The Americas 61.2 (2004) 307-308
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Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, and director of the Cuban and Caribbean Program at the State University of New York at Buffalo, José Buscaglia-Salgado proposes a new and original reading of the Caribbean. Buscaglia-Salgado has a B.A. in History and Latin American Studies, M.A. in Architecture, and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. The convergence of these three disciplines has led him to uncover unexpected relationships and connections that resulted in an insightful interpretation and analysis of Caribbean culture, and in what the Cuban poet José Lezama Lima would call "the pleasure of unsuspected connections" for the reader. As a Puerto Rican, Buscaglia-Salgado positions himself as an epistemic subject, not only to unmask the causes of the colonial condition of his own country, but also to destroy stereotypes and denounce Puerto Rican ethnocentrism with respect to its Dominican and Haitian neighbors.
Undoing Empire provides a wide historical and cultural survey of the Spanish reconquista, discovery and colonization of the Americas. He analyzes works that Doris Sommer would call "foundational" texts. In his discussion of Washington Irving, for example, Buscaglia-Salgado describes a process of appropriation of the figure of Christopher Columbus by the "usonian" (ie., U.S.A. citizens) social imaginary and addresses the impact the United States would later have in the Caribbean. Buscaglia-Salgado also discusses the morenos in the Island of Hispaniola, linking them to the Moors of Spain, and the elision of slavery and blacks in the chronicles of Bartolomé de Las Casas. Buscaglia-Salgado analyzes the creole and mulattos' discursive complexities in the New World as resistance to a European ideal that attempted to exclude them. One of the book's most brilliant analyses is on the creole [End Page 307] Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora's, Los infortunios de Alonso Ramírez, as well as the discussion of mulatto Antonio Sánchez Valverde's, Idea del valor de la Isla Española. Buscaglia-Salgado uses his interdisciplinary background not only to analyze texts by historians and poets like the Cuban Plácido, but also to make acute observations on colonial buildings such as the cathedral of Santo Domingo, casta paintings, maps of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, and monuments in Havana.
Traditionally, Caribbean culture studies have focused on concepts such as transculturalization, coined by the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, creolization, hibridity, chaos, or metaphors of the melting pot or the ajiaco, to explain the diverse contributions of indigenous, Spanish, and African cultures. These concepts and images have been borrowed from such disparate disciplines like anthropology, history, sociology and biology. Buscaglia-Salgado, on the other hand, proposes to read Caribbean culture as a process, which he denominates mulataje, "the movement of the metaphorical subject in the mulatto world, a movement that can be traced to a geography of ever-shifting boundaries" (p. xvii). In the Mulatto World, "the body of the mulatto in the fullest spatial sense and the body politics of the mulatto societies are the sites of convergence of and resistance to precisely that which the coloniality of power aims to keep apart" (p. xiv). Buscaglia-Salgado adopts another key concept, the coloniality of power (borrowed from Aníbal Quijano), which captures the asymmetry of power based on a racial classification that establishes the differences between Europe and its former colonies. This book constitutes an outstanding and crucial contribution to the field of Caribbean studies from a cultural studies perspective. This opera prima reflects Buscaglia-Salgado's deep understanding of Caribbean cultural and historical processes. Undoubtedly, it is a book that will have a great impact and stimulate debates and dialogues amid Caribbean scholars for years to come.
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