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Making mediated memory work: Cuban-Americans, Miami media and the doings of diaspora memories

Abstract

How are mediated memories brought into being? In other words, how can we understand the ways personal and public memories are enacted in environments that have become increasingly digitally networked? Following this fundamental question for current interrogations of the entanglement of media and memory, we first develop a concept of mediated memory work. Instituting experiences and senses of the past, these time- and space-bound efforts interweave with arrangements of people and their social relations, cultural discourses, objects and media environments. Capitalizing on such an understanding of mediated memory work, the article demonstrates how and to what ends the enactment of memories can be empirically studied by using the example of the Cuban-American community in Miami. In particular, building on participant observation, in-depth interviews and media ethnography, we outline practices, cultural artefacts, communal bonds, compassionate relations and a media manifold that have been employed by different segments of a diasporic collective in shaping how the country of origin and the exile is to be remembered.
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DOI: 10.1177/0163443713518574
published online 3 April 2014Media Culture Society
Christine Lohmeier and Christian Pentzold
Doings of Diaspora Memories
Making Mediated Memory Work: Cuban-Americans, Miami Media and the
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DOI: 10.1177/0163443713518574
mcs.sagepub.com
Making mediated memory
work: Cuban-Americans,
Miami media and the doings
of diaspora memories
Christine Lohmeier
University of Munich, Germany
Christian Pentzold
Technische Universität Chemnitz, Germany
Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Berlin, Germany
Abstract
How are mediated memories brought into being? In other words, how can we
understand the ways personal and public memories are enacted in environments that
have become increasingly digitally networked? Following this fundamental question for
current interrogations of the entanglement of media and memory, we first develop
a concept of mediated memory work. Instituting experiences and senses of the past,
these time- and space-bound efforts interweave with arrangements of people and their
social relations, cultural discourses, objects and media environments. Capitalizing on
such an understanding of mediated memory work, the article demonstrates how and to
what ends the enactment of memories can be empirically studied by using the example
of the Cuban-American community in Miami. In particular, building on participant
observation, in-depth interviews and media ethnography, we outline practices, cultural
artefacts, communal bonds, compassionate relations and a media manifold that have
been employed by different segments of a diasporic collective in shaping how the
country of origin and the exile is to be remembered.
Keywords
Cuban-Americans, diaspora, exile, media memory, media practices, mediation,
mediatization, memory, memory work
Corresponding author:
Christine Lohmeier, University of Munich, Department of Communication Science and Media Research,
Oettingenstr. 67, 80538 Munich, Germany.
Email: christine.lohmeier@yahoo.co.uk
518574MCS0010.1177/0163443713518574Media, Culture & SocietyLohmeier and Pentzold
research-article2014
Article
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2 Media, Culture & Society
Mediating memories
When all walks of life seem to be mediated, people handle ever more ways to note,
share and keep their expressions and impressions, as well as to access vast archives of
such records. Almost ubiquitous communication services and mobile devices are
employed to track and store our activities, interactions, feelings and relations, perma-
nently and continuously, it seems (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009). For sure, since the very
beginnings of human culture, personal and collective memories have been constituted
and passed down through memorable objects and symbolic representations that form
part of acts of commemoration (see e.g. Erll and Rigney, 2009; Olick et al., 2011;
Rossington and Whitehead, 2007). In the wake of the general academic current driving
the study of such mediated memories, scholarly attention has centred on mainstream
media like television, books, films, newspapers, magazines and radio, and was until
recently mainly occupied with emblematic texts and images of traumatic, festive and
other noteworthy events. Thus, media were seen as mnemonic repositories and agents
that garner, assemble, canonize and disseminate messages so as to form commemora-
tive publics (e.g. Assmann, 2011; Edy, 2006; Garde-Hansen, 2011; Neiger et al., 2011;
Zandberg, 2010; Zelizer, 2000).
From manuscript and print via broadcast media to the rise of networked electronic
infrastructures and digital media, socio-technological innovations have always helped to
reassemble the practices and materials people use to form personal memories and hand
down artefacts, techniques and discourses from which shared memories are constructed.
Consequently, given the swift appearance, broad diffusion and the often-asserted pro-
found impact of novel connective and mobile devices, services and applications, we find
a growing body of literature studying new forms, technologies and dynamics of evolving
digitally mediated memories (e.g. Foot et al., 2005; Garde-Hansen et al., 2009; Haskins,
2007; Hess, 2007; Pentzold, 2009; Reading, 2003).
