Sovereignty. Sugar. Revolution. These are the three axes this book uses to link the works of contemporary women artists from Haiti-a country excluded in contemporary Latin American and Caribbean literary studies-the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. In From Sugar to Revolution: Women's Visions of Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, Myriam Chancy aims to show that Haiti's exclusion is grounded in its historical role as a site of ontological defiance. Her premise is that writers Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez, Zoé Valdés, Loida Maritza Pérez, Marilyn Bobes, Achy Obejas, Nancy Morejón, and visual artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons attempt to defy fears of 'otherness' by assuming the role of 'archaeologists of amnesia.' They seek to elucidate women's variegated lives within the confining walls of their national identifications-identifications wholly defined as male. They reach beyond the confining limits of national borders to discuss gender, race, sexuality, and class in ways that render possible the linking of all three nations. Nations such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba are still locked in battles over self-determination, but, as Chancy demonstrates, women's gendered revisionings may open doors to less exclusionary imaginings of social and political realities for Caribbean people in general.
Myriam J.A. Chancy is the author of both non-fiction and fiction, including Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile (1997), which won a Choice OAB Award for 1998, and Spirit of Haiti (2003), shortlisted for Best First Book, Canada/Caribbean region, Commonwealth Prize 2004. The Loneliness of Angels (2010) was shortlisted in the fiction category of the OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature 2011 and won the 2011 Guyana Prize in Literature Caribbean Award, Best Fiction 2010. Chancy is HBA Chair in the Humanities, Scripps College, and a Guggenheim Fellow.
¿Y donde esta tu abuela?: On the Respective
Racial (Mis)Identifications of Haiti, Cuba,
and the Dominican Republic in the Context
of Latin America and the Caribbean
So long as there is political power, so long as a people can be mobilized to use weapons, and so long as a society has the opportunity to define its own ideology and culture, then the people of that society have some control over their own destinies.. Revolution is the most dramatic appearance of a conscious people or class on the state of history.
-Walter Rodney, "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa"
Understanding Racial Mixture in the Latin American Context: Constructions of Mestizaje in Shifting Contexts of Blanqueamiento
Decades ago, political scientists working in the geographies of Latin America, and specifically on the Spanish Caribbean, did not shy away from including the nation of Haiti in their discussions. It was simply taken as fact that Haiti's history of insurrection, its early sovereignty at a time when most of the Americas was still trying to figure out the extent and scope of slavery within their nation-states, and subsequent years of U.S. military occupation and dictatorship resembled the growing pains of neighbouring Spanish-dominated countries. They were also grappling with issues of sovereignty, the remnants of slavery and colonization, and attempts to form their own nation-states with incursions on their infrastructure, economic and otherwise, by the United States government. It is also true that Haiti, for the U.S., formed a triumvirate with the Dominican Republic and Cuba, insofar as the three countries served as training grounds for U.S. foreign policy expressed in various configurations from the policy of "manifest destiny" originating in the 1600s during the colonial period, and garnering strength and military definition in the "good neighbor" policies between the late 1800s and early decades of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, textbooks and travelogues written by Americans emphasized the triumvirate in efforts to educate both laypeople and academics about U.S. interests in the Caribbean basin, interests that were both economic and military. As Haiti has descended in poverty while simultaneously being ruthlessly stripped of its natural resources-both territorial and human-and as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S.-annexed territory of Puerto Rico have increased their dependence on the U.S. for trade and flourished economically in comparison, it has been the tendency of scholars across the disciplines to increasingly unyoke Haiti, the DR, and Cuba on the basis of linguistic and racial differences while, for the same reasons, discussing Puerto Rico in unison with the DR and Cuba, despite Puerto Rico's very different status as a protectorate of the U.S. Admittedly, the U.S. relationship with a variety of Latin nations south of its borders has grown increasingly fraught, demanding a more expert analysis of the ties that bind Spanish-speaking countries in the hemisphere to U.S. economic and strategic interests, and strengthened by the fact that large segments of the U.S. population now originate from outlying countries presently categorized as Latin, Latino, or Hispanic. Yet such ties to Haiti have not diminished in the last fifty years, they have only gained in strength, even if in a negative relation. What has changed dramatically are the ways in which race, nation, and identity have been configured and ossified in the last half-decade of the twentieth century, obscuring the ties that bind each of these localities and the potential course for their futures. What's more, the ways in which race has been theorized since the late 1980s has been produced primarily though not exclusively within the U.S. and exported elsewhere (or responded to from elsewhere),1 even as other areas of the globe continue to operate differently from the U.S. in terms of constructions of race, nationhood, and identity. Latin Americanists have been quick to point out that racial dynamics in Latin American countries, though at times heavily influenced by the United States, should not be confused with American, or as José Buscaglia-Salgado would say, "Usonian," perspectives.2
