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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans before the Cuban Revolution
Lisa Brock & Digna Castaneda Furetes

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998)
298pp. Index. $59.95; ISBN 1-56639-586-0. Pb.: $22.95; ISBN 1-56639-587-9.

The rich and complex relationship between Afro-Americans and Afro-Cubans is the theme of the eleven essays gathered in this charming volume. The book by focusing on two sets of peoples not in state power expands our understanding of the role of marginal peoples in history. This collection, edited by a black Cuban and a black American, traces the neglected relationship between Cubans and African Americans from the abolitionist era to the Cuban revolution in 1959. The relationship between Cubans and North American blacks is symbolized by such poignant examples of brotherhood as the name chosen by the black baseball team to rise to prominence. In the United States was the Cuban Giants founded in Long Island, New York in 1885 (p. 169).

The strength of this anthology is that it explores the history of this relationship from 'below'. The essays focus on music, poetry, literature, and sports as the means which two peoples of color were able to express their uniqueness and develop their parallel race consciousness. The book heightens our appreciation of the similarity in the Cuban North American black experience, mainly the trauma of slavery and the struggle for political power. While, at the same time, reminding us of the vast differences in attitude toward race between Cuba and the United States. As one of the contributors to this volume pointed out, "the United States became a template against which they could measure and assess their own circumstances."(p. 105) The author suggests that the legal discrimination in the United States had actually strengthened black identity, while Afro-Cubans were slower in developing race consciousness thinking that legal equality would bring about full social and political participation. Moreover, Cuban race identity was often subjected to Cuban nationalism and the powerful call for national unity.

While, Afro-Cubans measure their racial identity against Afro-Americans, many American blacks took pride in the prominent role played by black Cubans in the island independence struggle. The fact that black soldiers fought side by side with white Cubans and black generals, like Antonio Maceo, led both white and black men in battle created a strong interest African-Americans in Cuban affairs. This interest was then buttressed by baseball's 'brotherhood of the glove' and the power of African music and poetry to create a meaningful but little studied among peoples of African descent.

This study by exploring the parallel development of race identity in the United States and Cuban expands our understanding of trans-national linkage of peoples of color. It covers new ground not only in PanAfricanist and African Diaspora study but also in history and international relations. This book is well worth a read and it should be valuable to students of Cuba, Africa, and African-American history and politics.

Dario Moreno,
Florida International University

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