José Martí (1853–1895) is the best known of Cuba’s founding figures and was the civilian leader of the Cuban independence movement. Beyond his iconic status among Cubans and the diaspora, Martí ranks among the most important Latin Americans of the 19th century. Aside from his revolutionary legacy, Martí remains a canonical figure of 19th-century Latin American literature. As a poet he pioneered Latin American modernismo; volumes such as Ismaelillo (1882) and Versos sencillos (Simple verses, 1891) are considered masterpieces. Martí’s US crónicas (chronicles), which appeared in Latin America’s most respected newspapers of the 1880s, stand among the most important journalistic works of the Gilded Age. His other writings span several other genres, including drama and prose fiction. Martí also founded a newspaper, Patria, which served as the Cuban independence movement’s official mouthpiece. In a lifetime of exile and immigration spanning three continents and a half-dozen countries, he worked as a secondary teacher and university professor; law clerk; journalist, editor, and translator; and diplomat. Martí’s collected works fill twenty-six volumes, with previously unknown writings still emerging. Biographers generally divide Martí’s life into three phases: childhood and adolescence in Cuba, culminating in his imprisonment and first exile (1853–1871); post-exile life in Spain, Mexico, and Guatemala (1871–1878); and after the second exile from Cuba, his mature revolutionary period in New York (1881–1895). A brief imprisonment for conspiracy ended with Martí’s first expulsion from Cuba in January 1871. He spent the next four years in Spain, where he continued to denounce Spanish imperialism and earned a law degree. He then rejoined his family in Mexico but had to flee after the rise of the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1876. Martí then emigrated to Guatemala, where he attempted to settle with his wife Carmen Zayas Bazán, whom he married in 1877. But disagreements with President Justo Rufino Barrios again forced the couple into exile. After a failed attempt to resettle in Havana under a general amnesty following the Ten Years’ War (1868–1878) and his second expulsion from Cuba, Martí eventually landed in New York, which served as his base for building the Cuban independence movement. After several false starts, the Cuban Revolutionary Party finally launched its War of Independence in February 1895. Martí joined rebel forces on the island in April and died in battle little over a month later. Martí’s posthumous fame spread slowly, but by the 1930s he was generally hailed as Cuba’s great “apostle” of independence. Successive Cuban governments burnished his legend, and Fidel Castro claimed Martí as the 1959 Cuban Revolution’s “intellectual author.” The mass emigration of Cubans fleeing the revolution then spread Martí’s fame to the United States and Europe; Cuban-Americans continue to identify with him as an example of the nation in exile. Though not a Latino in the contemporary sense, Martí remains a key figure in the historical formation of US Latino/a identities.
Alfred J. López
Kenya C. Dworkin y Méndez
Evelio Grillo, the son of black Cuban cigar makers in Tampa, Florida, was born in 1919, in Ybor City, an immigrant enclave whose population was predominantly Cuban, Spanish, and Sicilian. When the Cuban population, which was the largest of the three primary ethnic cohorts, had started arriving, in 1885, from Key West and Cuba, its members were approximately 15 percent Afro-Cuban, or darker skinned, and 75 percent white, or lighter-skinned. The number of black Cubans later dwindled significantly, in the 1930s and 1940s, because of the Depression and drastically reduced employment opportunities. Many Cuban immigrants headed North to New York City and other urban centers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic searching for and finding better work, more educational opportunities, and more Afro-Latin people and communities to mingle and join forces with, which led to their major involvement in Northern civil rights efforts. Grillo grew up on the “unofficial” border between Ybor City proper and a small, marginalized, African American area between Ybor City and downtown Tampa known as the Scrub. Early on, he came to feel somewhat alienated from his white Cuban counterparts, despite the fact he and they shared a great deal in common—language, history, culture, and religion. The idea of racial unity that had been promoted by José Martí and other Cuban leaders and intellectuals in the years leading up to and during the 1895 Cuban War of Independence, and which had never really totally existed, was quickly abandoned. Eventually, thanks to an extraordinary school experience that took him out of Tampa and to Washington, DC, he became more comfortable and functional in the African American world of Tampa and elsewhere. Grillo ended up receiving a first-rate education at Dunbar High School in the Capitol; earned a bachelor of arts degree at Xavier University, in New Orleans, Louisiana; took three years of courses in Latin American history at Columbia University, in New York City, after the war; and then moved to Oakland, California, to work and earn a master’s degree in social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. After completing his undergraduate degree at Xavier, Grillo had been drafted into the US Army—the segregated army—and was shipped to India with the 853rd Engineering Battalion to build roads. While there, the developed many talents that he would later synthesize and that served him well later on in life, for example, community organizing, administration, research and writing, communications, and dealing with institutionalized racism and discrimination. Upon moving to Oakland, he took a position in a community center, and after earning his master’s degree from Berkeley, he continued to be involved in community, social, and political organizing. He was active in in local politics and black, Mexican, and Latina/o affairs and initiatives at the national, governmental, and nonprofit levels, working, for example, for the City of Oakland, in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the War on Poverty, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Community Service Organization, and had the opportunity to work with the likes of Herman Gallegos, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Fred Ross, and Saul Alinsky.