Scholars of Latin America are unified in their understanding of race in the region as being more diffuse and plastic than in the U.S., allowing for a diversity of definitions, categories, and even social or economic mobility in ways resisted or denied in that country. Arguments on the issue of race range from assertions about the lack of importance attached to race in the region to those that claim it remains a highly contentious issue that often has contradictory effects on the general way of life or infrastructures of specific societies throughout Latin America and the Latin Caribbean. For instance, until race-focused studies of Argentina, Cuba, and Brazil became prominent in the last ten to twenty years, it was largely believed that these nations had achieved a kind of "racial blind" society in which citizens of various backgrounds could circulate with impunity, neither penalized nor exalted for what was perceived, then as now, as physiological difference.3 Some scholars are still determined to signal that, in Latin America, biological race is no longer an issue, or is at best only half of the equation-it is a social construction with class and gender variants no longer attached to the physiological tenets (and myths) fossilized during the Enlightenment.4 For one, Peter Wade, in a short article entitled "Race and Nation in Latin America: An Anthropological View" asserts, "I question the common assumption that racial thought took on a purely 'biological' form during the heyday of racial science and racial typologies and that, since then, it has acquired more cultural discourses, albeit one that suggests cultural attributes that are almost naturally ingrained" (272). Wade is careful to signal that he is not saying that biologized racism does not exist nor that cultural racism is more prevalent in Latin America, but that he is invested in nuancing a discussion on race which denaturalizes the basis of racist discourse by admitting that racialist ideas of the late nineteenth century were in themselves "conceptual abstractions, unobservable empirically" (272-73). Though these "theories" were applied according to "observable" physiological variances, what they projected upon groups of human beings were constructions without necessary basis in measurable, biological facts. Historian Franklin Wright, in his Charles Edmondson Historical Lectures of 1995, puts it more simply when he states that "outside the United States, attitudes to race and ethnicity are more nuanced, more complex." He specifies,
Although race and ethnicity appear frequently in the political lexicon of other societies, the degree of public concern about these matters is considerably less-certainly less important than colour and social status.. Another way of looking at this difference between North America and the rest of the Americas, is that in the former the ideal is one of a stratified society while in the latter the ideal imposes stratification on the context of ethnic pluralism.. North Americans invariably see race in dichotomous terms of black and white. In the rest of the Americas, however, race represents a fluid spectrum." (Wright 20-21)
That fluidity is far from being utopic, though some scholars believe that this fluidity opens the door for broader equality across race and class divides.
To say that race in the U.S. is overdetermined is nothing new. Nor does saying so imply that race does not manifest in a variety of ways; it does, however, manifest in a manner consistent with the structural trappings of hegemony and Manichean dualities proper to imperial and white supremacist societies that are difficult to ignore and that have material consequences for those who are structurally disadvantaged within them, faced by what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has termed "savage inequalities" (31). In this sense, it is of little use to compare the U.S. to Carribean societies, since the latter-even with their own complex structures of colourism, class, and caste that privilege the few over the many in a variety of ways, echoing colonial hierarchies-are what we might call countries of colour, wherein elected officials and governments by and large reflect the racial/ethnic composition of their constituents, who are also non-white. In the U.S., minorities struggle for political representation, and though many gains have been made as a result of the civil rights movement, these gains have not resulted in a society free of racial strife. Race has simply taken on a different guise which I will discuss here briefly, in response to critics who believe that the U.S. presents a model of racial health that might be mapped onto other countries, or that U.S. multiculturalism is the same as or similar to Caribbean racial syncretism.
As I've stated above, the primary difference between the U.S. and Caribbean nations is the former's racial composition from top to bottom; secondly, U.S. racial politics, despite the rise of immigrants from around the world and its traditional minorities, remains in a largely polarized state where race is thought of as a "black or white" issue. Although race discourse in the U.S. increasingly touts a new age of...