- Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow
Frank Andre Guridy's careful examination of the interactions between blacks in the United States and Cuba illustrates precisely how a diaspora comes to be. In this book, he argues that "material incentives, performance and embodiment, cultural production and its reception, [and] tourism" are what fundamentally drive diasporic movements and linkages. Guridy asks the questions: "Why did Afro-Cubans and African Americans seek out each others' communities during the first half of the twentieth century? How does the concept of diaspora enhance our understanding of these initiatives?" (p. 4). The connections between African Americans and Afro-Cubans developed as a result of a common striving to combat racism locally as well as globally. As Guridy asserts, although the historical actors highlighted in his study did not use the term "diaspora," their actions provide evidence of the formation of a diasporic community through social, political, intellectual and cultural exchanges. Guridy advances the idea that "Afro-diasporic linkages were made in practice" (p. 5), the product of the material needs of both communities within their respective nations as much as their historical sense of belonging to an international diaspora of African-descendant peoples.
What is most striking about Forging Diaspora is the detailed attention Guridy gives to archival materials from both countries—numerous letters, school records, newspapers, memoirs, public records, and other materials—exemplifying the hard transnational work it takes to produce an intricate comparative history of diaspora peoples. The book accomplishes what scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1994) has argued is the necessary shattering of the silences or the "process of fact retrieval" that takes place in the archives themselves. Guridy listened to the people he interviewed during the past decade, but he also listened to the sources that retrieve the past on how the political project of forging a diaspora community actually works. The very theoretical questions Guridy asks about diaspora formation allow him to see how the structures of imperialism and racial domination in Cuba and the United States operate simultaneously. In essence, Guridy's theoretical preoccupation with the historiography of the black diaspora and the general silencing of cross-national political commonalities and connections is deeply tied to the complexity and vast scope of his research methodology. While [End Page 278] this will be a welcome text in history courses that emphasize black diaspora theory and research methodology, it is also certain to spark exciting discussions in advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars in interdisciplinary fields such as Africana studies and Latin American studies.
Forging Diaspora is divided into an introduction, four chapters, and an epilogue. The introduction defines the term diaspora and its meaning within the zone Guridy calls the "U.S.-Caribbean world" (p. 7). From this geopolitical explication of the region, we are able to understand how U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean integrated with the racialized political structures of the mainland United States. Black transnational encounters through labor were crucial to the ever-changing socioeconomic and political landscapes of both countries. Chapter one's focus on the education of Afro-Cubans at Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute in Alabama shows the transnational dimension of uplift strategies for blacks simultaneously marginalized by Jim Crow and U.S. imperialism. The desire for education for the purpose of socioeconomic improvement becomes an incentive for diasporic solidarity. Guridy's narrative of women's experiences at Tuskegee is the beginning of his attempt to subvert masculinist tendencies in diaspora historiography that highlight the travel experiences primarily of men.
Guridy's focus on Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in chapter two does not escape the rubric of diaspora formation among men. As he explains, the Garvey movement is often understood as "race first," and specifically as "men first" with women relegated to secondary status even during rituals. If you paid attention only to the public performance culture of the organization, you would...