues about the particularities of a gender identity in the Cuban context. In diaspora, kitchens tend to remain a women's space, but men are increasingly occupying them, especially when it comes to re-creating Cuban food practices. Food preparation in the case of male participants with British partners does not become a threat to masculinity.

Food, Memory and Diaspora

I approached the interviews about food with apprehension, as I thought that food was going to be a difficult topic to address. Due to my own experience of having lived in Cuba during the Special Period, I was aware of how secretive conversations about food had been during those years. There was a combination of discretion and pride at household levels. People needed to be discreet because many food items came from the black market or were the result of illegal activities. At the same time, and perhaps influenced by the official discourse denying the lack of provisions, people were too proud to admit anything suggesting the loss of their social status. However, some respondents talked openly about their painful experiences, including that of being hungry during the early 1990s. As Alicia (4) noted, " Of course [laughs], everything [was scarce], almost everything, even rice and beans. ... Let's see, I had very painful memories ... I mean, it was horrible ... imagine a glutton without food, horrible. ... Once I had rice with ... garden flowers because there was nothing else."

I asked my participants if food scarcity was a "push" factor that prompted the desire to emigrate (Castles and Miller 1993). However, the vast majority of respondents said "no," and some even dismissed the idea as "too shallow." Others, though, agreed:

Yes, it could be the lack of variety, the lack of food. In the Special Period I was hungry and I had like plain sugar, or omelettes with sugar, to get some energy, and I think that I didn't grow taller--all my relatives are very tall--because I didn't eat enough during my growing years.... But yes [food was a factor that prompted emigration]. (Vivian)

Vivian's comments show that even though food scarcity became a distinctive feature of the Special Period, it still fails to encapsulate the reasons Cubans had for abandoning their country. After interviewing many balseros, (5) Silvia Pedraza (2007) notes, for example, that although the economic impact of the crisis could be seen, the political motivations were inseparable from the economic reasons (185). Images of malnourished people arriving in rafts were a visual reminder of how the economy had collapsed on the island, but balseros still justified their journey as a pursuit of freedom. My participants chose to emigrate long after the Periodo Especial, when food provisions were better than in the most critical years (1992-94). Very few cited food as the main motivation to leave Cuba, and those who did later disregarded it as a sort of joke. Perhaps associations with food pervade the national imaginary in ways that overshadow other critical features of Cuban society. So, for example, food inequalities confirm that state distribution is not perfect, but this does not seem a good enough motive for those wanting to emigrate.

Vivian uses the example of food to explain past events in the homeland. It was a distinctive feature of her life in Cuba and, consequently, a key point of reference to her construction of nation. This endorses the ideas of Jose Alvarez (2004), who argues that issues of food scarcity, food security, and food crisis have shaped Cuban history since 1962. Vivian felt that her own life had been influenced by these issues, hence her "strange" relationship with food.

Despite associating food with critical years, my interviewees showed an unexpected enthusiasm about the topic. They were able to examine past experiences, even painful memories, and reflect on their outcomes. They also came up with conceptualizations of food that went beyond the Cuban context:

I have never followed a food recipe, never. Food to me is like sitting in front of a blank canvas and painting a masterpiece because food to me is my personality. The taste I get from my food, and the love I put into cooking, is like a creation; it's like writing; it's a metaphor with taste. I have been told, since I was seven, my father tells me he had to make me a small bench so I could stand next to my mother, and I would cut the spices, prepare the sofritos, and learn how to cook. (Marilis)

This excerpt implies the use of food as a source of personal identification (Caplan 1997). In Vivian's case, food has a formative value because it contributed to her understanding of herself, and she regarded cooking as a creative activity. Marilis came from a rural area in the Sancti Spiritus province, where she spent her formative years. She exemplified the feeling of being closely linked to the countryside, and this is something she has not lost despite having subsequently lived in big cities such as Havana and London. Her words also show the gender division and labour within her home and how, since an early age, traditional roles were defined. Food preparation was a significant resource that supported Marilis's subject construction.

Not all my interviewees had Marilis's life experience. The majority came from urban areas with different food practices. These respondents valued food for its nutritional value, though they also acknowledged its importance as a way of understanding other cultures (Douglas 1984, cited in Meigs 1997, 100). As Roberto noted:
   I have never thought about it, but [food] has a sense of knowing
   cultures. I like to learn what is eaten around the world, so I like
   it. I am very open about flavours, ways of eating. ... For example,
   to these kinds of things, I like to give them a try. I like to eat
   [Chinese food] with chopsticks; I like to eat Indian food with my
   hands, have that kind of experience ... very attractive.

