- Performing Race and Erasure: Cuba, Haiti and US Culture 1898–1940 by Shannon Rose Riley
Performing Race and Erasure: Cuba, Haiti and US Culture 1898–1940 by Shannon Rose Riley examines the strategic importance of Cuba and Haiti in performance culture in the United States and in the construction of the definition of empire during the pivotal years of 1898–1940, though the implications continue to reverberate today. The book examines performance and culture produced within the United States that used imagery or topics from Haiti and Cuba, thus underlining the importance that [End Page 262] these two island nations played in the construction of empire and race within the United States. Riley explains how US intervention in Haiti and Cuba facilitated their introduction into conversations on empire and race. Riley begins her study in 1898, the pivotal year when Cuba (along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines) passed from a colony of Spain to the United States, and ends with 1940, since this is when, she argues, racial categories consolidated into a dichotomy of white and black. Performing Race and Erasure furthers the ongoing conversations around performance studies and race, arguing for cross-conversations between Caribbean and US scholarship.
After the initial chapter that outlines the argument of the book, Riley’s Performing Race and Erasure is divided into six chapters that look at performances in the United States on and around events from Cuba and Haiti. Each chapter focuses attention on a different set of plays and performances organized around pivotal events or movements from Cuba and Haiti, though these chapters could perhaps have been condensed to find connections. A short conclusion closes the book by examining implications of the palimpsest of race today within the United States, understanding how the past remains in the present.
Performing Race and Erasure is an important work that explores the roots of cultural and social constructions of race within the United States that were and are in conversation with the nations of Cuba and Haiti. As the author examines in these pages, we continue today evidence of images and cultural texts that expose the past with which we need to contend in the present and the future. Furthermore, as Riley does with Performing Race and Erasure, we need to acknowledge more the historical and current social and cultural connections between the United States and nations in the Caribbean and Latin America. Riley’s book is an important contribution to this vital conversation, underlining the fluidity of performance culture across political and national borders. Scholars on all sides of these borders will benefit from the insights presented in Riley’s Performing Race and Erasure: Cuba, Haiti and US Culture 1898–1940. [End Page 263]