In general, this strand of scholarship explores the multitude of mediated memories
that evolve in intricate relations with hegemonic views of the past and the registers of
common cultural memories. It thus examines how social media constitute a plethora of
vernacular memories that conflict and ally, contest and reverberate in many different
dynamics, transcending and re-establishing temporal, local, technological and social
boundaries. In this regard, references to the ‘mediation of everything’ (Livingstone,
2009:1) highlight the proliferation of media and the complex interweaving of social
lives, and thus of personal and collective memories, with various sorts of media and
types of communication. The notion of mediated memories consequently goes beyond
the insight that the representation of the past is embedded in the forms and the regimes
of evolving media. Hence, Hoskins (2009: 28) maintains that the mediation of memories
does not merely come as an unintended consequence of pervasive media. Instead, it
involves, he argues, reflexive and self-conscious practices of articulating and devising
senses of the past in environments of extensive connectivity with ‘supersaturated’
(Couldry, 2012: 5) flows of visuals, texts and other types of messages.
Acknowledging the complexities of the multi-level transformations named ‘media-
tion’ and following the demand to approach such mediation of memory through the
‘mangle of practice’ (Pickering, 1995), this article seeks to substantiate the proposition
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Lohmeier and Pentzold 3
that such mediated memories are actively and purposefully instantiated. It does so con-
ceptually and empirically.1 Its focus shifts from registering a battery of possible techno-
logical and social factors of mediation to examining how mediated memories are being
enacted by agents using technological means as well as cultural artefacts and discourses.
Overall, the goal is to provide an understanding of mediated memory work based in theo-
ries of social practices and stemming from empirical research on the interweaving of
individual remembering, collective memories and a socio-material world suffused by
media.
This article aims to contribute to memory studies, and particularly to scholarship on
mediated memories, in two ways: it conceptualizes mediated memory work as bundles
of bodily and materially grounded practices to accomplish memories in and through
media environments. It then demonstrates how such an understanding translates into
empirical research by examining practices and arrangements of memories enacted within
the Cuban-American community in Miami. Consequently, issues of diasporic memories
as well as the material, spatial and mobile aspects of remembrance are addressed.
In what follows, we first draw on debates on the performance and the mediation of
memories to develop the notion of mediated memory work. Second, building on partici-
pant observation, qualitative in-depth interviews and media ethnography, we investigate
how characteristic sorts of memory work, cultural artefacts, media environments, experi-
ences and social relations have been employed by different Miami-based groups of
Cuban-Americans to configure what is remembered of home and of the exodus.
Performing memory
There are several starting points for an interrogation of the performance of memory on a
personal and a social level in theories of memory (Garde-Hansen, 2011: 20–49). For
instance, Bergson (1988 [1896]: 80–9) distinguished between ‘habit memory’ and ‘rep-
resentational memory’. Explaining this, he takes memory to be, on the one hand, the
corporeal and habitual dispositions gained through mimicry and repeated acts of memo-
rialization. On the other, he views memory as acts of imagination that evoke and bring to
mind past events and experiences. In the same vein, Connerton (1989: 102) explains two
modes through which cultural memory operates: first, through a ‘cognitive mode’ as
people retrieve events and experiences from the past through present acts of remember-
ing. Second, a sense of the past is brought about through the ‘performative mode’ of
commemorative acts.
To take these insights further, we posit that the concept of memory work could be of
some use here. For van Dijck (2007: 5), memory work ‘involves a complex set of recur-
sive activities that shape our inner worlds, reconciling past and present, allowing us to
make sense of the world around us, and constructing an idea of continuity between self
and others’. Furthermore, Kuhn (2010: 303) suggests that ‘memory work is an active
practice of remembering that takes an inquiring attitude towards the past and the activity
of its (re)construction through memory’. This and other definitions of memory work
emphasize the conscious and purposive staging of memory, often in terms of therapy,
reconciliation and sense-making (see Haug, 1992; Onyx and Small, 2001). Building on
the concept’s sensitivity to the effort that goes into remembering and commemorating,
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4 Media, Culture & Society
we suggest that the concept of memory work could be developed, on the one hand, to
cover memory-related practices at large and, on the other, to recognize the extent to
which such work is done in, with and through networks of media. In brief, as practices
we understand space-and-time bound, sequenced and socially intelligible activities that
are structured and, in turn, structuring the socio-material arrangements in which they
have their place and which they, following this logic of practice, constitute and instanti-
ate as the ‘site of the social’ (Schatzki, 2002).
