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Seventy years later, after much political and socioeconomic change on the island, tourism imaginaries of Cuba still evoked the sensual and erotic pleasures that the country had to offer. Another perspective pays attention to how differences are articulated and the effects they have on the realities people experience, trying to grasp how different self-identifications are brought about and what they achieve in a given situation. The analysis presented in this article follows this second approach, and builds on a growing body of work that calls for subtler analyses of the way intimate encounters in tourism take place, of their power differentials, of the identifications that emerge from them, and of their potential ambiguities see for instance the writings of Pruitt and LaFont, ; Cohen, ; Herold et al.
Much has been said about how female tourists exert their economic and racial power to exploit Caribbean men they typecast in the imagery of hyper-sexual black masculinity; and also how, out of economic necessity, Caribbean men play up these images themselves to use their sexual labour in material-erotic exchanges with tourist women. This literature draws attention to the modalities, tactics, and strategies through which foreign women are seduced, highlighting the competences and resourcefulness that local men develop in engaging with tourists.
My focus is on processes of self-eroticization, of seduction, and of care for the other that, I argue, are revealing of the kind of competences, sensitivities, and modes of doing and being that these men developed through their intimate engagements with tourists. While such exchanges varied greatly in their duration and scope, the examples used in this article come from extensive conversations with Cuban men with whom I established close ties, in most cases over several years.
As I have clarified elsewhere Simoni, a , my research in Cuba was not based on any supposedly representative sample of tourists and members of the visited population making contact in this country. While referring to a limited number of cases, the findings presented in this article exemplify narratives and practices of seduction that I recurrently encountered during fieldwork, and which help shed light on the widespread range of skills, understandings, and moral attunements that intimate relationships between Cuban men and foreign tourist women brought into play.
The reproduction of racial stereotypes explains here the attraction of the Caribbean as a tourist destination where sex is deemed easy and even a natural ingredient of the holiday experience. If they had really come to Cuba to discover another country and another culture—as normative tourism discourses prescribed—then they had to experience first-hand such typicality.