Unbecoming Blackness: The Diaspora Cultures of Afro-Cuban America

Unbecoming Blackness: The Diaspora Cultures of Afro-Cuban America

Unbecoming Blackness: The Diaspora Cultures of Afro-Cuban America

Unbecoming Blackness: The Diaspora Cultures of Afro-Cuban America


2014 Runner-Up, MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies

In Unbecoming Blackness, Antonio López 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.

López shows how Afro-Cuban writers and performers in the U.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, Rómulo Lachatañeré, 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.


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 in El 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 Cuban history: Consuelo Serra was the daughter of Rafael Serra, the famous journalist and Cuban independence leader in the United States during the late nineteenth century.

Serra proved a provocative interview, beyond the association with her father. She had migrated from Cuba to New York City when she was seven years old and lived there for fourteen years. She went to public school and graduated with degrees in English from Hunter College and education from the city’s Normal School before returning to the island in 1906. This was not lost on Guillén and Urrutia. In the article, Guillén describes how, on the afternoon in question, they come to Serra’s apartment, where a “girl, black and smiling” (niña negra y sonriente), opens the door. As they wait for their host, they note the very few paintings on the walls, a sign, Guillén says, of good taste. And then Serra arrives, also “smiling.” Her speech leaves an impression on Guillén: “despite having lived in the North for fourteen years, her Spanish is pure [conserva límpido su castellano], without any of those incriminating Rs [erres . . .

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