The above quotes show two of the basic ways food has been used by my interviewees. Marilis considered food in reference to herself; it related to her past and family life and, of course, to the homeland. Roberto understood food practices as a way to attain knowledge about the different cultures they represent. In both cases food became a learning resource; it told them what they were individually but also helped them understand "the other." While the experience of diaspora has benefited the emigrants in contextualizing the issue of food in Cuba, it has also developed their potential to examine the role of food to make sense of the world. In Roland Barthes's (1961) words, food has become a system of communication, illustrating one way that diaspora is experienced as a learning process. The participants react to the diverse stimuli they are exposed to in London and incorporate those reactions to their sense of self and to their construction of identity.

Cuban Food

When I asked my respondents what Cuban food meant to them, I expected personal characterizations of national cuisine, but from the first conversations they always came up with a list of traditional dishes. I kept the question and added another one targeting the idea of a possible menu. Although they regarded national food as varied, there were certain elements that were always listed on the traditional Cuban menu (Nunez Gonzalez 1999). They talked about rice, black beans (soup), pork, yuca con mojo (boiled cassava with a garlic dressing), tostones or tachinos (fried mashed plantain chunks). These were the most popular dishes, although some participants also listed congri (rice and beans), tomato and lettuce salad, chicken, fish, lobster, bananas, avocado, pork cracklings, and variants of rice like arroz amarillo (yellow rice) and arroz moro (with red beans).

Some of my respondents had a particular way of defining homeland food, which included its good and bad characteristics. So it could be "delicious" but "monotonous" (Angela), "healthy" but "repetitive" (Celia), or a "tasty dish" that "has lost its variety" (Cesar). These statements suggest not only a sense of pride but also a desire to be objective. The first words of the responses highlighted the goodness of Cuban food. The emigrants praised all the positive associations that homeland food brings but also compared them with the huge variety of food available in London. In this respect, the Cuban culinary tradition appeared less varied. At times, the causes of this lack of variety in the national cuisine seemed to be taken for granted, or simply not discussed. Other interviewees, however, were more precise and located this change to 1959, even though they were born more than a decade before that date.

Yes, I like Cuban food a lot, but not the Cuban food as we got to know it during socialism, but the diversity of food that was available before everybody standardized, as part of the Revolution. So yes, I have discovered hundreds of things. My father loved to cook too, so he taught me. We always ate traditional Cuban food, but traditional as it was made originally [before the Revolution] with all the things it required. (Camilo)

The date they chose is not arbitrary, since it points out the time when the whole nation underwent a radical transformation because of the Revolution. They grew up during the revolutionary years, when food was already rationed. Their food memories and practices were influenced by the particularities that characterized nourishment after 1959; to use Barthes's words, food is charged with signifying the situations in which it is used (1961, 26). However, in diaspora, they have come across other recipes and dishes that also represent Cuba.

The main difficulty Cubans faced when they tried to replicate pre-1959 cuisine in their country was the lack of ingredients. Because of the government's agricultural policy aimed at guaranteeing an equal monthly staple diet of grains and the occasional protein, Cuban food became standardized. Private farmers could not sell their products outside state structures, which also conspired against crop diversity. Although the big foreign and local companies were nationalized at the beginning of the Revolution, small private entrepreneurs survived until 1968. At that point, a sizeable emigre population was already in the United States. This growing community carried with them the island's food and culinary practices. Whereas in Cuba "the old cuisine" was becoming almost exotic, in the Cuban-American households it was still made and even presented as the "New Cuban Cuisine" (Fowler, 2002). This process was a way in which the exiles became obsessed with reinforcing Cubanidad (Garcia 2007), an obsession that has permeated the whole diasporic existence for Cuban-Americans.

To paraphrase William Saffran (1991), Cuban food in the United States has contributed greatly to the restoration of the "original Cuba" left behind. One of my respondents, Pablo, who was born a decade before the Revolution, always remembered how he re-encountered "the Cuban taste" during his first trip to Miami long after settling in London: "Of course, food habits were lost in Cuba. I remember when ... we were one year in Miami, precisely, and we used to go to Cuban restaurants and for someone like me who lived in Cuba before 1959, it was mind-blowing to see buhuelos, churros, to see something that Cubans now don't know." Here Pablo implies a claim to authenticity that is always problematic in the context of diaspora (Radhakrishnan 2003). In this case, he argued that "authentic" Cuban food is that of the Cuban-Americans because they exported the country's culinary tradition and kept it with the help of similar ingredients found in the host country. But what about those who were born after the migratory waves, whose notion of national food was always conditioned by the country's agricultural and economic strength? Can they relate to an unknown version of Cuban food? In my opinion, Pablo's comment supports the argument that changes in crops and national diet brought about by the Revolution affected Cubans' national cuisine.

