The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 43, Issue 2

Article 3
Complexities of Race, Class and Gender in Reconstructing Identities: Afro-Cuban and Afro-American Immigrant Oppositional Strategies to Racism in the Twentieth Century

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn


Confronting institutional racism, Cubans and other Caribbean immigrants of African descent have long challenged the perpetuation of power through domination. Their challenges took various forms, yet were often made invisible by the powerful in their respective societies. Strategies varied, including constructing identity with hopes of mitigating adversity. Comparing and contrasting the ways that racism and colonialism have thwarted successful efforts to deconstruct alterity reveal how historians make the voices of the invisible visible through examining their responses to systems of domination cross-culturally. Focusing on the narrative/biographies of Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno, a Black Cuban woman, and Richard B. Moore, an educated Coloured (Mulatto) man who migrated to the United States from Barbados, the two models reveal differences in class, colour and gender, yet similarities in the ways that they faced domination from the wider racialized society. Educated daughters collected the words of these two Caribbean-born individuals who came of age in the early twentieth century. Each daughter became the amanuensis who provided expertise so that the parent’s life story could be heard. The voices exemplify historian Lisa Brock’s references to domination and race in Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans before the Cuban Revolution, the book that she co-edited with historian Digna Castañeda Fuertes. Historian Kevin K. Gaines, author of Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century, demonstrates further cross-cultural references in what he calls “the nexus between African Americans and Caribbean immigrants” who fostered strategies against domination and racism. Their analyses share global contexts about identity formation under the forces of racial segregation and domination, which this article extends to include analyses of gender and class in strategies formation.