Mediated memory work
Most if not all the things we do are conditioned by memory in the broadest sense possible
and they involve the past in many different ways. Beyond such a generic relation to
memory, the concept of mediated memory work refers to purposeful, memory-related
practices that enact instantiations of personal or collective memories through a wide
range of historically divergent and culturally heterogeneous practices, such as document-
ing, registering, capturing, saving, storing, anchoring, commemorating, reminiscing,
recalling, evoking, celebrating, framing and eliminating senses and experiences of the
past. Mostly, this involves purposive practices in and through which the past is expres-
sively and consciously represented, interpreted, reflected and discursively negotiated. As
mediated memory work, these practices, following a distinction made by Couldry (2012:
35), may be directly oriented to media, involve media indirectly, or be somehow condi-
tioned by the existence of media.
Seeing social reality as a manifold of practices interwoven with particular arrange-
ments of agents, materialities and cultures directs us to what Hoskins (2011: 23) has
named a ‘new memory ecology’, highlighting that remembering is neither reducible to
any one part of these distinct elements nor to an overarching account unifying the diver-
sity of the components. Such an ecological approach instead proposes that remembering
‘is made through an ongoing interaction between all the parts’ (Hoskins, 2011: 24).
Moreover, taking practices as the prime mode of arranging memories as well as a starting
point for explaining how they come into being and are made to function, requires us to
focus on the recursive performativity of practice arrangements. Mediated memory work
thus encompasses practices that are brought into being to perform and constitute senses
of the past that intentionally use past emotions, experiences and remnants in arrange-
ments of localities, bodies, social relations, cultures and media technologies. While some
of these practices are highly specific to given social arenas, such as documenting biosci-
entific data (see Bowker, 2008), they usually build on routines and habits dispersed
among different sectors of social life.
First, mediated memory work is space-bound, in the sense that its situated enactment
happens in localities, that memories are often strongly linked to places, landscapes and
monuments, and that practices of remembering themselves construe places (Nelson and
Olin, 2003; Nora, 1996; Young, 1993). Second, the somatic dimension of mediated mem-
ory work not only acknowledges that such practices invoke mental schemes and scripts
and thus relate to the workings of the mind and brain but also reflects the cardinal role that
the corporeal and dispositional embodiment of memories plays in mnemonic techniques
and in recalling motor sequences, tastes and emotions. This is one of the key themes of
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Lohmeier and Pentzold 5
Bourdieu’s (1977, 1998) writings on habitus, incorporated competences and social eche-
lons, and they are, for instance, central to the affective remembering and witnessing of
traumatic events like the 2005 London bombings (Allen and Brown, 2011; Reading,
2011). Mediated memory work is, third, connected to the ways people build up and retain
a sense of individuality and personhood, and it also relates them to different relevant col-
lectives by, for instance, imagining others as part of a commemorative community, by
sharing personal memories or by constructing the idea of continuity (or difference)
between the self and others (Connerton, 1989). Connected to that, mediated memory work
is, fourth, dialectically embedded in culture, that is, it evolves in and instantiates more or
less collectively shared and normative meanings, sets of knowledge, habits, conventions
and mores which institutionalize, ritualize and dispose what is remembered and how it is
remembered (see Assmann, 2011). In other words, cultures furnish the form and substance
of remembering as well as the intelligible, feasible and appropriate practices of remem-
bering, and, at the same time, cultures are construed in terms of such culturally integrative
types of mediated memory work (van Dijck, 2007: 7).
Fifth, mediated memory work has a material basis (Bowker, 2008; Van House and
Churchill, 2008) and relies on technologies artificially inscribing and archiving the past,
as noted in such fields as media archaeology (Ernst, 2013; Parikka, 2012). Media tech-
nologies, be they mechanical, electronic or digitally networked – such as films, social
networking sites, photo albums, diaries and so on – afford means for people to work on
and with memories. As such, Couldry (2012: 13) stresses, it is necessary to consider
media as ‘intersections between technological, economic, social and political forces’
and, ultimately, as a ‘vast domain of practice’ (Couldry, 2012: 44).2 Hence, to account for
the enabling and constraining features of media, van Dijck (2007: 2) conceives of a
‘mutual shaping of memory and media’. In mediated memory work, the different media
do not just assist us to materialize and make accessible past events and experiences. They
are also pivotal in constituting the past sui generis as they define and shape how memory
work can be done and render such remembering accountable and acceptable.
