Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Unbecoming Blackness

Unbecoming Blackness: The Diaspora Cultures of Afro-Cuban America

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 282
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Unbecoming Blackness
    Book Description:

    2014 Runner-Up, MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural StudiesIn Unbecoming Blackness, Antonio Lopez uncovers an important, otherwise unrecognized century-long archive of literature and performance that reveals Cuban America as a space of overlapping Cuban and African diasporic experiences.Lopez shows how Afro-Cuban writers and performers in theU.S. align Cuban black and mulatto identities, often subsumed in the mixed-race and postracial Cuban national imaginaries, with the material and symbolic blackness of African Americans and other Afro-Latinas/os. In the works of Alberto O'Farrill, Eusebia Cosme, Romulo Lachatanere, and others, Afro-Cubanness articulates the African diasporic experience in ways that deprive negro and mulato configurations of an exclusive link with Cuban nationalism. Instead, what is invoked is an unbecoming relationship between Afro-Cubans in the U.S and their domestic black counterparts. The transformations in Cuban racial identity across the hemisphere, represented powerfully in the literary and performance cultures of Afro-Cubans in the U.S., provide the fullest account of a transnational Cuba, one in which the Cuban American emerges as Afro-Cuban-American, and the Latino as Afro-Latino.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6548-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    One afternoon late in 1929, two Afro-Cuban men visited the Havana home of an Afro-Cuban woman to conduct an interview for a newspaper article. Nicolás Guillén was already known for his journalism and was on the way to becoming a renowned poet. His companion, Gustavo Urrutia, was a prominent figure in Afro-Cuban social and intellectual life as the editor of “Ideales de una Raza” (Ideals of a Race), a Sunday page on Afro-Cuban topics inEl Diario de la Marina. Guillén published the interview in “Ideales” as “Señorita Consuelo Serra,” a title that revealed to readers his interviewee’s connection to...

  5. 1 Alberto O’Farrill: A Negrito in Harlem
    (pp. 18-60)

    In an April 1929 edition of theDiario de la Marina, two essays appeared side by side in “Ideales de una Raza”: “El teatro cubano” (Cuban Theater), published by Gustavo Urrutia in “Armonías,” and “El camino de Harlem” (The Road to Harlem) by Nicolás Guillén. In “Teatro,” Urrutia calls for a “modern Cuban theater” in which actors and actresses of “our race” (nuestra raza) would appear in roles as “cultured and patriotic blacks [negros cultos y patriotas], full of dignity.” Urrutia hopes such a theater would challenge not only the contemporary Cuban blackface stage but also the influence of other...

  6. 2 Re/Citing Eusebia Cosme
    (pp. 61-111)

    In a crypt in the Sunset Mausoleum of the Flagler Memorial Park on Flagler Street and Fifty-Third Avenue in Miami rest the remains of one of the most important Afro-Cuban women cultural figures of twentieth-century Cuba and its U.S. diaspora. The crypt plate offers an identification: “Eusebia Cosme, Vda. de [widow of] Laviera, ‘Mama [sic] Dolores,’ Marzo 5, 1908–Julio 11, 1976.” Born in Santiago de Cuba, Eusebia Cosme had been living at the Miami Convalescent Home since early 1974. She had arrived there from Mexico City, her body partially paralyzed by a stroke. It was another stroke that eventually...

  7. 3 Supplementary Careers, Boricua Identifications
    (pp. 112-153)

    Among the modern Afro-Cuban American performance identities and archival sites of the first part of the book, there was always a mainlandboricua presence: the Puerto Rican in the United States. O’Farrill appeared at the Teatro Apolo and Teatro Campoamor before boricua audiences, while hisGráficowork brought him into contact, however tense, with Bernardo Vega. Cosme’s midcentury watershed performance at the Teatro Santurce (formerly the Campoamor) put her before boricua publics, too. Prior to that, she had had many encounters with boricua writers, journalists, and intellectuals, both in New York City and in Puerto Rico in the mid-1930s.

    In this...

  8. 4 Around 1979: Mariel, McDuffie, and the Afterlives of Antonio
    (pp. 154-184)

    I turn now to the cultures of two 1979 Miami murders, seeing in them still other signs of the circulation of race in Cuban America. In March of that year, a white Cuban American was found dead on SW Eighth Street, killed as a consequence of his work in the illegal-drug economy. No one was ever charged in the murder. This was Antonio López, my father. In December, an African American was murdered on North Miami Avenue, with a white Cuban American police officer, among others, implicated. No one was ever convicted in the murder. This was Arthur McDuffie. The...

  9. 5 Cosa de Blancos: Cuban American Whiteness and the Afro-Cuban-Occupied House
    (pp. 185-212)

    During the 1990s, a narrative flashpoint appeared repeatedly in the works of Cuban American writers, particularly among those with origins in the first postrevolutionary migration (1959–1962): that of a return trip to Cuba. As even a brief selection shows, Cuban American return narratives of the 1990s signify in multiple ways. Pablo Medina’s autobiographyExiled Memories: A Cuban Childhoodrecounts a “visit to the island after an absence of thirty-eight years,” confirming ideas in the Cuban American imaginary of a static, ruined island in its representation of a Havana that “has not evolved” but “merely crumbled.”¹ Alina Troyano’s queer performance...

  10. Conclusion: “Write the Word Black Twice”
    (pp. 213-218)

    A few years ago, I discovered an article in a Spanish-language newspaper in Washington, DC, that, returning to it now, I realize connects to my work in a way I had failed to anticipate. It describes the lives of Latinas/os of African descent in the area, and it makes a striking claim: while “ in some studies” they are known “as Afro-Latinos [afrolatinos] or Afro-Hispanics [afrohispanos],” in “our community” they “are called ‘morenos’ [in original].”¹ I place my work among those “studies” that, as the article says, view Afro-Cuban Americans as “Afro-Latinos” (if not as “Afro-Hispanics,” a term that, in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 219-260)
  12. Index
    (pp. 261-272)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 273-273)