Passing as Open Secret: Race and Fictions of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Cuba


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


Spanish and Portuguese


For residence at the National Humanities Center during academic year 2019-2020


This project draws together novels, plays, legal documents, caricatures, and other visual materials to analyze the different ways of actively “not-knowing”—including tact, hypocrisy, and cynicism—that underpinned whiteness in nineteenth-century Cuba. While racial passing is generally understood as a divergence between the private and public identities of a given subject, the Cuban case foregrounds the importance of situations in which this divergence was willfully ignored, and in which white identity was not invalidated by the perception of the “fraud” that made it possible. Passing-as-open-secret, this project shows, became a way to reconcile the preservation of racial divisions, on one hand, and the widespread and often successful strategies of blanqueamiento (whitening), on the other. As a result, this context saw the constant negotiation between two seemingly contradictory ideas of race: as genealogical/biological fact and as fiction.