“I felt like something was missing, because I come from a community, probably over 90% Latinx community, in Union City, New Jersey and yes there were moments of hardship and pain but there was always constant humor, festivals and fairs. I’m not saying it was like a conga line down Bergenline Avenue ,where I grew up in Hudson County, but [play] was there and in the scholarship it wasn’t…it is important for me to think about a subjectivity that has a large affective range.“
– Professor Albert Laguna
This is the third episode in a series of conversations that will examine the history of the study of Indigeneity and the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program at Yale University over the last twenty years. Featuring interviews with faculty and those who have contributed groundbreaking work to the discipline of Ethnic Studies, each episode will map the relationship between individual scholarship and the broader changes within the field, especially at Yale.
For this episode we sat down with Albert Laguna an assistant professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration and American Studies. Professor Laguna’s exciting work (and his soon to be available book, Diversion:Play and Popular Culture in Cuban America) re-traces recent history of Cuban American popular culture, providing an account which is inflected by the importance of humor and play as much as it is by the oft-told narratives of tragedy and exile.
Laguna disrupts the still too common narrative of Cuban Americans as disconnected from Cuba. Instead, he argues that there is a circuit like relationship between the island and major cities like Miami. It is in the worlds built across the diaspora that Laguna explores the role of humor, technology, media and sociality. Here the nostalgized portraits of a past Cuba, frozen in time, collapse under the weight of complicated everyday life in the present.
Of course, academics do not only write books–they also provide critical mentorship and service for the university. Professor Laguna is finishing his term as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Yale’s Ethnicity, Race and Migration program and we discuss the changes he has seen in Ethnic Studies across his career stretching back to his time as an undergraduate. Looking to the future all the while paying attention to the past the conversation concludes with thoughts about the role of an Ethnic Studies curriculum in universities across the country. These are provocative topics with questions that nevertheless need to be raised.
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