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Reviewed by:
  • Black Writing, Culture, and the State in Latin America ed. by Jerome C. Branche
  • Matthew Richey
Branche, Jerome C. (ed.). Black Writing, Culture, and the State in Latin America. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2015. 280 pp. ISBN: 978-08-2652-063-0.

Each of the twelve rigorously researched chapters in Black Writing, Culture, and the State in Latin America is a reaffirmation of the volume's critical contribution to the fields of Latin American, African, postcolonial, and cultural studies. While Branche and his co-contributors bring much-needed attention to Afro-Hispanic cultural production since the nineteenth century, they also push for an expanded conceptualization of writing that accounts for the realities of the racialized processes of nation-formation throughout the region. Moving beyond more traditional forms of belles-lettres, the thematically and geographically diverse research presented in Black Writing offers a comprehensive and exceptionally revealing analysis of the complex relationship between Afro-descendants and the State. The authors successfully demonstrate the ways in which Afro-Latinos, through writing and rites, have both contributed to and resisted the State from within, while also maintaining transnational black solidarity through collective memory and oral traditions.

While the initial three chapters – which each examines black agency in relation to distinct sociohistorical moments in Cuba – approach questions of State formation more directly, they also present a more diversified delineation of writing itself, clearly establishing the critical framework that underlies this project. Matthew Pettaway's brilliant opening chapter on loyalty oaths administered by a mulatto sacristan executed for his involvement in the 1844 Movement offers a critical counter-narrative that challenges the Spanish government's official accounts of the events. In considering Catholic rituals, the Cuban sociopolitical climate in the 1840s, and Yoruba religious traditions, Pettaway points to a crucial transcultural moment on the island, framing the oath as "a spiritual and political covenant among brethren of African descent unified in a resistance movement with revolutionary potential" (25). In Chapter 2, Marveta Ryan's study of Afro-Cuban poetry and the black press during the 1880s highlights the relationship between cultural production and pre-independence sociopolitical discourse on race and nation, arguing that such production "presents Afro-Cubans as able to channel their feelings toward bettering Cuba" (59). Odette Casamayor-Cisneros' keen analysis of the Revolution-era films of Sara Gómez and Nicolás Guillén Landrián reveals the tensions between the utopic Guevarean concept of the New Man as a raceless constituent of the Revolution and the persistent realities of racial marginalization in Cuba. Her assertion that Gómez and Guillén Landrián shift away from representations of the anonymous masses and inquire instead "as to the individual, always within the revolution" (73) could also be read as a subtext for the volume as a whole.

The duality of the individual as part of a community is further examined in Chapters 4 and 5, which focus on history and collective memory in Afro-Hispanic drama. In her study of contemporary works from Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Equatorial Guinea, Elisa Rizo convincingly argues that Afro-Hispanic realist dramas offer alternative solutions to state narratives and adopt a transnational perspective "rooted in the oral and written traditions of the African diaspora" (83). Calling attention to [End Page 195] the increased victimization of Afro-Colombian communities at the hands of profit-seeking armed groups along the Pacific coast, María Mercedes Jaramillo's chapter on Kilele (2004) is a particularly enlightening analysis of the 2002 massacre in Bojayá, the tragic event upon which the work is based. The author's attention to African death rituals allows for a reading of the play as both a memorial to the victims and a call to resistance. Turning to black female subjectivity and narrative production, Chapters 6 and 7 reinforce the importance of collective memory for black solidarity, drawing particular attention to the intersections between the present and the past. In her study of representations of slavery and the slave past in Afro-Latina works from Cuba, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico, Lesley Feracho emphasizes the role of migration and of a collective memory of slavery in asserting citizenship. In his comparative analysis of works based on...


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pp. 195-196
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