Challenges of empirically researching mediated
memory work
There are numerous challenges in empirically researching memory practices on the
ground (Keightley and Pickering, 2013). For one, performing memories often happens in
the privacy of people’s homes and between other activities. Memories may be liminal
and ephemeral, although this does not make the practices themselves or the outcomes of
such practices any less culturally significant or meaningful to those construing memories
and memorabilia. Practices of mediated memory work are embedded in daily life and
quotidian dispersed routines which are difficult to observe because they happen in inti-
mate settings, are interrelated with other (memory) practices or happen on the go, such
as the swift uploading of a personal photo to Instagram via a mobile device. Often, peo-
ple might not even be aware of the particular mnemonic dimension of objects omnipres-
ent in their mundane activities. Consider, for example, the photos of loved ones many
carry in their purses or wallets; occasionally, these pictures are consciously noticed and
even shared with others, while at other times they might not receive any attention at all.
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More fundamentally, the empirical reconstruction of mediated memory work has to
acknowledge that any attempt to explicitly explain the largely tacit logic of practice is
destined to fail due to practice’s ineffable qualities, which largely exceed social science
methods’ ability to know them (Bourdieu, 1998). In consequence, what is needed is a
reflexive ‘method assemblage’ (Law, 2004: 42) with regard to the fields, actions and
circumstances studied. Ultimately, any endeavour to examine the multi-faceted arrange-
ments of mediated memory work has to manage the complexities of their interrelations.
Thus, in order to account, first, for the different layers of memory practices and the
embeddedness of memory objects in everyday life and culture, and, second, to address
the challenge of finding viable ways to reflect the practical accomplishment of mediated
memory work, we argue for a mixed method approach. We next consider individual
cases taken from the Cuban-American community in Miami, Florida. Data was gathered
through interviews, participant observation, focus groups and numerous ethnographic
encounters in the field. We do not aim to be exhaustive but seek to develop the notion of
mediated memory work through three instances drawn from a particular piece of field-
work. These are a septuagenarian Cuban exile making a donation to an archive; a woman
in her mid-twenties of Cuban descent expressing her feelings and thoughts through blog-
ging; and, finally, the mediated reiteration of personal narratives and life histories feed-
ing into the collective memory of the Cuban-American community. The first example
tells of the significance of objects in memory practices. The second case stresses (medi-
ated) relations and the communal quality and emotional charge of memory work. The
third example highlights the way personal narratives feed into mediated discourses and
become dominant narratives of a collective past and a shared identity. Before presenting
these cases in detail, we provide a brief overview of the history of migration from Cuba
to the United States.
Cuban migration to the United States
There has long been an exchange of people and goods between Cuba and the United
States. Migration from Cuba to the United States intensified significantly after the so-
called Cuban revolution in 1959, when the rule of Fulgencio Batista ended and Fidel
Castro took over Havana. Miami and south Florida developed into the capital of the
Cuban exile community. Originally a rather homogeneous group, the exile community
has diversified over the past 50 years through roughly three sequential events: the first
exiles to arrive in the 1960s and 1970s were members of Cuba’s middle and upper class.
The majority were white professionals and their families (García, 1996: 13–15). Even
though they had to leave their possessions behind, the early exiles, also often referred to
collectively as the historic exile (el exilio histórico), managed to get back on their feet
quickly, thanks to their good education and their entrepreneurial spirit. For years many
exiles held on to the belief of a swift return to the island (Pérez Firmat, 1995), but with
the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and with the passage of time, it became
apparent to most that the moment of return might never arrive. The year 1980 brought
the so-called Mariel Boatlift, during which a pressured Fidel Castro allowed US boats
to dock in the harbour of Mariel to pick up those Cubans who wanted to leave the island.