Again, the idea of a Cuban kitchen as a gendered space is defined by the presence and actions of women delimiting the space. Food memories are embedded with images of grandmothers, aunts, and mothers, which in Pablo's case date from before the Revolution. This echoes the findings of Rosendahl (1997) and Vera, Rosendahl, and Pereira (1998), which show how kitchens and domestic chores such as cleaning, ironing, and laundering were women's activities in the 1950s.

Studies of Cuban food habits (Nunez Gonzalez and Buscaron Ochoa 1995; Izquierdo Hernandez, Armenteros Borrell, Lances Cotilla, and Martin Gonzalez 2004) have revealed changes in both cultural and nutritional patterns among Cubans on the island. This change alongside the prevalence of food in the popular imaginary after the Special Period have resulted in the adoption of an "eating for survival" model by most Cuban households. The phrase "eats what one could," which many of my interviewees used, exemplifies this model. It refers mostly to the simple availability of food rather than to the preferences of a national diet, which many of my participants pointed out.

I have mentioned ingredients because they kept appearing in the interviews as what limited my participants or their families in Cuba from preparing certain specialties of the national cuisine. Paradoxically, most of them claimed they always ate "Cuban food" while they were in Cuba. What, then, is Cuban food? Can it be considered a marker of identity or a reference point to the homeland when offering a Cuban menu seemed to be an impossible task in their everyday life? Can Cuban food remain as an unchangeable entity? Or is it that Cubans born after 1959 can show their loyalty only to those food practices to which they were exposed to when they lived in the homeland? As Camilo put it:
   I knew that in the majority of the houses next to mine there
   weren't so many ingredients as in mine. No, it is just that because
   everybody received exactly the same ingredients at the same time in
   the year, everybody ended up cooking the same. [For example] llego
   el pollo [chicken was allocated for consumers in the grocery store]
   and maybe, I don't know, that coincided with onions [onions were
   also allocated in the grocery store] so there you go, chicken with
   onions. That's not a recipe ... it was more like eating to survive.

This quote summarizes the impact the Cuban economy had on food at household levels. Food choices were dependent on government policies of distribution. The availability of certain provisions determined the possibility of keeping the traditional diet associated with the national cuisine. Camilo acknowledges that his personal understanding of national food was based on the availability of certain ingredients, which enabled food preparation. He could have "Cuban food" whenever the required ingredients were available. Although he blames the state distribution system, it is worth mentioning that, even before the 1990s, Cubans used to look for alternatives, either in the short-lived Mercados Libres Campesinos (farmers' markets) in the 1980s or in the booming black market. While conducting ethnographic research in Cuba, Wilson (2009) noted how obtaining foodstuff sold illegally was vital for preparing everyday meals and even treats such as beef and lobster.

One could argue that eating might have changed from a cultural practice to a mere process of nourishment. However, this was not always the case in some families, as this participant explained:

No, now that I know the recipes, I look back and I realize that Cubans don't do them because ... I don't know; they didn't do it at that time ... now [they can't do it] because there is no flour, because they don't have eggs ... but in those times [1980s] ... they didn't do it because of their lack of initiative, because there was mince meat. I'm talking of when I was in the secondary school [mid-1980s], there were tomatoes, pasta ... Well, perhaps there was no pasta, but you can make pasta at home, and now I know how to make it [after having lived in Italy], now I look back and I say how come? (Julia)

These comments challenge the prominence of factors like distribution and the availability of provisions to explain the absence of traditional food on Cuban tables, by focusing on the issue of food habits. Interviewees portrayed the emergence of a national diet based on nutritional and physiological values as "lack of initiative" and "implied laziness" and "food prejudices." But these comments also contradict the common myths associated with Cuban kitchens as "laboratories" or places of "inventions." Cuban housewives--as many of the respondents confirmed--are popularly praised as inventors who juggle every day to provide their families with a decent meal, let alone a traditional dish (Pearson 1997; Holgado Fernandez 2001; Pertierra 2008).

Once again the word "traditional" has an ambiguous connotation in this context. If it is assumed to mean "national," then it clearly refers to those dishes representative of the Cuban diet and identifiable as "culturally" Cuban. However, "traditional" may also imply everyday meals prepared with the family provisions to fill the need for nutrition. For example, when I asked my participants if they always had Cuban food at home, many replied that they ate whatever was available. I was more interested in examining their relations with food at family levels: whether they belonged to those households where the staple diet of rice and beans was "mandatory" or to other "more innovative" ones, more likely to include other dishes of international cuisine, or even more vegetables on their daily menus. Take this exchange:

I don't know if you saw the article from maybe three or four months ago, which appeared in the travel supplement of The Guardian, (6) about Cuban food, and the journalist said: "Well, Cubans do not have a culinary tradition." I wrote [back] in fact, they never published the letter, but I don't know; people have a very strange idea of what Cuban food is and I think that we are to blame too, because we are constantly reinforcing the idea that [Cuban food] is congri [rice and black beans], pork, tostones, salads, and it is varied.

