Review: "A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba"
Throughout Alejandro de la Fuente’s book, A Nation For All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba, the author provides a detailed analysis on the race relations that permeated and defined Cuban society during the twentieth century. De la Fuente’s book studies “the impact that government policies, economic conditions, and different forms of social action…had on discourses of race and on patterns of racial inequality” in Cuba (De la Fuente, 5). Moreover, his study illustrates the role that race, racism, inequality, and identity played in “national formation and the evolution of Cuban society during the postcolonial period” (De la Fuente, 5). In a society supposedly built upon the notion of equality, de la Fuente argues that Afro-Cubans faced exclusion and rejection from the white sectors of Cuban society in nearly all of its public and private institutions. Even with these challenges, however, de la Fuente points out Afro-Cubans continued to advance their social-standing through education, labor, and politics; an advancement that continued (and peaked) after the Communist revolution, but which stalled in the latter years of the twentieth-century as socialism (and its utopian view of race) eroded under the growth of “privatization” (De la Feunte, 19).
De la Fuente’s book is both well-argued and scholarly in its approach to race relations in Cuba. His work relies on a large array of primary sources that include: newspapers, government reports, letters, diaries, memoirs, and census data. A major positive of de la Fuente’s work is his ability to detail the intricacies of Cuban history in a narrative-driven format that is easy-to-read. His organization of the book into a chronological (and thematic) format is also helpful, as de la Fuente breaks his overall arguments into small, easy-to-understand segments that culminate into broader themes. One downside to his work, however, lies with the relative succinctness of the final chapters. Although his arguments remain convincing in these final sections, de la Fuente could have potentially wrote more on the Cold War, as well as race-relations during the years under Castro.
All in all, I give de la Fuentes' book, 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of Cuba during the twentieth century. De la Fuente's book is packed full of facts and information, and can be equally appreciated by general audiences and scholars, alike. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity as you will not be disappointed.
Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion:
1.) How did race-relations in Cuba resemble the issues of racism and inequality that occurred in the American South? In what ways were these societies similar to one another? How did they differ?
2.) Did socialism and communism offer an effective remedy to issues concerning race in Cuba? More specifically, did communist policies help to alleviate racism in Cuban society? Why or why not?
3.) Do you agree with de la Fuente's main argument(s)? Why or why not?
4.) Was this work organized in a logical manner? In what ways could the author have improved upon this work? Be specific.
5.) Were your surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by de la Fuente in this work?
6.) What type of primary source material does the author rely upon in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument? Why or why not?
7.) Would you be willing to recommend this book to a friend or family member?
8.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work?
9.) Does de la Fuente's main argument challenge current scholarship in a profound manner? In what ways did the author's thesis build upon modern historiographical works on this subject?
Do you agree with de la Fuente's main argument?
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Applebaum, Nancy et. al. Race & Nation in Modern Latin America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Coronado, Jorge. The Andes Imagined. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.
Da Costa, Emilia Viotti. Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood: The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Grandin, Greg. The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Knight, Alan.The Mexican Revolution, Vol. I: Porfirians, Liberals and Peasants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
Perdomo, Maria Eugenia Vasquez. My Life as a Colombian Revolutionary: Reflections of a Former Guerrillera. Translated by: Lorena Terando. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005.
Sanders, James. The Vanguard of the Atlantic World: Creating Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in Nineteenth-Century Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Slawson, Larry. "Causes for Subaltern Rebellions in Latin American History: A Historiographical Analysis." 2018.
Alejandro de la Fuente, A Nation For All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
© 2018 Larry Slawson