- Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow by Frank Andre Guridy
In Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow, Frank Andre Guridy looks at the complexities of the relationships between Afro-Cuban organizations and their counterparts in the United States in the period from the Spanish-Cuban-American War in 1898 through the first half of the twentieth century, just before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Central to those relationships were the imperial project developed by the United States throughout the Caribbean, and the racial constructions in what the author calls the “U.S.-Caribbean world.” Guridy conceives this space, encompassing the U.S., the Caribbean and Central America, as the product of not only centuries of commercial trade and imperialism, but also of what he calls an “African diaspora.” The connections and contacts inside this region became much more intense and integrated during the first half of the twentieth century, not only as a result of the U.S. imperial project and both world wars, but also by the actions of the African diaspora.
The conceptualization of this African diaspora is perhaps one of the most important contributions that the author makes throughout the book. Guridy moves away from traditional understandings of the relationships between different black communities in the Americas as based on racial solidarity or black internationalism, which the author claims essentialized the concept of race among Afro-descendants. The concept of diaspora becomes most useful to understand how cross and transnational relationships among Afro-descendants developed a few decades after the end of slavery. Although projects such as Garveyism were important in the construction of the notion of African diaspora, the conceptualizations that the book aims to construct fall outside of the idea of reconstructing or reconnecting with a mythical homeland in the African continent.
The notion of diaspora appears here as a series of connections and linkages that Afro-descendant communities created to navigate both national and international situations that affected them politically, economically and culturally. One important factor is that although the [End Page 203] connections were many times international, the processes studied in the book were also part of notions of national integration and affirmation developed by both African Americans and Afro-Cubans. That is important because across the book we can see how Afro-Cubans and African Americans many times had confronting ideas about shared political and cultural projects, and even categories such as race, gender and nation. Many of those disconnections were based on how Afro-Cubans and African Americans were not only looking to create community among Afro-descendants in the Americas, but also fighting to integrate themselves as citizens of their respective nations.
In the first chapter, Guridy studies the impact of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in the development of an Afro-Cuban elite at the beginning of the twentieth century. During that time, the construction of the U.S. empire helped people such as Washington, who was able to make stronger and more direct connections with other peoples of African descent in places such as Cuba and Puerto Rico, now much more integrated to American political, economic and cultural circuits. Booker T. Washington wanted to seamlessly integrate Afro-Cubans to his educational project, which sought to not only educate people of African descent in vocational and agricultural trades, but also was criticized for agreeing to conform to Jim Crow Laws in the South.
Many Afro-Cubans had very different ideas about how to integrate themselves to the Tuskegee Institute’s educational project. It is interesting that Cuban students at Tuskegee many times created stronger connections with other students from outside the United States, especially with Puerto Rican students. This is relevant because as the author explains, we can see Afro-descendants connected to the new American empire utilizing new opportunities that were part of the...