The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823-1957
New York University Press 2017
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Latino StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network June 27, 2019 Jonathan Cortez
In Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823-1957 (NYU Press, 2017), Nancy Mirabal details New York Cuban diasporic history between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with keen attention to how political debates about the potential future, visibility, and belonging in Cuba played out along issues of race and gender. By shifting moments of importance in Cuban and U.S. history, it becomes clear exactly how contentious the differing opinions on how to move the island away from Spanish colonial rule and the role it would come to play – if any – on the political, racial, and economic landscape of the United States. Mirabal utilizes vast archival material spanning club records, literary texts, newspapers, photographs, and oral histories to tell how exiled Cuban migrants formed, maintained, and disagreed within social clubs in New York. Her inclusion of labor history, intellectual history, political history, social history, and immigration history makes for an incredibly detailed and dynamic history.
Mirabal is committed to writing a history that focuses on the experiences and intellectual debates of Afro-Cubans during a period of enslavement, empire, and colonialism. Further, she tells how the movement of peoples and ideas of revolution and independence were both being informed and redefined by an exiled Afro-Cuban experience well before and after 1898. Mirabal writes, “Afro-Cuban migrants were some of the most incisive, powerful, and radical voices in the exile nationalist movement, so much so that by the mid- to late nineteenth-century, meanings of Cubanidad were inextricably tied to ending slavery, racial equality, and a promise of enfranchisement” (6). Suspect Freedoms recounts a history of how nation-building in Cuba, which was dependent largely on diasporic intellectuals, was a racialized and masculinist project dependent on the white supremacy, anti-blackness, and patriarchy. Even then, the intricacies with which Dr. Mirabal recounts Black migrant’s, women’s, and Black women’s experiences and resistance to such fault lines within this century-long period of Cuban diasporic history is masterful.
Jonathan Cortez is a Ph.D. candidate of American Studies at Brown University. They are a historian of 20th-century issues of race, labor, (im)migration, surveillance, space, relational Ethnic Studies, and Latinx Studies. Their research focuses on the rise of federally-funded encampments (i.e., the concentration of populations) from the advent of the New Deal until post-WWII era. Their dissertation, “The Age of Encampment: Race, Surveillance, and the Power of Spatial Scripts, 1933-1975” reveals underlying continuities between the presence of threatening bodies and the increasing surveillance of these bodies in camps throughout the United States. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz and their personal website www.historiancortez.com