[Author: Did you always have Cuban food in Cuba?]

We ate what we could. Oh, we ate whatever was available, as simple as that: in the good times, we had good meals, do you understand? But

the variety of a cuisine depends on the sense of adventure of the person who cooks. (Armando)

This interviewee found the definition of Cuban food problematic because, as he explained, certain elements have been overrepresented as national cuisine. He argued for a broader notion of homeland food that would also include dishes that emerged in the revolutionary years. Armando also mentioned "la caldosa de Kike y Marina" among the Cuban recipes he often prepares. Caldosa, a kind of broth with yams and tubers, became hugely popular in the early 1980s thanks to a song by El Jilgero de Cienfuegos, a Cuban country singer. Originally, caldosa marked the time in the year when neighbours gathered and contributed to the collective pot where the broth was cooked, but there has been a lot of debate about whether caldosa was simply a different name given to ajiaco. In the critical years of the early 1990s, caldosa lost its regional associations and acquired political connotations; it was made the "official" recipe to commemorate each anniversary of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. (7) It has remained a "tradition," although a very questionable one because it became institutionalized and labelled as political to celebrate the continuity of the Revolution. In Armando's case, the recipe still retained a close association with Cuba, but lost the political charge when he prepared it in London.

Repeating food options, either because of economic constraints or the lack of initiative of the family cook, contributes to the creation of essentialist views about national food. The persistence of representations of Cuban food based on a reduced list of ingredients and dishes enables a limited notion of food as a cultural practice and as a system of communication. This factor implies essentialist and reductive ideas of what is and what is not Cuban food, which, in the long run, influence Cubans' perception of their own culture.

National food was also conceptualized by respondents as food practices. For example, to some of my interviewees Cuban food meant family, a metaphor for coming together and enjoying family life.

[Cuban food] also has the value of unifying families; no matter how busy my life was in Cuba, dinnertime was sacred. Lunch time ... well you normally have lunch at work, but at dinner time, we were all at the table. We always set the table with my children; that was our place to gather, and you eat in peace, and after that we all would leave the table to do our own stuff, but dinner was to unify. (Marta)

[Cuban food] is a Sunday meal, is to have all the family gathered on a Sunday afternoon, and everybody eating. It's like a holiday, and everybody dancing and enjoying, and they stand up and they sit down again, and if the table was too small, they would have to eat standing, and like that, that is Cuban food for me. (Armando)

Both quotes refer to a specific practice in the realm of everyday life in Cuba, the one of eating at the table. Traditionally it is not associated with the lifestyle of those from Havana, such as Marta and Armando, because they tend to engage in daily schedules busier than those in the provinces. In addition, a sizeable part of the main city's population live in very cramped conditions, where a large family might find eating together at the table almost impossible. This turned the practice of eating together into a memorable event, especially when all the family members could attend. In the critical years of the 1990s, the tradition waned (Nunez Gonzalez and Gonzalez Noriega 2001). Cubans had to struggle to eat their food at the table on a day-to-day basis, and only those with considerable resources could afford to maintain family dinners.

Cuban food is also served during special occasions that correspond to traditional festivities on the island, for example, New Year's dinner. When Christmas celebrations were banned (196997), the advent of a new year turned into the main opportunity for a Cuban family to gather and celebrate. New Year's Day coincides with the anniversary of the Revolution in 1959, so the celebration has always been characterized as a political event. The ban on Christmas was lifted a year before Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, but New Year's Eve dinner still prevails as the most popular festivity. Some of my participants celebrate it in London. Dania, for example, told me that every December she has friends (mostly Cubans) over for a traditional Cuban feast: roasted pork, congri, and yuca con mojo. Felipe and Cesar also confirmed they traditionally celebrate New Year's Eve Cuban style, with a Cuban menu that is similar to Dania's own. When Angela got married, she also cooked Cuban food for the celebration; as she remarked, "everybody [including non-Cubans] ate everything."

Living in diaspora, my participants did not rely on just one homeland reference, such as a cookbook. The advent of globalization and the marketing of ethnic food have also brought about a vast printed collection of recipes from all over the world, including Cuba. Many respondents have come across "unfamiliar" recipes for national food in so-called Cuban cookbooks. My participants were not familiar with these Cuban dishes because they did not know many of the ingredients needed for the preparation. I asked them about these "rare" Cuban food examples. Some respondents were particularly cautious about incorporating these recipes into their everyday cooking repertoire, but others welcomed the idea of experimenting with new versions of national food. This idea represents a key point in the process leading to a new identity construction. The case of food is particularly important because it is closely related to the domestic setting. Certain food practices that practically disappeared in more public and shared locations were kept in smaller places, at household levels (Nunez Gonzalez, 1999).