This migration wave of approximately 125,000 people, arriving between early April
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Lohmeier and Pentzold 7
and October, significantly changed the composition of the exiles (Portes and Stepick,
1993). Their arrival coincided with that of another group of migrants arriving from
Haiti, which led to serious challenges for institutions and the maintenance of social
cohesion (Sándoval, 1986). In addition the migrants who arrived then had already expe-
rienced 20 years under Castro’s rule. Their memories therefore potentially challenged
those of previous arrivals. The 1990s again were characterized by the rafter (balsero)
crisis. Cubans tried to cross the Florida Straits in makeshift floating devices. The balse-
ros can be characterized as economic migrants lacking – at least initially – the political
engagement that el exilio histórico seemed to thrive on. In the meantime, second-,
third- and fourth-generation Cuban-Americans grew up in south Florida as American
citizens. Some have acquired a very strong sense of their roots and the exile mentality
that has been an identity trait of their parents and grandparents. From these circum-
stances of migration alone, Cuban-Americans in Miami thus form a diverse group of
people with varied interest in, and opinions on, issues around Cuban politics and US–
Cuban relations.
This is the cultural and historical backdrop against which the described mediated
memory practices take place. Diasporic groups allow us to investigate the cultural, mate-
rial and spatio-temporal relations of their memory-inclined practices. This holds espe-
cially true, when research is conducted from an etic perspective; with the researcher
having a different cultural background from those observed, little is considered ‘normal’
and ‘known’.
Doing mediated memory work: archives, blogs and stories
Archives have been considered a classic locus of situating and storing memory objects
(Ernst, 2013). While archives are often in the hands of institutions, such as universities
or museums, archival work partly thrives through individuals contributing documents
and objects from their belongings, which enhances the public collection with personal
accounts and compilations of the remains of a disappearing culture. This is particularly
true for the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami. The collection is
home to a large number of artefacts, including books, postcards, periodicals, official and
personal manuscripts, maps and photographs as well as digital material. Everything in
the collection is either directly from Cuba, deals in some way with life on the island or
has meaning for and is related to members of the global Cuban diaspora. The material
includes items from the colonial past to the present. The significance of the Cuban
Heritage Collection is underlined by the continuous support it has received from mem-
bers of the Cuban community based in Miami and elsewhere.
The Cuban man whose mediated memory work and, in particular, memory objects
we focus on here, is in his seventies and lives in Puerto Rico. He visits the archive two
to three times a year, while simultaneously paying a visit to his extended family in
Miami. The informant was born in Cuba and then left as a young adult after Fidel Castro
had overthrown the Batista government. In 2008, he brought several postcards and
books as a donation to the Cuban Heritage Collection. The action of personally deliver-
ing the objects to the collection is of course preceded by having bought, found or inher-
ited them in the first place, as well as by handling, storing and, at times, displaying them
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8 Media, Culture & Society
as precious objects in his home for a period of time. At some point, the decision was
made to donate them to the collection as a contribution to the wider community so that
others could make use of them in some way. Moreover, prior to his visit to the archive,
donating the pieces involved contacting the staff of the Cuban Heritage Collection to
evaluate their interest in the material and finally travelling to Florida to personally see
them added to the resources of the collection. As one of the staff of the Cuban Heritage
Collection commented, this was a very common occurrence; rarely a week goes by
without Cubans or people of Cuban descent visiting the collection to donate material
that has been in the hands of their family. She saw this as a way for people to ‘do some-
thing for Cuba’.
The objects they donate are, for the most part, formerly widely distributed media
materials characteristic of a period of Cuban culture during which the archive’s benefac-
tors themselves have lived and that they cherish as temporally and spatially inaccessible.
First, in personally appropriating these vestiges and, second, in bestowing them on a
prestigious institution for communal use and appreciation, this group of people assem-
bles, conserves and then transforms documents of a bygone era that shift from forming
part of a dispersed and private, though distinctive Cuban-American reminiscing, to
become added to resources for institutionalized public memory. These objects are
strongly linked to Cuba as they mostly stem from the island’s output of printed Spanish-
language publications, that then existed during, as it were, an interregnum in Puerto Rico
(or other exile homes), before moving to an archive situated in Miami as its definite (or,
when there is still hope for a return or some form of future exchange between Cuba and
other locales of the Cuban-American exile, penultimate) place of custody. It is to a large
extent their origin in Cuban culture and daily life that gives them meaning for their own-
ers, but it is also the itinerary these objects have taken – from Cuba to Puerto Rico to
south Florida – and the place they are in now, an archive, that make them multi-layered
memory objects and allows others to use them.
