Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow

Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow

Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow

Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow

Synopsis

Cuba's geographic proximity to the United States and its centrality to U.S. imperial designs following the War of 1898 led to the creation of a unique relationship between Afro-descended populations in the two countries. In Forging Diaspora, Frank Andre Guridy shows that the cross-national relationships nurtured by Afro-Cubans and black Americans helped to shape the political strategies of both groups as they attempted to overcome a shared history of oppression and enslavement.

Drawing on archival sources in both countries, Guridy traces four encounters between Afro-Cubans and African Americans. These hidden histories of cultural interaction--of Cuban students attending Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, the rise of Garveyism, the Havana-Harlem cultural connection during the Harlem Renaissance and Afro-Cubanism movement, and the creation of black travel networks during the Good Neighbor and early Cold War eras--illustrate the significance of cross-national linkages to the ways both Afro-descended populations negotiated the entangled processes of U.S. imperialism and racial discrimination. As a result of these relationships, argues Guridy, Afro-descended peoples in Cuba and the United States came to identify themselves as part of a transcultural African diaspora.

Excerpt

In May 1961, the Crisis, the organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), published an article by the Afro-Cuban lawyer Juan René Betancourt titled “Castro and the Cuban Negro.” Since the 1940s, Betancourt had been an activist against racial discrimination in Cuba, authoring three books and several journalistic pieces in defense of the rights of Cubans of African descent. in 1959, he had joined the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who celebrated the triumph of the revolution that overthrew Fulgencio Batista and put Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries in power. Betancourt, who had been a classmate of Castro at the University of Havana, participated in the new government’s effort to abolish enduring practices of racial discrimination. He became “delegate-intervenor” of the National Federation of Negro Societies, a conglomeration of the long-standing mutual-aid and recreational associations that had been the centers of social, cultural, and political life for Afro-Cubans since the postemancipation period. Betancourt sought to “reactivate the normal activities of the Negro movement and to present the Castro government with a specific program designed to make the Cuban Negro a first-class rather than a fifth-class citizen.” Despite the AfroCuban activist’s initial enthusiasm for the revolution, his vision of the “Negro movement” soon clashed with that of the new regime, and he was unceremoniously dismissed by the government and forced into exile shortly thereafter. His Crisis essay was a passionate critique of the revolution’s communist orientation to the question of racial discrimination, highlighting the government’s dismantling of the Afro-Cuban societies. “One can truthfully say,” Betancourt insisted to Crisis readers, “that the Negro movement in Cuba died at the hands of Sr. Fidel Castro.” By pleading his case in the pages of the Crisis, the AfroCuban exile, like so many before him, appealed to African American readers to publicize his concerns.

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