Member of the Week: Mauricio Castro

MauricioMauricio Castro, PhD

@CastroHistorian

Postdoctoral Associate, Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South

Duke University

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I am in the process of converting my dissertation, “Casablanca of the Caribbean: Cuban Refugees, Local Power, and Cold War Policy in Miami, 1959-1995,” into a book manuscript. Like many other people from Latin America, Miami was the first place I visited in the United States. I was six years old, learning to speak English, and I wanted to piece together a sentence or two that I could say to someone on my first trip to the U.S. I arrived in Miami with my parents to find that just about everyone I met spoke Spanish. For a long time, Miami seemed like an aberration. When I began to study the city as a graduate student, however, I found that the investment in the Cuban exile community following 1959 and its effect on the city made it fit within established models of Sunbelt political economy. Instead of making Miami an outlier, the Cuban presence in the city made it a fundamental, but often misunderstood, part of the history of American defense spending and its effect on metropolitan areas. The project kept evolving from there, becoming a study of Miami’s Cuban community and its interactions with other groups in the city. I spend a good deal of the manuscript tracing the development of local economic and political power and the influence this afforded the Cuban American community. I am fascinated by the way in which transnational events and trends shape local communities and how local developments can affect politics at an international level.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I am currently teaching a course entitled “Society, Culture, and Rock and Roll.” This is the second time I have taught this course after taking over for the dearly missed Michael Morrison. My approach to the course leans more heavily on urban history than Mike’s did. I use the development of several styles of popular music in the postwar period as a gateway to teaching students about suburbanization and the urban crisis. I am currently also developing a course for the fall entitled “Latinx Communities in the U.S.” This course will be largely focused on transnational migrations and the creation of Latino/a communities in different regions of the United States.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am currently very excited to read Llana Barber’s new monograph Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945–2000. Barber’s approach, combining the history of the urban crisis with the histories of American intervention in Latin America and the migrations they caused resonates with my own approach to Miami. This book is also part of an important trend in urban history that seeks to correct how we have largely conceived of Latino/a communities as existing in the largest of American cities. Barber’s book on Lawrence and other projects currently in development will be crucial to our understanding of the vastness of the Latino/a urban experience.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

I would say that young scholars should keep the stories of the cities they study in perspective. As urbanists we tend to focus on the local histories and what they can tell us about national trends. I would tell young scholars to question whether these stories end at the city limits or even at the country’s border. While histories that deals with immigration and cities is most obvious, I would suggest that young scholars seek out other ways in which every city is a global city. Only when we consider this perspective in tandem with more traditional approaches can we form a more complete understanding of these places.

What is your favorite fictional (literary, film, art, media) representation of Miami?

I have yet to find something that captures Miami in the way that something like a Raymond Chandler novel evokes Los Angeles, or how countless films have represented aspects of New York City. My favorite representation of Miami is probably ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, the bilingual PBS sitcom from the late 1970s. While it is played for laughs, the encounter between cultures that is such a vital part of the Miami experience is the heart of that show.

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