We can observe the interplay between single collectors, the immediate community
and the wider collective. In this example, it is the individual who instigates the contribu-
tion of memory objects to a collection, contrary to the more common case in which
institutional memory agents accumulate and curate things people do not necessarily find
memorable. As artefacts of Cuban memory, these archived materials are initially mean-
ingful to the donor and the commemorative circles he and his possessions become
involved in, but there is a sense that such books and postcards, which once circulated
widely among Cubans, might be useful for the Cuban-American community as well as
for the wider public and researchers. Through the placement of these objects in the col-
lection, they can potentially carry greater significance, and their meaning is further
developed by being set and sheltered in relation to similar objects in the same
collection.
Overall, acts of donating material and mostly media remnants from numerous private
holdings to a small number of communal public resources are not limited to the Cuban-
American community. Yet they are peculiar and common to Cuban-American memory
work as this practice brings together, preserves, makes visible and accessible the patchy
record of Cuban popular culture so as to bridge, at best, inter-communal boundaries and
different levels of acquaintance with and obligation to Cuban heritage. Donating is a
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Lohmeier and Pentzold 9
widespread and ostentatious practice met with qualifications regarding the extent and the
significance of the gifts; it is grounded by social imaginaries that value the act of donat-
ing not just as preserving and doing good but as a required and almost obligatory deed in
the face of a dissolving material culture and a transforming community. The vernacular
practice follows notable examples of generously giving and, as a civic benefit, it is
appreciated by members of the community and beyond. Most of the collected items are
published materials which are valued both as containers of texts, images and other sorts
of Cuban representations and as evidence of Cuba in their own right.
The second example, which is illustrative of memory practices and their interplay
with face-to-face and mediated relationships, is that of a young Cuban-American whose
grandparents formed part of the first wave of exiles and who came to Miami in the early
1960s. Her parents thus had left Cuba as young children – and even though they do not
have personal memories of Cuba, the nostalgia for the ‘stolen life’ on the island mean-
ders through the generations and even forms a significant part of what it means for all
three generations to be Cuban-American in Miami. The inter-generational sentiments of
loss and the unattainable place are kept alive through personal conversations, keepsakes
and recurring narratives found in Cuban-American radio shows, for example. To them,
the emotional bonds growing from such sentimental contemplations are exacerbated
even on a somatic level by the climatic and scenic similarities between south Florida and
parts of Cuba, as Miami ‘feels like’ home. The same holds true for analogous architec-
tural features and culinary experiences on both sides of the Florida Straits. One Cuban-
American female informant in her early twenties summarized these experiences as
follows:
In Miami you are surrounded by this, the constant talk, what’s going on? Why is it happening?
And so you develop this sense of obligation … this really deep nostalgia for a country you have
never been to. You feel like … I feel as if I was born there, almost, to a certain degree. As much
as I do feel American [I also feel] this sense of nostalgia that I share with my parents. And I
think it goes back to the roots, and the close links to the culture over there that we develop here.
And through that you have the drive and you have the necessity to follow what they [her parents
and grandparents] did. (Interview with Lohmeier, Miami, 27 October 2008)
On the one hand, this informant’s statement shows the rich configuration of the realm of
colloquial memory she draws from with attachment to a place lost, acknowledgement of
a Cuban-American culture as well as continuing ties to, and responsibilities for, two
homelands. What, on the other hand, also becomes obvious from this quote is her profi-
ciency in talking about these matters in terms of nostalgia and emotional adherence, and
how these feelings are passed down through the generations.
For another informant encountered in the field, a way of channelling such talking
about personal sentimental feelings and belonging is through the mediated memory work
of writing a blog that deals with issues of exile memory and Cuban-American life. In
contrast to many others of her age, this Cuban-American blogger has been to Cuba her-
self. Thus, in addition to the family tales and conversations, as well as the plethora of
mediated narratives of pre-revolutionary Cuba, she could draw on personal and current
experiences of the island. As she recounts, going to Cuba – something that is still contro-
versial among the Cuban-American community in Miami – was highly enlightening for
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10 Media, Culture & Society
her and led her to question the limits in which engagement with and for Cuba has been
allowed to take form, and the ways mediated memory in Miami is articulated. What makes
the situation more complex is that she chose not to tell her grandparents about her visit to
Cuba as she feared this would cause too much upheaval in her family. Travelling to Cuba
was a rich experience that changed her perspective on the dominant narratives of how
Cuba should be remembered and how the Cuban government should be related to.3
My grandparents always talked about how things were in Havana, their experiences and
needing to leave and just … you know, the struggle that they had to go through. And what
people living in Cuba currently have to deal with and … so it’s always been a matter that is near
and dear to my heart. (Interview with Lohmeier, Miami, 24 October 2008)
The metaphors she employs to express the significance as well as the emotional depth
evoked by the memories of her grandparents and how they talk about their memories
suggest the corporeal and the discursive dimensions that make up Cuban-American
mediated memory work.
