- Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940–1960 by Christina D. Abreu
Christina Abreu traces the development of Cuban identity in North American popular culture prior to the 1959 revolution. This study presents a comparative analysis of Cuban and Latino/a cultural and social experiences among musicians and migrants in New York City and Miami between 1940 and 1960. As a subtheme, Abreu seeks to uncover differences between "blackness" and "Cubanness," and how individual and group identity shifted when individuals were situated among other groups, such as other Cubans or African Americans. She strives to rediscover the contributions of nonwhite Cubans within the Cuban-American experience. By focusing solely on music and culture within the larger frames of identity, nationalism, and transnationalism, Abreu explores deeper connections between US hegemony and its influence on Cuban national identity, resulting in a study that focuses on how Cuban/Afro-Cuban, and Latino/a concepts were actively developed and negotiated by Cuban migrants and musicians.
Rhythms of Race focuses on three main themes. The first is an exploration of the difference in experiences between black and white Cuban musicians, particularly in relation to nationalist discourse about race, and how these experiences and their effects may have been affected by migration. The second theme is an exploration of the production and reception of Cuban music by Cubans, but also by others of Latin American descent, including Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and others. This focus presents a contrast with "Latin" music produced for consumption by white North American audiences. The third theme focuses on Latino/a-centric notions of cubanidad, hispanidad, and latinidad in relation to popular music.
The goal of this discussion is to understand what it meant to be a multidimensional Latin American person of color—Cuban, Afro-Cuban, Latin, black, Hispano/a, Latino/a—in the world of nightclub stages and television and movie theater screens, and on the streets of New York and, later, Miami. Chapter 1 addresses Cuban and Latin American communities in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. The contributions of the various black and white Cuban musicians in these communities demonstrate whether they situated themselves within singular, static "Cuban" or "Latin" identities, or instead moved freely between multiple layers of perceived "authenticity." Chapters 2 and 3 look at social clubs and festivals in New York City and how these associations and celebrations organized themselves by race, nationality, or broader demographic category. Chapter 4 looks at the popular singing contests and fundraising showcases organized by La Prensa newspaper and examines how they helped to further define identity and the broader Cuban community in relation to popular musical production, as viewed through the success and decline of these events.
Chapter 5 discusses the day-to-day reality of Cuban migrants and musicians, and compares and contrasts it with notions of "Cubanness" and "Latinness" as defined and imagined in such mass-media productions as I Love Lucy. Chapter 6 moves to Miami and looks at the development of its Cuban community through a discussion of the formation of social clubs, and how notions of Miami Cuban identity were negotiated through a more broadly constructed Pan-American lens. [End Page 419]
Abreu aspires in this study to move beyond a surface analysis of assimilation, upward mobility, and whiteness, and argue that both black and white Cuban musicians and migrants helped to shape notions of "Latinidad" that celebrated African influences, but not always people with darker complexions. In her conclusion, Abreu makes poignant connections between material discussed throughout the book and recent controversial events that intertwine music, politics, and popular culture. Among the latter are discussions of US Senator Marco Rubio and rap musician Pitbull, demonstrating that even though this study is grounded in the 1940s and 1950s, much of the space considered therein is still contested and continues to be relevant today. Abreu uses an exciting blend of...