This section has demonstrated how Cuban food is contextualized. Emigrants are able to examine their previous ideas of "national diet" or of "typical meals," depending on the knowledge they have gained regarding the social constraints of food on the island. I argue that this examination affects their sense of identity because Cubans in London tended to accept that their everyday meals in Cuba were far from "authentic" national food. Lunches and dinners in the homeland were the result of often-chaotic attempts to provide basic nourishment at family levels rather than more elaborate cultural strategies of nutrition. They had more to do with feeding than with gastronomy. In diaspora, the availability of food allows my participants to use it as a collateral resource in their display of Cubanness. Food habits are rooted in their past; therefore any possible revision of that past reconsiders the impact of food. In addition, the emigrants discovered unfamiliar recipes of the homeland culinary heritage, which inevitably led them to recognize and adopt unfamiliar representations of Cuba.

I would add that the term "authentic" has been used in this section as a synonym for a social construction, because I reject any essentialist claim about what Cuban food is. I argue that the departure from those reduced versions of national food enables my participants to sustain a different strategy of subject construction. If what constitutes Cuban in Cuban food is expanded in diaspora, so is the power this modifier (Cuban) acquires to construct notions of cultural identities.

Re-creation of Food Practices

Having explained the examples of Cuban food that participants have found in diaspora and how their idea of homeland food has been affected by their diasporic experience, I now discuss the way food is used to promote gatherings with other Cubans. I argue here that food is used to re-create traditional homeland celebrations as a means of evoking pleasant memories.

In the interviews, many respondents acknowledged the role of Cuban food in the manifestation of their own identity. Cooking homeland food and having friends over for a meal were perceived as a way to present guests with the traditions, dishes, and flavours of Cuba. The majority of the interviewees agreed that they prepared Cuban food when they had compatriots as guests, generally in small groups. Previous studies (Roman-Velazquez 1999; Wilk 1999; Chang 2002; Meyers 2006) have characterized ethnic restaurants and grocery shops as the perfect locations not only for a public display of emigrants' identities but also for socializing and community building. In the Cuban-American community, restaurants such as Versalles in Miami are generally portrayed in the local and international media as representative of the island. This restaurant is often used as a venue for press conferences or other events related to the expatriates. There are a dozen self-proclaimed "Cuban" restaurants in London, but my participants regarded them as "inauthentic." In general, these places have failed as gathering points for the Cuban emigre community, with their menus reflecting a clear reinterpretation of Cuban dishes, adapted to more cosmopolitan palates. While the proverbial rice and beans may be available, customers may be surprised to find Cuban recipes with Basmati rice, virtually unknown on the island. One interviewee narrated his shock when he found listed in one of these menus, champihones a la villaclareha (mushrooms Villa Clara-style). The combination looked odd not only because champinones are almost impossible to find in Cuba, but also because he himself came from Villa Clara province and had never come across such a delicacy. Therefore, if Cuban emigrants want to eat "authentic" Cuban food, they do it at home.

The preference for domestic settings can be also used to characterize Cuban-Londoners as a diaspora instead of a transnational community. The literature on transnationalism (Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt 1999; Guarnizo 2008; Vertovec 2009) notes examples of food becoming increasingly important to sustain transnational ethnic networks. Kershen (2006) claims that the demands of "contemporary minority ethnic groups" for fresh food from home have encouraged the opening of retail outlets in host countries (106). In addition, ethnic goods can now be purchased online. Vanessa Fonseca (2009) notes that many Latin Americans in the United States (mainly Peruvians and Costa Ricans) use the websites of supermarkets based in their homelands to acquire the foodstuffs necessary to re-enact and reassert their cultural identity through the consumption of traditional food artefacts (2009, 173). These experiences have not reached Cuba yet, although websites such as Supermarket 44 (8) and Compra'dtodo (9) offer a variety of items and foodstuff that can be purchased online to be delivered to Cuba. However, this service is rather expensive. On average, products cost six times more than in UK supermarkets, excluding the delivery cost. None of my participants said that they use these types of services.

From the interviews, I gathered that homeland food was the preferred option if my subjects invited Cuban friends back to their homes, but that was not the case if they invited people from other nationalities.

I really don't have much time for cooking and, well, if I know that friends are coming over for dinner, I go and buy them cassava, or plantain, and I make them congri.

[Author: You mean Cuban friends?]

Yes. I make everything for them.

[Author: What about British friends?]

No, not really. I very seldom invite British friends over for dinner. That has more to do with Cuban, friends; it's a Cuban thing. (Susana)

Susana clearly identified the practice of inviting friends over for meals as a "Cuban thing" because she would cook homeland food for them. In her case, food is a pretext for a reunion among friends. This goal proved to be the main reason behind inviting compatriots for dinner parties.

