In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Tangled Business of Diaspora-Making
  • Kim D. Butler (bio)

African diaspora, Cuba, diaspora, African Americans, Afro-Cubans

Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow. Frank Guridy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Since the inception of the field of African diaspora studies, its scholars have called attention to the many routes of travel and communication that constitute the strands from which the whole is woven. It has necessarily been a work of empirical recovery of far-flung histories that the archive captures only peripherally and, though there has been much focus on interactions between the African continent and its diasporas, relationships between diaspora communities abroad have also been the subject of vigorous scholarship. For a diaspora that shared no common homeland aside from a vast continent, and no common religion or language, the process of creating bonds of identity, affinity, and political solidarity within its inherent diversity has long been of major interest. In one of her last essays, pioneer diaspora scholar Ruth Sims Hamilton called for a focus on “the ‘crosspoints,’ ‘active sites,’ and contradictions . . . that not only facilitate the emergence and development of a collective ‘we’ but also effectuate major dynamics within and among people of the diaspora” (Hamilton 2007, 8).

There are many ways of interrogating how that “collective we” is constituted. Scholars concerned with the way diaspora operates across historical and cultural specificities have generally culled their insights from research on one diaspora to apply its underlying lessons more broadly. Increasingly, scholars of the African diaspora have taken on diaspora itself (as opposed to race or culture, for example) as a central [End Page 229] point of analysis, engaging important points of theory relative to all diasporas. Stated another way, in addition to asking how our work refines African peoples’ and global history, scholars are also seriously exploring how our work helps us better understand the diaspora phenomenon itself. One such discourse has been on the tensions between juncture and disjuncture inherent in diasporan experience. Brent Hayes Edwards (2003) worked through this challenge he called décalage to explore how people from multiple parts of the global African diaspora converged in Paris to shape new politicized diasporic identities.1 It is at the individual level that interactions reveal quite complex processes of making diaspora that continue to press and refine our understanding of comparative diaspora theory.

Towards that end, Frank Guridy’s Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow places the tangled business of diaspora-making at center stage. The different forms of naming the two African-descent communities in the title hints at the interconnected yet distinct identity constructions that constitute one of the integral dynamics common to all diasporas. This dynamic is at the core of Forging Diaspora. Guridy makes the point that diasporic identity evolves from multivalent dialogues that are necessarily conditioned and mediated by the economic, political, and military interests of the state. As an agent of diaspora, the state plays a powerful role, but so too do the individuals that reinterpret, perform, and deploy diaspora, often to challenge the state. By taking us through several decades of encounters, primarily in early-twentieth-century Cuba, Guridy provides a glimpse of these dynamics of diaspora in action.

Guridy begins by surveying the extent of intra-diaspora movement taking place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was an era of multiple “great migrations” moving people away from their former slave societies, and was far more extensive than the limited opportunities to resettle on the African continent.2 The largest and most well-known migrations flowed from the US South to northern cities and the West, and from the Caribbean to Central and South America, toward work at such ventures as the Panama Canal and the United Fruit Company, but this was a phenomenon that touched every corner of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. The peoples of the African diaspora were coming in contact with one another in new and intimate ways and conducting a transcultural dialogue which has already received much scholarly attention.

A striking dimension of this era of diasporic migrations...