Appointed As

Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow

Program

Alberto E. Sosa Cabanasprogram

Host

Rutgers University-New Brunswick

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Spanish, Florida International University

Dissertation Abstract

“Fear, Celebration, and Racial Otherness at the Turn of the Century:
Toward the Construction of Blackness in Cuban Artistic-Literary Discourse”

This project examines how Cuban ethnographic studies of Africans, and their descendants were transcribed into cultural
productions by literary and visual artists. In it, I study anthropological reports gathered by colonial administrators, police
detectives, and Yoruba priests to show their impact on the production of “black” imaginaries during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth century. The turn of the nineteenth century was a pivotal moment for the crystallization of Cuban
national consciousness and the definition of a unified cultural identity. Writers and artists faced the challenge of finding
ways to include highly racialized elements (such as religion and popular culture) within the rhetorical narratives of the
elites. The result of these efforts not only opened new negotiations of the idea of nation, but also meant a discursive
transformation meant to assimilate blackness without rejecting or denouncing it. Seeking to understand Cuba’s African
roots, these artists turned to ethnographic/scientific writings on the island’s black population. To better understand the
intersection among science and literature, the project engages the following questions: How were discourses of scientific
racism incorporated and reworked in high culture? How was such incorporation negotiated? How did scientific, literary,
and visual texts produce perceptions of blackness? What was the role of black ethnographers in shaping national
imaginaries of blackness largely created by white elites? In an effort to answer some of these questions, my research
engages postcolonial theories applied on continental Africa to deconstruct literary and visual representations of the black
presence in Cuba and traces these continuities through notions of black primitive degradation. I contend that the colonial
imaginaries persist in Cuba’s narratives of emancipation and cultural celebration. My research shows that even when
rendered invisible through decolonial politics, the colonial imaginaries of blackness continue to define racial ideology in
the island.
My dissertation also explores narratives of exclusion written by Cuban intellectual elites in which black bodies appear to
be incompatible with the ideas of national modernity, resulting in the necessity of representing the “black other” through a
system of cultural metaphors and symbols. The most complex and frequent use of these metaphors is precisely the body
and its multifaceted politics. I contend that many of the artistic and literary texts of the period share a powerful attraction
to the body; revealing how the black body becomes a contested space where national ideologies about race, class, gender,
and modernity clash onto each other.