- Cuban Émigrés and Independence in the Nineteenth-Century Gulf World by Dalia Antonia Muller
Narratives of Latin American struggles against Iberian colonialism have too often cast Cuba as a case apart. Histories of the birth of the Cuban nation, for their turn, have overlooked Latin America, noting its ultimate neglect of the Cuban cause in the 1890s. Thus, Dalia Antonia Muller performs nothing short of a feat of great historiography when bringing Cuban independence back into the distinct Latin American context in which it unfolded. Her book Cuban Émigrés and Independence in the Nineteenth-Century Gulf World is a capacious history of revolutionary politics taking place transnationally at the hands of Cuban migrants, refugees, and exiles who created diasporic communities linking Mexico to the Caribbean and the United States. Combining social and [End Page 380] political history, Muller follows Cuban expatriates in places like Veracruz, Mérida, and Mexico City, and traces the political networks and diplomatic campaigns they developed in support of the anticolonial war against Spain. In this book, the Gulf world is not only a geopolitical space disputed by Spain and the United States but also primarily the terrain where a long-standing discourse of inter-American unity cements the bonds between Cubans and Mexicans. Americanismo, Muller convincingly argues, holds the key to rewriting hemispheric history, one in which Cuban independence matters to Latin America as the embodiment of liberal ideals that resonated with every version of nationalism across the continent.
Cuban Émigrés joins a growing body of scholarship invested in reimagining the Americas’ entangled histories and political geographies. In Muller’s case, a transnational framework emerges naturally from her archival sources, composed primarily of files from the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) and the lesser-known National Association of Cuban Revolutionary Émigrés (Asociación Nacional de los Emigrados Revolucionarios Cubanos, or ANERC). The latter offers information on 298 Cubans living in Mexico during the 1890s; their trajectories of exile fill the first half of the book. Motivated either by war or by the ebb and flow of the economy, Cubans started leaving the island for Mexico in the 1860s. This first generation integrated into Mexican society and established the social networks that would absorb the larger immigrant wave that followed the 1895 war. Cuban migrants included insurgent men like the poet Pedro Santacilia and even José Martí, but in their midst were also middle-class women like Dominga Valdes Corvalles de Muniz, who became politically active only in exile. Arriving in Veracruz via Florida, Dominga joined one of the eighty political clubs founded between 1895 and 1898 for a Cuban community estimated at three thousand people. Along with voluntary associations and press houses, these clubs were the spaces where migrants shaped their versions of national citizenship, which they regularly performed through a series of public rituals, auctions, banquets, parades, and veladas.
Nevertheless, despite stories like Dominga’s—one of only four female Cuban migrants represented in the ANERC files—the protagonists of Cuban Émigrés are primarily white-elite men who, like her, fashioned themselves as revolutionaries abroad. Dalia Muller is aware of the bias of her sources and tries to correct for it by tapping into Mexican and Cuban newspapers, memoirs, and association records that point to a more diverse migrant community. We learn, for example, that the community included free men of color deported in the aftermath of the 1844 La Escalera conspiracy as well as contract workers held in semislavery conditions in the henequen-rich interior of Yucatán. Cubans in Mexico were also Afro-Cubans who sought naturalization as a way to reinvent themselves away from the stigma of slavery while also spreading [End Page 381] the danzón, an art form later claimed by Mexicans themselves. Instead of a one-sided narrative, the book documents how Cuban elites created multigenerational communities in the Gulf world along the same fractures of race, class, and gender that existed in Cuba.
The second part of Cuban Émigrés shifts the focus from the...