Sights and Sounds of Cubanidad: Race, Nation, and the Arts in Cuba, 1938-1958
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Garcia Yero, Cary Aileen
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CitationGarcia Yero, Cary Aileen. 2020. Sights and Sounds of Cubanidad: Race, Nation, and the Arts in Cuba, 1938-1958. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation contributes a history of race and the arts in Cuba during the Second Republic (1940-1958), arguing for the relevance of the arts as a political force in history. It was the dawn of the new 1940 constitutional era that legally sanctioned racial equality for the first time in Cuban history. Hegemonic ideologies of racial fraternity (the idea that black and white Cubans are equal members of the nation) and mestizaje (the idea that the nation is defined by racial mixing) continued to delimit what was socially and politically possible. Dissident visions of nationhood, such as black autonomy or white supremacy, could not be pursued through formal politics for they were deemed racist and antipatriotic.
I argue that the arts were a privileged domain for the articulation of racial tension during this time, as they were not fully bound by hegemonic ideologies of racial harmony. Instead, the arts effectively constituted a counterpoint of conflicting sanctioned and dissenting national imaginaries. The capacity and limitations of the arts to exert influence on race were conditioned by contemporary conceptualizations of the role of culture in society in relation to notions of racism and equality. As white cultural hegemony was not generally understood as a form of racism, the arts functioned largely unchecked, normalizing beliefs in the supposed superiority of whiteness. Beyond the historical context, art had the faculty to enunciate the ineffable elusively; it could engage with the explicit as well as articulate the latent in society. The arts were plural rather than singular.
This dissertation nuances previous histories of racial harmony, disaggregating notions of racial fraternity and mestizaje, and explaining how the arts enabled opposition to these ideologies by empowering the construction of a white cubanidad that went beyond just whitening. Conversely, I transform the canon of both Cuban and Latin American arts, highlighting the significant yet unrecognized artistic output of Afro-Cuban artists and their contributions to society. Studying these imaginaries in tandem, I bring clarity to the issue of ambiguity over lo negro that has been so widely noted but less successfully explained by scholars.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365546
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