It is within this gamut of lived and compassionate experiences that she blogs about
Cuban and Cuban-American issues. Even though this might at first seem like an intel-
lectual and solitary exercise, her writing process is essentially informed by witnessed,
personally felt and thus testified experiences of life in Miami and Cuba as well as by
kinship accounts and migrant media discourses on Cuban-American things past and pre-
sent. The communal aspect of blogging is also underlined through the technical
affordances of the media environment in which she operates as she blogs to a personal
audience mostly comprising friends and acquaintances who talk back to her and com-
ment on her musings. In order to spread new posts she announces them on her Facebook
profile and thereby shares her impressions with relevant circles. She thus adds her views
and expressed feelings to the record of communal texts and contributes to a shared sen-
timental discourse herself.
The third example is that of narrating and remediating life stories feeding into the col-
lective memory of the Cuban-American community. An exemplary account of a bio-
graphical narrative comprising moments of Cuban youth, mid-life migration and exile,
characteristic of a class and the first generation of Cuban-Americans, can be found on a
plaque at the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, home to the Cuban Heritage Collection at the
University of Miami. The plaque reads:
Roberto C. Goizueta
November 18, 1931 – October 18, 1997
Roberto C. Goizueta was born in Cuba in 1931. He attended Colegio de Belén and later
Cheshire Academy where he learned English. Majoring in chemical engineering he graduated
from Yale University in 1953. The following year on July 4th, The Coca-Cola Company in Cuba
hired him as a chemist. In 1960, after the Communists assumed power in Cuba and nationalized
businesses, he made a fateful decision. Roberto, his wife Olguita and their children left Cuba
for Miami. This experience changed his life and his outlook forever.
A Cuban emigrant seeking freedom, Roberto C. Goizueta personified the classic American
dream. Within 30 years of leaving Cuba, he was leading an American company that symbolized
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Lohmeier and Pentzold 11
freedom around the world – The Coca-Cola Company. Throughout his career the creation of
value for the company’s share owners was his passion. During his 16 years as chairman and
chief executive officer, the Company’s value increased from $ 4 billion to $ 145 billion. Upon
his death, Fortune Magazine named The Coca-Cola Company ‘America’s Most Admired
Corporation’ for a second consecutive year.
Roberto C. Goizueta was more than a business leader. He was the ideal citizen who believed
that every person who enjoys freedom and opportunity has a duty to cherish, protect and nurture
it. He strived to make America stronger, not only through his inspirational and exceptional
business leadership, but also through his generous educational and philanthropic contributions.
This community, this nation and our world have been deeply influenced by the life, mission and
presence of Roberto C. Goizueta.
Even though this story tells a model migrant career and is filled with superlatives, it is by
no means exceptional in its basic structure. A few years after their arrival, many of the
early exiles were living some kind of American dream thanks to their excellent educa-
tion, their entrepreneurial spirit and strong communal support. Of course Miami’s apt-
ness as a space for economic growth and potential social dynamics for certain groups
played a part in this as well.
In terms of collectively remembering the early phase of exile, stories like that of
Roberto C. Goizueta form a key part in the development of an exile mentality, which is
still prevalent among great parts of the Cuban-American community today. Characteristics
attributed to Cuban-Americans in such stories, have been adopted by their children and
grandchildren, as this quote from a Cuban-American informant in his early twenties
underlines:
One could argue that the reason why we have Cubans in the House [of Representatives] and
Cubans in the Senate and lots of prosper in Miami is because of the fact that we have laws that
somehow favour our prosperity and in that sense allow us to achieve these things. Then again,
we are all hard-working, not to discredit the hard work of the many individuals in this
community. (Interview with Lohmeier, Miami, 9 June 2006)
Young Cuban-Americans repeatedly point towards the characteristics of their grandpar-
ents, and the stories surrounding their grandparents’ and parents’ success in Miami.
