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The Americas 58.3 (2002) 485-487

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Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean. Edited by Aviva Chomsky and Aldo Lauria-Santiago. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. Pp. vi, 404. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $64.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

The explosion of recent scholarship on Central America and the Spanish Caribbean is accurately represented by the collected essays in this ambitious and provocative volume. Aviva Chomsky and Aldo Lauria-Santiago have pulled [End Page 485] together an interesting range of new historical research which provides insights into emerging trends in the region's historiography. Beyond simply collecting new research, however, the book also seeks to posit an explicitly revisionist emphasis on the complex and multivalent processes of nation formation. The editors and authors of the articles supplant the older elite-centered and state-oriented narratives about the nation states of the Caribbean basin with insights from locales, constituencies and perspectives overlooked until now. In doing so they have made an important contribution to the scholarship. The articles richly describe a complex range of non-elite experiences which contributed to and simultaneously contested the dual processes of state formation and nation building. With articles on eight countries covering the century from 1850-1950 the range of insights, sources, and methodologies is impressive.

Their effort to weave together both Central America and the Spanish Caribbean histories is innovative and important as well. Both historiographies have been relatively isolated from one another, and this volume reveals the depth of shared processes throughout the two regions. The editors' emphasis on the "laboring people" of the area invites meaningful comparison and many interesting insights emerge from placing these essays together. The coherence of this volume emanates from a shared attention to what the editors argue is the "submerged" and "silenced" histories of the multiple and at times contradictory popular struggles that have been ignored by traditional historiography. As such, the articles provide a superb balance between global capitalist processes and the diversity of local responses to them. They also document the ways in which these popular struggles related to broader national socio-political processes which have been more thoroughly studied, and many of these contributions provide revisionist challenges to the established national(ist) narratives. The wide range of chronological, topical, and national foci works against this coherence, but in the end this is a very successful effort to showcase some of the best research being done on Central American and Spanish Caribbean history.

The underlying unity of research agendas and interests in this volume is well articulated in the introduction by co-editors Aviva Chomsky and Aldo Lauria Santiago. The piece du resistance of the volume, however is the engaging and thoughtful conclusion written by Lowell Gudmundson and Francisco Scarano. Without this wide-ranging and reflective exploration the book would be much less of a whole. While the ten articles in the main body of the book are intriguing and original contributions, Gudmundson and Scarano are able to pull together insights and themes in a way that make this edited volume satisfying to read.

With ten different articles on eight countries it is difficult to do justice in a review to the richness of each individual contribution. It will have to suffice here to emphasize a few thematic contributions as well as the methodological milestones embodied in this volume. The first obvious theme of the racial and gendered content of nation-building projects runs through most of the articles. Eileen Findlay on Puerto Rico, Dario Euraque on Honduras, and Jeffrey Gould on Nicaragua are examples of [End Page 486] articles where the issues of racializing and gendering the nation are particularly explicit. The racialization of the emergent nation as "mestizo" is also a strong theme

An equally strong theme that emerges is peasant responses to state-sponsored projects. These range from work on the responses of campesinos to the changes attendant to the arrival of coffee in Central America by Aldo...


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