Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos

Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos

Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos

Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos

Synopsis

For more than two hundred years, Americans have imagined and described Cuba and its relationship to the United States by conjuring up a variety of striking images--Cuba as a woman, a neighbor, a ripe fruit, a child learning to ride a bicycle. Louis A. Perez Jr. offers a revealing history of these metaphorical and depictive motifs and discovers the powerful motives behind such characterizations of the island as they have persisted and changed since the early nineteenth century. Drawing on texts and visual images produced by Americans ranging from government officials, policy makers, and journalists to travelers, tourists, poets, and lyricists, Perez argues that these charged and coded images of persuasion and mediation were in service to America's imperial impulses over Cuba.

Excerpt

Cuba occupies a special place in the history of American imperialism. It has served as something of a laboratory for the development of the methods by which the United States has pursued the creation of a global empire. In the aggregate, the means used by the United States in Cuba constitute a microcosm of the American imperial experience: armed intervention and military occupation; nation building and constitution writing; capital penetration and cultural saturation; the installation of puppet regimes, the formation of clientele political classes, and the organization of proxy armies; the imposition of binding treaties; the establishment of a permanent military base; economic assistance—or not—and diplomatic recognition—or not—as circumstances warranted. And after 1959, trade sanctions, political isolation, covert operations, and economic embargo. All that is American imperialism has been practiced in Cuba.

But it is also true that, for all the ways that Cuba stands as an embodiment of American imperial practice, it is at the same time different—so different, in fact, that it must be considered as a case apart. Cuba seized hold of the North American imagination early in the nineteenth century. What made awareness of Cuba particularly significant were the ways that it acted on the formation of the American consciousness of nationhood. The destiny of the nation seemed inextricably bound to the fate of the island. It was impossible to imagine the former without attention to the latter.

All through the nineteenth century, the Americans brooded over the anomaly that was Cuba: imagined as within sight, but seen as beyond reach; vital to the national interest of the United States, but in the possession of Spain. To imagine Cuba as indispensable to the national well-being was to make possession of the island a necessity. The proposition of necessity itself assumed something of a self-fulfilling prophesy, akin to a prophetic logic that could not be explained in any way other than a matter of destiny. The security and perhaps—many insisted—even the very survival of the North American Union seemed to depend on the acquisition of Cuba. The men and women who gave thought to affairs of state, as elected leaders and appointed officials; as newspaper editors and magazine publishers; as entrepreneurs, industrialists, and investors; as poets and playwrights; as lyricists, journalists, and novelists; and an ever-expanding electorate—almost all who contemplated the future well-

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