Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program

Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program

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​Transcultural Transdisciplinarity: Alumna Zaira Zarza Wins Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship

By Karl Hardy, November 2016

Queen’s alumna Zaira Zarza is the first Cuban International student to graduate from a Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences program. She completed a PhD in the Cultural Studies Program in 2015, and won a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies.

Zaira’s doctoral research project combined archival, curatorial, and historiographical work. Her dissertation, Roots and Routes: Cuban Cinemas of the Diaspora in the 21st Century, comprised a written thesis and the organization of a travelling showcase of Cuban diasporic digital films. The showcase toured Montreal, Kingston and Toronto in 2015 and Havana in 2016.

“The curatorial experience created platforms to make visible the work of Cuban independent artists and helped me gain valuable production knowledge. I learned how to conceive and publicize events, fundraise, and work collaboratively with over ten institutions — the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts, and the Toronto International Film Festival among them,” Zaira said. “The events related to the project had a significant intellectual and social impact not only on Cuban diasporic filmmakers, but also among Latin American, diasporic, as well as other communities in Canada. They also helped to unsettle many stereotypes of Cuban culture in the country that sends the largest number of tourists to the Island every year. I look forward to working broadly with university and non-university audiences on similar innovative projects in the future.”

 “In my postdoctoral project I aim to re-orient the diaspora discussions of my PhD research to centre on Havana as point of transit and transition in new circuits of transnational cultural economies/mobilities. Focused on cinema and new media, I will document and analyze changes taking place in Cuba in the domains of cultural institutions, policy-making, financing, film programming, new forms of online connectivity and audiovisual distribution,” she explains. “Central to these changes is an urgent need to look at issues of intellectual property, copyright, and patrimony, in a context of normalized piracy. By tracking diasporic cultural producers as they re-route their circuits back through Havana, working alongside rooted and foreign producers, I will contribute a deepened understanding of the frontier between modernity (national institutions) and globalization (creative industries and economies).”

Zaira’s relationship to Queen’s began in 2007 as a translator and teacher in the interdisciplinary course “Cuban Culture and Society” coordinated by the Department of Global Development Studies in collaboration with the University of Havana. She calls this her “most life-changing experience as a teacher” and credits it with leading her to pursue her PhD here at Queen’s. She also hopes to see more opportunities for Cuban students to come to Canadian universities in the near future.

 “One of the two main leaders of this exchange is my PhD supervisor Dr. Susan Lord, the head of the Film and Media department for the last five years and one of the most inspiring scholars I have ever met,” Zaira says. “I have known Susan for almost a decade. She is an example of  intelligence and hard work and I have learned from her passion, kindness and sense of justice in and outside academia.”

“Dr. Karen Dubinsky, professor in DEVS is the other person guiding the 'Cuba course.' She is a committed mentor and a leader when it comes to supporting Cuban studies at Queen's and has managed to organize book launches, concerts and more presentations of Cuban musicians/artists in Kingston than the community ever imagined.”  

 “Some of my best friends are now in Canada. Them, as well as my friends and family in Cuba and in the diaspora have been essential in shaping who I am. And I think that reflects in the work when one does autoethnography. So, every letter on the written version of my thesis and every email or phone call I made when organizing the curatorial component (film screenings, panels, exhibitions in Canada --and more recently in Cuba, thanks to an Honorary Marty Memorial Scholarship for Women Graduates from Queen's--), I owe to their support,” Zaira said. “Support is twice as needed when one comes from a different culture as an international student. In that sense, I want to recognize the good work of the QUIC International Centre where I always felt welcome. They help with all sorts of needs international students have from filing taxes for the first time to figure out the never-ending migratory paper work. I am thankful also to my committee members Dr. Cathie Krull, Dr. Dorit Naaman and Dr. Jennifer Hosek, and I am also indebted to the School of Graduate Studies' initiatives Expanding Horizons and, in particular, the Dissertation Boot Camps of which I was a regular participant. I am a member of the Kingston Latino Community Association and the Corridor Culture collective that also played a very important role in feeling a sense of belonging to the city.”

Zaira’s future goals involve continuing to transcend the borders of the academy, the arts, and culture across the many contexts of her life and work.

“I would love to have one foot in the academy and one foot in an institution of the arts, as much as I have one foot in Canada and the other one in Cuba.”