These are retold and broadcast among the Cuban-American sub-communities via differ-
ent types of media and forms of communication. Far from being private family stories
only, the retold accounts of abandoning a life and finding a new one are disseminated
through autobiographical books, periodicals, Spanish- and English-language newspa-
pers, and especially Cuban-American radio (Lohmeier, 2014).
Conclusion
Our analysis of Cuban-American memory-making has shown how communally intelligi-
ble activities are performed to construe, appropriate and diffuse the issues, stories and
materials relevant to the heterogeneous groupings and generations of a migrant
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12 Media, Culture & Society
community. At least equally important for the circulation of commemorative themes and
objects constitutive of Cuban-American remembrance is the social integration and repro-
duction that comes with the enactment of common types of Cuban-American mediated
memory work. Through participating in those practices, people become and remain
members of the community as they actively and to some extent publicly commit them-
selves to an understanding of past events, experience attachment to places, people,
objects and actions defined as Cuban-American, as they express feelings in terms of
nostalgia and inter-generational obligations, and as they employ emblematic biographies
to narrate, contextualize and remember their and others’ life stories.
The members of the Cuban-American community make use of a host of artefacts,
discursive strategies and forms of mediated communication to form, uphold and trans-
form communal bonds and boundaries. We have considered the mediated memory work
of Cuban-Americans and explored the ways in which they handle and devise mnemonic
relations, places and things. Therefore, beyond recording of the stock of memorables
deemed typical of a collective, zooming in on the practices of doing memory, we have
argued, draws attention to the necessity for theorizing and analysing their ‘ecological’
relations. Consequently, besides being, in the first instance, a contribution to the vocabu-
lary and conceptual grounding of the mediation of memories, this investigation of medi-
ated memory work also connects with the debates on memory studies’ methodological
and methodical propositions.
Funding and acknowledgements
This article grew from discussions started in the Digital Memories Seminar organized by Andrea
Hajek at the Centre for Media and Culture Research, London South Bank University, July 2012.
We offer our thanks to the participants for their comments on earlier versions of this article.
Financial support from the German National Academic Foundation as a personal dissertation grant
to Christian Pentzold and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for fieldwork in
Miami, FL to Christine Lohmeier is gratefully acknowledged.
Notes
1. We draw on several research projects. In an ethnography of Wikipedia authors, Pentzold stud-
ied the platform and the project as a global memory place. He was also involved in a project
reconstructing the transmedia discourse on John Demjanjuk, a former guard at a Nazi exter-
mination camp convicted for war crimes (see Pentzold, 2009; Pentzold and Sommer, 2011).
The empirical case study derives from Lohmeier’s PhD thesis on Cuban-Americans and the
Miami media (Lohmeier, forthcoming).
2. For praxeological perspectives on media in general, see Bräuchler and Postill (2010).
3. For decades, the discourse perpetuated in Cuban-American media, radio in particular, has
been dominated by hardline views. Hardliners are Cuban-Americans who strongly oppose
any negotiation with the Cuban government and are in favour of the trade embargo.
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There is little doubt that the landscape of memory has transformed in modern times. How, what and why individuals and societies remember and forget is being shaped by technological, political, social and cultural shifts that interpenetrate memory and memories, their makers, deniers and their (identified mistakingly or otherwise as) ‘repositories’. For instance, public and popular culture and the politics of conflict and security are infused with memory discourses and are conjoined through the contemporary’s obsession with commemoration and that which Erika Doss (2008) calls ‘memorial mania’.
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Now available to an English-speaking audience, this book presents a groundbreaking theoretical analysis of memory, identity, and culture. It investigates how cultures remember, arguing that human memory exists and is communicated in two ways, namely inter-human interaction and in external systems of notation, such as writing, which can span generations. Dr. Assmann defines two theoretical concepts of cultural memory, differentiating between the long-term memory of societies, which can span up to 3,000 years, and communicative memory, which is typically restricted to 80-100 years. He applies this theoretical framework to case studies of four specific cultures, illustrating the function contexts and specific achievements, including the state, international law, religion, and science. Ultimately, his research demonstrates that memory is not simply a means of retaining information, but rather a force that can shape cultural identity and allow cultures to respond creatively to both daily challenges and catastrophic changes.
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Covers the variety of complex ways that media engage with memory.