On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture

On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture

On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture

On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture


With this masterful work, Louis A. Pĩrez Jr. transforms the way we view Cuba and its relationship with the United States. On Becoming Cuban is a sweeping cultural history of the sustained encounter between the peoples of the two countries and of the ways that this encounter helped shape Cubans' identity, nationality, and sense of modernity from the early 1850s until the revolution of 1959.

Using an enormous range of Cuban and U.S. sources—from archival records and oral interviews to popular magazines, novels, and motion pictures—Pƒ©rez reveals a powerful web of everyday, bilateral connections between the United States and Cuba and shows how U.S. cultural forms had a critical influence on the development of Cubans' sense of themselves as a people and as a nation. He also articulates the cultural context for the revolution that erupted in Cuba in 1959. In the middle of the twentieth century, Pƒ©rez argues, when economic hard times and political crises combined to make Cubans painfully aware that their American-influenced expectations of prosperity and modernity would not be realized, the stage was set for revolution.


This is a study of the Cuban-North American connection, not in the form of these relations, but as a relationship: its multiple and multifaceted aspects examined as one vast, interrelated constellation of factors and forces. The particular focus of the book is the Cuban encounter with the United States and the ways that this encounter influenced the context in which Cuban identity and nationality acquired recognizable forms. What Cubans derived from this experience shaped how they came to understand their relations with North Americans, no less than the relations among themselves. Attention is given to the diverse circumstances under which Cubans sustained contact with North Americans and came to know them, how that familiarity contributed to the assumptions by which Cubans presumed to understand the world, how North American ways revealed themselves, and how those revelations shaped the people Cubans became.

There has always been a temptation to address these issues separately, in monographic form: a study of, for example, Protestant missionaries, or tourism, or baseball and boxing, or music or popular culture, or the influence of motion pictures. But such an approach seemed incapable of yielding the desired outcome: namely, to understand the context and complexity of these linkages as a totality, as a system, and to see how connections worked together, like the strands of a web. In this study the individual strands of the web are examined but the web is left intact, thereby providing some understanding of the relationship of the parts to the whole. The objective is to examine the relationship between, for example, baseball and national identity, Protestant missionaries and revolution, North American motion pictures and television and the shaping of Cuban standards of self-presentation—how, in short, these and other factors contributed to arranging the terms by which nationality in Cuba assumed a distinctive form.

The experience under study spans approximately one hundred years, from the beginning of the 1850s to the end of the 1950s. This was a century of transformation, one that included a protracted struggle against Spanish colonial rule during which period the salient facets of what it meant to be Cuban were set in place. The early republican decades in Cuba coincided with far-reaching changes in the United States; indeed, it is almost impossible to understand postcolonial Cuba without appreciating the multiple ways in which North American developments insinuated themselves into Cuban life. The ascendancy of a consumer culture in the United States, the expansion and export of Hollywood . . .

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