Generally, [the friends I invite] are Cubans. When I make a Cuban dinner it is for Cubans because I want to speak Spanish that night, because I want to eat Cuban food. Because [one of my friends] lives alone, the other [friend] lives alone; the other lives alone. I know that they do not cook Cuban food very often and I believe they miss it as much as I do. (Julia)

In the above excerpt, not only a food practice is re-created in diaspora, but also the tradition of inviting friends to have a meal. Julia emphasized that, in addition to receiving the pleasure of cooking and sharing a homemade Cuban dish, she needed to communicate in her first language. Therefore, having Cuban friends taste homeland food and engage in "Cuban" conversation accounts for her idea of re-creating in London what the same invitation would have been if they were in Cuba. Another respondent told me that when he invites Cuban friends over they expect a homeland menu:

Yes, when I invite them to have Cuban food, they know. Hey, I got fried ripe plantains, plantain that I get here and beans that you can now buy in Sainsbury's that are very good, and they get tender very fast. Then [I have] that and rice, beans, you know, with sazon completo [all-in-one seasoning powder] that I have sent to me from Cuba because sazon completo gives [beans] a good taste. Here you can find all kinds of seasonings, but I have it sent to me from Cuba. When my father came recently he brought me sazon completo and guava paste because I like guava paste bars. ... I prefer the simplest things, guava, as I told you before, pan con timba (bread with guava paste) and that is something that keeps me alive, that food taste from the other side [Cuba]. (Alvaro)

Alvaro illustrates how the diasporic space overcomes the constraints of food distribution on the island, enabling the creation of a Cuban-themed menu based on products available in the UK. He can re-create Cuban dinners by combining locally sourced ingredients with others sent by his relatives in Cuba. Aiming at an authentic Cuban recipe he ends up creating a transnational Cuban dish, which undoubtedly becomes Cuban again because of the way in which it is prepared and how it is garnished and presented at the table. What distinguishes his effort from a similar endeavour in Cuba is the freedom of not depending on the state distribution system or the black market. His food party can be "Cuban" because of his intention, the availability of foodstuff to re-create national dishes, and because of his Cuban friends who would ultimately consume them and interact socially around the dinner table as if they were in Cuba.

If we analyze the previous three quotes from a gender perspective, there is a clear distinction. The first two participants, Susana and Julia, both females, invite friends over and assume the traditional role of a host in a Cuban household. Food preparation is considered to be a woman's task. However, in the third example, Alvaro, a man, cooks a Cuban meal. This is characteristic of those Cuban men married to British partners; when it comes to preparing Cuban food, cooking is up to them. It can be argued that this is a direct consequence of their migratory experience; male migrants are often required to perform non-traditional domestic roles, especially cooking. Mannan and Boucher (2002) and Narayan (1995) demonstrated that this situation tends to be temporary, generally changing upon marriage. However, according to Narayan, Indian men have generally remained in charge of public tasks such as cooking and waiting tables in Indian restaurants where Indian women very seldom do such activities (1995, 78). The picture gets more complex when we consider research that suggests that men (especially Latin Americans) keep the same patriarchal structure of family lives and, although they get increasingly frustrated when their wives become breadwinners, do not share domestic tasks (McIlwaine 2008).

My argument here refers to the diaspora experience and how it changes behaviour amongst my interviewees. Susana and Julia are likely to repeat familiar patterns of domestic labour. However, as they also told me, they rarely cooked or were in charge of kitchens in Cuba. Because they lived with other females (grandmothers, mothers, older sisters), they were spared certain domestic chores. The same holds true with Alvaro and other male participants. These examples also challenge the limited notions of the gendered spaces known in the homeland. Holgado Fernandez (2001) argues that within the Cuban Revolution one can only be very macho or very motherlike; there is no room for chosen identities (2001, 320). She is elaborating from the dominant discourse of the society that assigns women and men very specific social roles: women as mothers, men as machos. Rosendahl (1997) observes that men who helped in the domestic milieu were generally perceived to have had a weakening effect on their masculinity (1997, 136). My participants' experiences were different so that, in terms of gender, the homeland also loses its power to centre notions of identity.

