Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Dr. Maida Watson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Dr. Jorge Duany

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Dr. Andrea Fanta

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Dr. Santiago Juan-Navarro

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


Cuba, Caribbean, Blackness, Race, Literature, Visual Arts, Lydia Cabrera, Alejo Carpentier, Fernando Ortiz, Cirilo Villaverde, Racism

Date of Defense



The disrupting visual and literary languages of the turn of the 19th century to the 1930’s constitute an area of research as a moment of crystallization of the Cuban national consciousness or identity. Writers and artists in Hispanic Caribbean region had to face the challenge of finding ways to include highly racialized elements (such as religion and popular culture) within the rhetorical space of the elites, in other words, what Angel Rama has labeled the "Republic of letters". The result of these efforts not only opened a new kind of negotiation of the idea of nation, but also meant the arrival of a cultural production that had to be transformed to assimilate blackness without rejecting or denouncing it. In this sense, my research tries to answer questions such as: How does the process of incorporating racialized elements of popular life in the many narratives of high culture work? What changes had an effect on the economy of literary and visual production in order to negotiate this incorporation? How did literary and visual texts create perceptions of blackness in the Cuban cultural landscape? How do representations of blackness in the nation context build transnational imaginaries and identity?

In an effort to answer some of these questions, my research draws on the use of postcolonial theories applied on continental Africa to deconstruct literary and visual representations of the black presence in Cuba and Puerto Rico and trace these continuities through notions of black primitive degradation between the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century. I contend that blackness in Cuba today is determined by colonial representations which persisted in the narratives of emancipation and cultural celebration. These colonial representations reflected the survival of colonial discourse and racial ideology in the Cuban popular consciousness, even when rendered invisible through postcolonial discourse. My research builds on the relations of reception and contiguity between different visual domains: plastic arts, ethnographic photography, literature and anthropology. This purpose entails, of course, questioning complex regional and epochal networks of relationships.

In addition I also explore narratives of exclusion spread by Cuban intellectual elites in which black bodies seems to be incompatible with the notions of modernity and nation converge in the necessity of representing the “black other” through a system of cultural metaphors and symbols. The most complex and frequent use of these metaphors is precisely the body and its many politics. I contend that many of the artistic and literary texts of the period share a powerful attraction (fascination even) with the body. In the frame of this project, I analyze how representations of black bodies become merging spaces of discursive transformations that link class, race and identity.





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