Lourdes Casal (1936–1981), award-winning poet, fiction writer, editor, social psychologist, and activist, contributed to the articulation of multiple interdisciplinary fields including Cuban studies, Latina/o, Latin American, black, and women’s studies, yet her work has not received the attention it deserves because she published different kinds of writing in two languages, each directed to disparate, sometimes conflicting or overlapping, audiences. Alternatively, it could be said that her writing addresses an emergent readership more visible today decades after her death, who see—as she did—the need for dialogue across disciplinary, linguistic, and political divisions. Although Casal has remained in print primarily in Latina/o literary anthologies, Casal made her living as a social scientist and a psychology professor, and she remained engaged with Cuba through editorial work and what scholars call today “publicly engaged scholarship.” Casal’s work exemplifies a transnational attention to both homeland (Cuba) and residence (New York) that has become a distinguishing quality of Latina/o literature. In 1978, Lourdes Casal defined herself in “Memories of a Black Cuban Childhood” as learning to assert herself as an “Hispanic Black” (p. 62). In an interview with Margaret Randall that prefaces translations of her poetry into English, she defines herself as a “Latina,” and she asserts her claim to speak as a Cuban, despite living outside the island. During the Cold War, this combination of identifiers constituted a paradox, which Casal asserted both against the mainstream of the Cuban exile community and against heteronormative cultural nationalisms. Casal’s bilingualism and skillful diplomacy provided her with the salvoconducto to weave across multiple borders, despite the walls that became almost impossible to scale after the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and Cuba began relocating people to the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps in the mid-1960s. A queer feminist of African, Chinese, and European descent, Casal’s writings and editorial projects map the participation of a diverse group of Cuban exiles in the articulation of latinidad; yet even as she becomes legible in certain ways, she remains largely illegible, precisely because she ventured into uncharted, sometimes life-threatening, border spaces, in step with an unexpected ideological itinerary.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, intellectuals and politicians have focused on three main groups as foundational to national and cultural identities: indigenous, African, and European. Mestizaje or racial mixing as a political project has worked to silence the presence and contributions of people of African and Asian descent, while favoring intermixing among European and indigenous. Researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, and sociology have long debated the role of Asians in the transition from slavery to wage labor and produced studies on the transnational and diasporic dimensions of Asian migration and settlement in the region. However, literature and cultural production captures aspects of the Asian presence in the Caribbean Latina/o world that remain absent or underplayed in most empirical studies. Prominent Latina/o writers and artists from the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic) incorporate Asian characters and themes into their work on history, migration, and diaspora. They explore the Asian dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o racial, ethnic, gendered, and class identities and pose a challenge to foundational discourses of national and cultural identities based on mestizaje and syncretism that serve to subsume and erase the Asian presence. Secondary migrations of Asians from Latin America and the Caribbean to North America has produced a small but significant demographic of Asian Latina/os, some of whom reflect on their experiences through essays, memoirs, fiction, poetry, and art. The cultural production of Asian Latinas/os resists hegemonic concepts of race, nation, citizenship, and identity.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.
Zelideth María Rivas
Representations of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean have been caught in the fissures of history, in part because their presence ambivalently affirms, depends upon, and simultaneously denies dominant narratives of race. While these populations are often stereotyped and mislabed as chino, Latin American countries have also made them into symbols of kinship and citizenship by providing a connection to Asia as a source of economic and political power. Yet, their presence highlights a rupture in nationalistic ideas of race that emphasize the European, African, and indigenous. Historically, Asian Latin American and Caribbean literary and cultural representations began during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565–1815) with depictions of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino slaves and galleon laborers. Soon after, Indian and Chinese laborers were in demand as coolie trafficking became prevalent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Toward the end of the 19th century, Latin American and Caribbean countries began to establish political ties with Asia, ushering in Asian immigrants as a replacement labor force for African slaves. By the beginning of World War II, first- and second-generation immigrants recorded their experiences in poetry, short stories, and memoirs, often in their native languages. World War II disrupted Asian diplomacy with Latin America, and Caribbean and Latin American countries enacted laws that ostracized and deported Japanese immigrants. World War II also marked a change for Asian immigrants to Latin America and the Caribbean: they shifted from temporary to permanent immigrants. Here, authors depicted myriad aspects of their identities—language and citizenship, race, and sexuality—in their birth languages. In other words, late 20th century and early 21st century literature highlights the communities as Latin American and Caribbean. Finally, the presence of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean has influenced Latin American and Caribbean literature and cultural production, highlighting them as characters and their cultures as themes. Most importantly, however, Latin American modernism emerged from a Latin American orientalism that differs from a European orientalism.
John Wharton Lowe
Transnationalism and Global Studies have exploded old notions of artificial cultural boundaries, opening to view the myriad cross currents between the U.S. South and the Caribbean. Thus, the literature produced by the wider region of the circumCaribbean can be considered to reflect this interplay and as an alternative history to chronicles bounded by nationalism. While the age of contact and contest, the Haitian Revolution, and the U.S.–Mexican War were early focal points for interchange, the mutual influences of cultures have been dynamic, ongoing, and intricately connected to immigration, diaspora, racial conflict and mixing, and the creation of new forms of cultural expression. Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the literature of the circumCaribbean, especially in the new forms it has taken over the past fifty years.