Uva de Aragon, Lisandro Perez, eds. Cuban Studies 30. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000. 280 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8229-4114-9.
Reviewed by Jason M. Yaremko (University of Manitoba)
Published on H-LatAm (June, 2002)
Regardless of how heated the debate or how hostile the adversaries, Cuban Studies 30 admirably continues in its commitment to provide the kind of high-caliber Cuban scholarship that many have come to expect from the series. As noted in the preface to this edition, volume 30 is the first Cuban Studies issue to be edited at Florida International University (FIU). The series' tenure at FIU runs until 2005. The inclusion of two Spanish-language essays written by Cuban scholars Diaz and Cordovi also make this issue a seminal one.
Along with the usual, and useful, array of book reviews and listings of recent scholarship in various fields of Cuban studies, this issue also offers the following essays: Antonio Aja Daiz, "La emigracion de Cuba en los anos noventa;" Jorge Duany, "Two Wings of the Same Bird;" Sherry Johnson, "The Rise and Fall of Creole Participation in the Cuban Slave Trade;" Karen Y. Morrison, "Civilization and Citizenship in the Eyes of Afro-Cuban Intellectuals during the First Constitutional Era, 1902-1940;" Juan Triana Cordovi, "Cuba en pensamiento economico cubano contemporaneo;" and Marifeli Prez-Stable, "Estrada Palma's Civic March: From Oriente to Havana, April 20-May 1, 1902.
The articles in this volume focus on issues of Cuban migration, citizenship, economic thought, and political culture. Woven into these discussions are a number of common analytical threads, including race, ethnicity, class and culture.
In the first essay, "La emigracion de Cuba en los anos noventa," Cuban scholar Antonio Aja Diaz provides an analysis of the dynamic of Cuban emigration during the last decade of the twentieth century. Diaz uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis to illustrate the more salient aspects of emigration during the 1990s.
Since the beginnings of the Cuban revolution in 1959, well over one million Cubans have emigrated, the large majority of them to the United States. As Diaz reminds us, there were a number of factors behind Cuban emigration (radicalization of the revolution, the socioeconomic and political fallout of a hostile and unrelenting U.S. Cuba policy) and various stages in the history of Cuban emigration during the era of the revolution (early post-Batista period, Camarioca, Mariel). Cuban emigration has likewise taken a number of different forms, legal and illegal. In turn, and in contrast to U.S. policy toward other Latin American emigrants, Washington favoured migrating Cubans, immediately accepting them as political refugees, part and parcel of a larger strategy to destabilize Cuba's revolutionary government.
Both the issues of Cuban emigration and U.S. policy therein came to a head in the autumn of 1994 when, in the space of a few weeks, tens of thousands of Cubans made a massive and dangerous attempt to cross the Florida Straits in order to reach U.S. shores on the other side. Both the United States and Cuban governments reacted with no little alarm over this latest crisis. The result was a fundamental shift in the U.S. government's policy with respect to Cuban immigration. It came in the form of bilateral negotiations and signed Migrations Agreements, the more salient points of which included, somewhat ironically, an agreement by Washington to provide 20,000 visas for Cubans applying for entry into the United States. Perhaps more importantly, the Clinton administration used the agreements to mark the end of more than three decades of U.S. favoritism toward Cuban migrants, as political refugee status was no longer as freely granted as it had earlier been, and illegal migrants were to be returned by the U.S. to Cuba.
Cuba's Special Period in Time of Peace has proven to be the most challenging epoch in the nation's history. Diaz provides an incisive and useful summary of the issue of Cuban emigration through the course of this period, and at a number of levels, particularly the impact on Cuban society, and U.S.-Cuban relations. As the author notes, the influence of the 1994 refugee crisis and concomitant migration accords on the question of Cuban emigration has proven particularly important, and has played a significant role in, at minimum, bringing closer together the perceptions of both the U.S. and Cuban governments about emigrating Cubans.
The question of Cuban immigration is also addressed in Jorge Duany's article "Two Wings of the Same Bird? Contemporary Puerto Rican Attitudes toward Cuban Immigrants," but from a different and refreshing perspective. Duany argues that, although thousands of Cubans have migrated to Puerto Rico since 1959, their assimilation into Puerto Rican society has been qualified by a number of factors, including immigrating Cubans' nationalism, their social class, and Puerto Ricans' perceptions and willingness to accept them as fellow citizens. Assimilation is certainly taking place, but it is only recently that the process made any substantial ground.