For my interviewees, gendered roles are viewed as cultural constructions and dismissed as essentialist versions of what it means to be Cuban. Diaspora is a space where even the seemingly most fundamental aspects of identity such as gender roles can be revisited. Parallels can also be made with the findings of Batnitzky, McDowell, and Dyer (2009), who claim that in the context of migration, gender identities are renegotiated, which often results in the production of flexible and strategic masculinities distinct from those performed in the country of origin (1288). Felipe, for example, told me that he worked as a cook on a freelance basis, a profession that he never considered while in Cuba. According to Batnitzky et al. (2009), migrants put aspects of their gender identities "on hold" for the duration of their stay in the host country, selecting and emphasizing aspects that will benefit them in the labour market (1280). While this is true with temporary migrants, my findings suggest that renegotiation of their gender identities amongst Cuban-Londoners has a lasting effect since, with the exception of Felipe, a professional cook, the rest of the men interviewed said that they cook whenever they wanted to do so. This is an example of what Cathy McIlwaine (2008) terms a restructuring of gender ideologies, which she particularly noticed among Latin American men living in London, in relation to the domestic divisions of labour.

The examples quoted so far summarize a trend found in the interviews that links Cuban food with the practice of having Cuban friends for dinner or other social occasions. It does not differ radically from similar events hosted by other diasporic groups where homeland food is the favourite meal option (Chang 2002; Meyer 2006). The main distinction I would make is that Cubans in London prefer smaller and more domestic locations.

Friends also play an important role in maintaining homeland customs and even in sharing them with those who regard themselves as "non-traditional" Cubans, by which I mean certain emigrants who left Cuba without knowing how to prepare certain Cuban food. Ileana, for instance, admitted she was not a good cook but that sometimes she has cravings for Cuban dishes like "good congri" or "good black beans." Luckily for her, she has other Cuban friends in London who are very good at cooking and invite her over for a meal. Hector, who came to London after living for several years in Spain, told me that his friends in Madrid taught him how to cook Cuban recipes:

They taught me to cook [Cuban food] in Spain. So, I learned to make cassava in Spain, to make congri. In Spain I learned to makepicadillo [minced meat]. In Spain I learned to make fried ripe plantain, I learned to make tostones. I learned to make all the Cuban food. (Hector)

Hector's narration puts his experiences with Cuban food in the context of diaspora. He became interested in the recipes of his country after settling in Spain, where he increased his knowledge of homeland food and made it part of his identity. This example illustrates the double role of diasporic Cubans as keepers of homeland food recipes and traditions and as transmitters of them to the newly arrived. In Hector's case, his idea of national food was shaped by the versions of Cuban food provided by his fellow emigrants. He also embraced food preparation as part of his performance of identity, overcoming gender prejudices. In diaspora the kitchen has also been reconfigured as a male space. The relevance of diasporic groups in creating the standards of national food is not unique to the Cuban experience. Wilk (1999) has documented how Belizean cuisine was a concept produced outside Belize, thanks to the many ethnic restaurants that operated in cities such as Los Angeles prior to the Central American nation's independence in 1981.

Despite its associations with gatherings and social occasions, Cuban food can become part of intimate celebrations. One interviewee praised its value in evoking pleasant memories, which was specially realized on days of feeling "heavily" (his definition) like a Cuban.

[My diet] has had a little change, but yes, sometimes I feel ... whenever I have the cubano subio [when the Cuban in him manifests greatly].

[Author: What is that?]

Cubano subio is a day when you get up thinking a lot about Cuba, right? And you feel like you're again there. So, I grab the frying pan, pour some oil, and fry two eggs. Then I cook rice [and put] the eggs over the rice. I peel a banana, take a spoon, and I eat my rice with eggs and banana. And that happens a lot. (Armando)

In the preceding quote, Cuban food is perceived as an individual option. Armando's comment also implies a way of eating rather than a typical Cuban meal. He mentioned a dish, neither elaborate nor particularly part of a traditional Cuban menu. It arguably could be regarded as the national version of fast food in the sense that it represents the simplest food combination available in most Cuban houses. It also hints at the ration card and the state system of distributing goods. Despite critical periods in food distribution, the provision of rice, eggs, and bananas to Cuban families in Havana remained relatively stable. This menu could be characterized as "lacking initiative," a term my participants used to denote the presumed repetitiveness of everyday food. However, for low-income families, this meal might have been the only option available.

Armando implied a re-creation of a "way of eating" food available in London in his own Cuban style, rather than preparing a "proper" Cuban dish. But in this case, his understanding of what "proper" means is mediated by the social constrains of food in Cuba. I found it significant that, as he argued, when his perception of his identity is more intense--when he feels "more Cuban"--he goes for a version of the national food, which arguably constitutes a Cuban recipe. However, it certainly connects him with his past and with his memories of the homeland. For him, the dish does not connote scarcity, monotony, or poverty, but a more positive feeling about his country of origin.

