The prostitute as political subject

MAY  Prostitution Cuba B3Prostitution, Modernity, and the Making of the Cuban Republic 1840–1920
Tiffany A Sippial
2013, University of North Carolina Press
237 pages, paperback, plates


IT MAY be the very first time that national identity has been examined through the lens of prostitution. Tiffany Sippial’s fascinating book is so original, but also so well focused, that she has created one of those “now why didn’t I think of that” scenarios that will undoubtedly reverberate through the field. That is because, subliminally at least, the legacy of Cuba’s role as an offshore knocking shop remains a potent theme in the debate about its evolution under US control and the subsequent ideological and moral dimensions of the Revolution, a story that as we all know is still being played out. Prostitution, Modernity, and the Making of the Cuban Republic explores issues of public morality, modernity and ultimately national identity through the prism of prostitution and the efforts to regulate it in colonial Cuba and following independence. The story as told here ends in the 1920s, although the theme of prostitution would reemerge as a metaphor for Cuba’s condition during the Batista regime and subsequently following the Revolution. As the author points out, it has more recently been a subject worthy of study in the post-1989 effort by Cuban authorities to respond to the collapse of the Soviet Union by reviving the tourism economy, among other things. Sippial demonstrates the role that debates about prostitution played in the wider effort to define republican ideals as Cuba struggled for and became independent. She makes a valuable and interesting contribution to the history of gender, sexuality and nation-building.