In his new book, Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean
(Princeton University Press, 2019), historian Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof
seamlessly ties together various scholarly subfields into a truly transnational history of anticolonial politics and the Afro-Latino diaspora in the United States. Hoffnung-Garskof, Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan, brings to life the migration stories of black Cubans and Puerto Ricans who founded an intellectual and political movement in nineteenth-century New York. Though exiles and migrants from the Spanish Caribbean were but a fraction of the growing immigrant population during the Gilded Age, this small community of color produced leaders in industry, journalism, and above all, revolutionary struggle. From a small apartment in the center of segregated New York City, a mutual aid organization called La Liga
became the political hub for a vast network of exiles of color seeking to liberate Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spanish colonialism. The book provides “a migrants’-eye view” through a collection of microhistories that shed light on the worldviews of a select group of thought leaders and their increasingly intertwined lives. While most of the historical actors featured in this text were afro-descendants, their own racial subjectivities and racialization by external parties took on various forms. This interview delves further into the migrants’ articulations of race – among many other issues – a core theme and line of inquiry throughout the book. In the shadow of a complex and contested historiography centered on revolutionary leaders such as José Martí, Hoffnung-Garskof highlights the invaluable contributions of the Spanish Caribbean’s “class of color.” Black Cuban and Puerto Rican intellectuals did not passively participate in the movement led by Martí, but rather fought to manifest their own vision of what a new interracial democracy could be.
Jaime Sánchez, Jr. is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Princeton University and a scholar of U.S. politics and Latino studies. He is currently writing an institutional history of the Democratic National Committee and partisan coalition politics in the twentieth century. You can follow him on Twitter @Jaime_SanchezJr