On August 29, 1916, the USS Memphis wrecked on the coast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A series of enormous waves drove the heavy armored cruiser ashore, killing forty-five sailors. The fact that the death toll was not much higher is owed to the heroic efforts of Dominicans to rescue the survivors of the shipwreck. This was despite the fact that the US Marine Corps had invaded their country three months before, initiating an occupation with unwonted violence. The US Marine occupation of the Dominican Republic would last for eight years, compiling a record of brutality inflicted on the civilian population that Senate hearings documented in excruciating detail. In the aftermath of the traumatic occupation, the shipwreck of the USS Memphis itself, rusting away in plain sight along the seaside boulevard in the Dominican capital city, became symbolic of US imperialism. The dictator Rafael Trujillo, a Marine protégé who seized power in 1930, pointed to the wreck as a relic of the days before US domination, contrasting it with the happy days after national sovereignty had been attained under his own strong rule. In order to implement the Good Neighbor Policy, an effort to expunge the negative legacy of the era of intervention and occupation known as “Gunboat Diplomacy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the removal of the wreck of the Memphis after taking office in 1933. The wreck’s removal finally took place in 1937.
Eric Paul Roorda
Max Paul Friedman
In the first three decades of the 20th century, the United States regularly intervened militarily in the circum-Caribbean, sending the Marines to govern directly or rule by proxy in Nicaragua (1912–1933), Haiti (1915–1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916–1924). The end of this era of U.S. occupations, and the relatively harmonious period that followed, is typically credited to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, although his predecessor Herbert Hoover began the process and both drew upon Latin American traditions and yielded to Latin American pressures to change traditional U.S. policy. The new approach to relations with Latin America included not only abjuring the use of military force but respecting the full sovereignty of Latin American states by not interfering or even commenting upon their processes of political succession. The Roosevelt administration signed agreements formalizing this new respect and sought to negotiate mutually beneficial trade agreements with Latin American countries. The benefits of the Good Neighbor Policy became evident when nearly every country in the region aligned itself with the United States in World War II. Measures taken against Axis nationals strained the policy during the war. By 1945, and during the Cold War, the policy unraveled, as the United States resumed both interference (in Argentine politics) and intervention (with a CIA-organized coup in Guatemala in 1954).
Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.