These are some of the conclusions made by Duany based on his extensive research conducted in Puerto Rico by way of surveys carried out in the 1990s. Since the beginning of the revolution Cubans have departed for Puerto Rico for reasons ranging from the political to the personal. Yet they remained a so-called "middleman minority," a separate ethic community distinguished by their culture and predominantly middle and upper class origins. Duany characterizes them as the "Jews of the Caribbean," in that they have been both admired and derogated for their entrepreneurialism. At the same time, it is precisely the Cubans' business acumen that has enabled them to become accepted as part of Puerto Rico's middle and upper classes. Cuban and Puerto Rican cultures are also similar, but Puerto Rican attitudes have long put more emphasis on the differences.
Duany's research reveals a more nuanced reality, which suggests that, though attitudes die hard, Puerto Rican perceptions of Cuban immigrants have undergone some change, if partly at the expense of other immigrant communities. Puerto Rican respondents admitted, for example, that Cuban emigres made important contributions to the economy, and that they would accept Cubans into their circle of friends or family. Conversely, Puerto Ricans made comparatively less positive statements about immigrating Dominicans.
Overall, Duany's work suggests that Puerto Rican attitudes have become more ambivalent than they once had been. This may be the case partly because, after nearly half a century, Cuban emigres are finally beginning to assimilate into society, but also, because Puerto Ricans are increasingly making comparisons less favorable to other arriving ethnic groups. The author's conclusions raise a number of questions, particularly about the implications of the host population's attitudes for future immigration and policy.
Sherry Johnson addresses yet another area of human migration studies, that of forced migration. Her essay, "The Rise and Fall of Creole Participation in the Cuban Slave Trade, 1789-1796," shuns the historiographical tendency toward quantitative analysis in Latin American slavery studies in order to critically examine traditional historiography based in the argument that wealthy elite traders dominated the Cuban slave trade. By creatively combining her analysis of slave ship registers with that of contemporary documents such as the Papel Periodico de la Havana, Johnson is able to conclude that, like much else in historical study, elite domination of the slave trade was anything but absolute. The ranks of slavers were in fact considerably more diverse and the story more nuanced, at least until North American domination of the slave trade after 1797.
The root of expanded Creole participation in the Cuban slave trade lay, not surprisingly, in Spanish imperial policy which, through a number of concessions granted in 1789, relaxed slave trade regulations for the island and enabled Spanish vessels, creole or peninsular, to enter into the slave trade as competitors with the foreign interests. While foreign traders continued to command the transatlantic trade, Spanish policy enabled smaller Creole traders in their schooners and sloops to conduct the hunt in neighboring islands. Johnson's research suggests that they did just this, even if the venture meant risking their family fortune in order to buy and outfit a ship. The degree of commitment varied: some supplemented incomes with the slave trade; others made it their primary line of work. Many of those who could not afford to purchase and outfit their own ships became employed as captains on the ships of Havana's established merchants who took advantage of the concessions to engage in the slave trade.
Creole slave merchants, large and small, encountered a number of challenges in their bid to compete in the Cuban slave trade. Nonetheless, they did become competitive. Examining a number of contributing factors including kinship ties, Johnson convincingly argues that competition within the Cuban slave trade increased between large and small merchants and that, united in their desire to restrict foreign influence, they provided a substantial counterweight to foreign dominance of the slave trade in Cuba. The author clearly delineates the complex and multifaceted nature of this process. It is logical, therefore, that she cannot easily accept the British blockade of 1796 and Haiti-motivated slave trade prohibition as adequate evidence for the rapid demise of this competition and rise of the North American monopoly. Arguably, Johnson notes, natural disaster in the form of a destructive hurricane predisposed Creole slave traders to failure under the political barriers imposed in the latter 1790s. It appears that, by 1796, many merchants either directly or indirectly involved in the slave trade had far less to show for their investments. After 1797, Creole merchants and captains effectively disappeared from the ranks of the slave trade.
Karen Y. Morrison looks at other forms of European imposition. In her essay "Civilization and Citizenship through the Eyes of Afro-Cuban Intellectuals," she examines the dynamic of European influence on Afro-Cuban political culture during the early republican era. Among the many barriers that Afro-Cubans had to contend with in the new Cuban republic were the European intellectual currents transferred into Cuba through North American carriers and adopted by white Cuban elites. These were, of course, the too-numerous strains of Darwinism that defined civilization, progress, and modernity in ways that ultimately excluded, at least temporarily, non-white Cubans (and Latin Americans generally). Such Eurocentric belief systems became an essential part of the foundation for defining good government and good society. As a matter of course, nationhood and citizenship were also to be determined according to a Eurocentric worldview.