Some of the responses I gathered illustrate this trend of re-creating Cuban food practices in London in the same way Armando narrated. Several others described the practice of preparing Cuban recipes with ingredients, similar to those found on the island, that my interviewees can get in London. These include common meals made of rice, beans, pork, plantain, as well as more uncommon dishes:

I do the well-known fufu [plantain mash], and I make the fufu in many different ways, both in shape and content. I surprise my friends, because everything is Cuban food, but it always has a different touch, an artistic touch because that is just me at the end. [...] For example, I find harina [cornmeal] delicious. I have looked for it here frequently and only the Colombians have been able to provide me with the raw material [to make it]. They have this corn flour, to make arepas. So, then this is what I do: I buy a couple of corncobs here, and I mix them with this arepa's flour and I make an exquisite harina. To get it to taste like harina you have to mix it. Bear in mind that when I go to Cuba, I look for [and eat] harina and tamales, which are the only things I haven't been able to substitute here, both harina and tamales. (Marta)

Marta's knowledge of Cuban food appears to be wider than that of most of my respondents. She is interested in re-creating in London all the possible dishes associated with the homeland that she knows. Having lived in Cuba before and after the Revolution, she can identify with a more extensive repertoire of Cuban recipes than other participants. Additionally, some of the Cuban food she mentioned has acquired a different connotation since 1959. For other participants, especially those born in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, harina, for instance, may suggest periods of scarcity because it has been traditionally used as a substitute for rice. Many of the interviewees in this age group experienced the becas (boarding schools) and their infamous dining halls. In these schools, harina was fairly common as a meal option.

In summary, I can argue that, in terms of their identity, re-creating a Cuban meal in London has helped my participants value the diaspora experience over their previous existence in the homeland. Since most of the emigrants are able to use locally obtained ingredients to re-create Cuban food, they relate to a stronger construction of national food in London, a construction also grounded in a "real" taste rather than in a "memory" of a certain taste. In this diverse city they were able to eat "better" than on the island and even to prepare recipes legitimized as "traditionally" Cuban by other diasporic Cubans or by cookbooks. Food facilitates the sense of becoming "more" Cuban in London that so many of my interviewees acknowledged. Once again identity was associated with issues of becoming as well as of being (Hall 1996).

In conclusion, Cuban food provides my participants with a sense of belonging. It is regarded both as a marker of identity and personal identification and as a symbol of Cuban culture. In diaspora, national food retains its significance as a reference of home and family life, and it becomes a popular pretext for the gathering of friends and for family celebrations. Cubans in London seem to reduce the notion of Cuban food to a list of basic ingredients or recipes that constitute their idea of the national diet, but they also include lots of other foods, even from before 1959. However, the experience of living in Britain has introduced them to manifold culinary customs and to a new realm of flavours and tastes that some of them have incorporated as part of their everyday life. The emigrants opt for healthier variants of food, although they do not totally reject recipes and dishes from Cuban cuisine, which can be considered "unhealthy" in diaspora.

Food practices in diaspora can also be used to sustain theorizations about gender and gendered spaces. While some practices reproduced the gender dynamics of Cuban households, others reveal a significant departure from traditional gender roles and the gender division of domestic labour. Male migrants, for example, negotiate certain aspects of their gender identity that challenge stereotypical versions of masculinities common in the homeland.

Having come to a global city with a varied offering of local and ethnic food, they are able to re-create Cuban food with locally sourced ingredients. This strategy, not always successful, helps to mitigate the cravings for the tastes of the homeland but at times causes frustration because certain dishes are impossible to replicate in London. Food is also used to construct meanings about the homeland. The emigrants engage in a revision of the homeland's culinary practices. Cuban food is situated in a diaspora context, and recipes and food habits are "revised" either because of health and nutrition, or because of socio-political factors associated with food in Cuba. Uses of national food and food practices invite a wider questioning of what constitutes "Cuba," because personal stories of food in the homeland influence the process of subject construction. The incorporation of contextualized versions of national food result in narratives of belonging and pride in order to perpetuate the migrants' creation of a diasporic space, where national identity can be comfortably performed.

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Birkbeck, University of London


(1) For a discussion on "race" in pre-revolutionary and post-1959 Cuba see de la Fuente (2001) and Perez Sarduy and Stubbs (2000).

(2) The Office for National Statistics estimated in 2000 that the majority (approximately 1,000) of Cuban emigrants to the United Kingdom settled in London (Office for National Statistics).

(3) In 2011 Cuban poet Aristides Vega Chapu edited a collection of personal vignettes by Cuban authors who had experienced the Special Period, and narrations about food scarcity predominate in the pages of the book.

(4) All the participants are identified by pseudonyms.

(5) Balseros (from balsa, lit. "raft") was the common name given to those Cubans who, especially in the early 1990s, tried to reach the shores of the United States by sea in improvised rafts.

(6) The Observer, Travel Supplement, 30 April 2006.

(7) Founded in 1960 to confront counterrevolutionary activities, the CDR organizes Cubans at street level.

(8) <>.

(9) <>.
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Author:Alfonso, Ivan Darias
Publication:Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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