Louis Prez, Aline Helg and other scholars have contributed to a rich and growing historiography of the struggle of Afro-Cubans, as patriots in the Cuban independence wars and as Cubans struggling, sometimes in arms, against being relegated to positions as second-class citizens in their own nation, a republic become protectorate. Morrison acknowledges this history and its bloody climax in the massacre known, among other things, as the revolt of 1912. The important role of the Partido Independiente de Color (PIC) is also summarized, although the aggressiveness of the PIC is somewhat overstated and simplified. Helg noted that the 1912 massacre of some three thousand Afro-Cubans by Cuban government forces effectively destroyed any substantial Afro-Cuban political opposition for the next several decades. Morrison focuses on those like Juan Gualberto Gomez and Martin Mora Delgado of the Afro-Cuban middle class who sought reformist, and ultimately compromised, forms of change.
Afro-Cuban intellectuals, before and shortly after 1912, tended to subscribe to a Eurocentric assimilationist view. Regeneration or "uplift" was accepted as a means to the end of the morally educating the Afro-Cuban out of his or her primitive state. The path to redemption was by way of the rejection of all cultural elements of African origin. Catholicism or Protestantism would replace Afro-Cuban religions, and European culture would supplant African-based cultural elements. As Morrison also notes, in addition to Eurocentric subscriptions, Afro-Cuban intellectuals also defined regeneration in terms that favoured patriarchal social control. Finally, the philosophy and practice of "uplift" as defined by Afro-Cuban perceived themselves as a vanguard to the masses, and appeared to aspire more to affiliation with and acceptance by white Cubans than to changing the status quo. The struggle for equality and legal protection occupied Afro-Cuban intellectuals far more than any concern for the rights of workers' or peasant.
Amid the political and economic crises of the 1920s, Cuban nationalism underwent a resurgence and with it, Afro-Cuban nationalism. A number of factors, from the Mexican and Russian revolutions, to unrelenting U.S. intervention, and the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, contributed to what may be called a revolutionizing of Cuban nationalism. Radicalization sparked a re-examination and then redefinition of Cuban identity that was both more inclusive and more diverse. Cuba's "African-derived elements" were increasingly accepted by white and Afro-Cuban intellectuals alike as not only legitimate but essential to the new conception of Cubanidad. Nicols Guillon and a reformed Fernando Ortiz were but two of the growing number of proponents on both sides of the color line asserting the new Cuban identity. As Morrison points out, by 1940, the discourse on Eurocentric definitions of civilization were transformed into a discourse on inclusion "reasserting the rights of all Afro-Cuban people to full Cuban citizenship." Arguably, it would be another twenty years before the process really began to come to fruition.
The final two essays by Juan Triana Cordovi and Marifeli Perez-Stable address opposite ends of the twentieth century in Cuba. In "Cuba en el pensamiento economico cubano contemporaneo," Cordovi summarizes contemporary Cuban scholarship on the Cuban economy, doing so at three levels: from the perspective of the historical development of economic studies; in comparison with predominant Latin American trends; and through a combination of historical perspective and personal experience.
The last article by Perez-Stable, "Estrada Palma's Civic March," is a brief and insightful discussion of an event that has received exceedingly little attention by historians of Cuba, but one that, nonetheless, is significant for what it tells us about the Cuban republic's first president and Cubans' ideas of Cubanidad (and perhaps also about the current president). Before his inauguration on May 20, 1902, effectively marking the end of the U.S. military occupation and formal independence for Cuba, Toms Estrada Palma made a "slow, impassioned trek" from his native Oriente to the national capital in Havana, a duration of three weeks. Estrada Palma's trip, his many stopovers (for example, giving his mother a proper funeral) and his meetings with allies and adversaries alike (including one with his political opponent Bartolome Maso) reveal as much about the individual as of those he came into contact with, and provide glimpses into the future of the Cuban republic. Perez-Stable's essay on the May 1902 civic march provides us with an historical snapshot, a sense of the nuance of Estrada Palma and of early republican Cuba, and of how such an event appeared to symbolize both a kind of closure and a new beginning for the first president and new nation alike.
. Migration accords were signed between Cuba and the Reagan administration in 1987, and also provided for 20,000 visas for Cuban entrants. The extent to which this was actually implemented, however, is another issue.
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Jason M. Yaremko. Review of de Aragon, Uva; Perez, Lisandro, eds., Cuban Studies 30.
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Copyright © 2002 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.