Waves of Decolonization: Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States [NOOK Book]


In Waves of Decolonization, David Luis-Brown reveals how between the 1880s and the 1930s, writer-activists in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States developed narratives and theories of decolonization, of full freedom and equality in the shadow of empire. They did so decades before the decolonization of Africa and Asia in the mid-twentieth century. Analyzing the work of nationalist leaders, novelists, and social scientists, including W. E. B. Du Bois, José Martí, Claude McKay, Luis-Brown brings together an array of ...
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Waves of Decolonization: Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States

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In Waves of Decolonization, David Luis-Brown reveals how between the 1880s and the 1930s, writer-activists in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States developed narratives and theories of decolonization, of full freedom and equality in the shadow of empire. They did so decades before the decolonization of Africa and Asia in the mid-twentieth century. Analyzing the work of nationalist leaders, novelists, and social scientists, including W. E. B. Du Bois, José Martí, Claude McKay, Luis-Brown brings together an array of thinkers who linked local struggles against racial oppression and imperialism to similar struggles in other nations. With discourses and practices of hemispheric citizenship, writers in the Americas broadened conventional conceptions of rights to redress their loss under the expanding United States empire. In focusing on the transnational production of the national in the wake of U.S. imperialism, Luis-Brown emphasizes the need for expanding the linguistic and national boundaries of U.S. American culture and history.

Luis-Brown traces unfolding narratives of decolonization across a broad range of texts. He explores how Martí and Du Bois, known as the founders of Cuban and black nationalisms, came to develop anticolonial discourses that cut across racial and national divides. He illuminates how cross-fertilizations among the Harlem Renaissance, Mexican indigenismo, and Cuban negrismo in the 1920s contributed to broader efforts to keep pace with transformations unleashed by ongoing conflicts over imperialism, and he considers how those transformations were explored in novels by McKay of Jamaica, Jesús Masdeu of Cuba, and Miguel Ángel Menéndez of Mexico. Focusing on ethnography’s uneven contributions to decolonization, he investigates how Manuel Gamio, a Mexican anthropologist, and Zora Neale Hurston each adapted metropolitan social science for use by writers from the racialized periphery.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[An] insightful and thought-provoking series of essays. . . . David Luis-Brown’s primary goal is to expand conventional readings of the selected writers, interrogating their contributions to the complex processes of nationalism, decolonization, anticolonialism, neocolonialism, and notions of hemispheric citizenship. He accomplishes this by deftly weaving together literature, history, and biography. . . . Waves of Decolonization can be rewardingly read across a wide range of academic disciplines.” - Franklin W. Knight, Journal of American History

“Careful not to conflate the demands of specific social movements, Luis-Brown lucidly delineates their connections, as, for example, in his discussion of how key figures of the Harlem Renaissance engaged Mexican Revolutionary cultural politics. . . . The last two chapters on primitivism and ethnography, respectively, chart the early-twentieth-century cultural turn that rejected essentialist theories of race while retaining a charged concept of the ‘primitive.’ Luis-Brown underscores the protean ideological valence of each of these discourses; his discussion of the complex positions on race and foreign policy in the ethnographic work of Zora Neale Hurston and Manuel Gamio is a tour de force.” - Claire F. Fox, American Literature

Waves of Decolonization is convincing in its argument for a transnational, decolonizing approach to American studies. It is accessible, grounded, and thorough. It will equally captivate researchers and students of this hemisphere and anyone interested in an alternative understanding of this hemisphere’s intertwined history and destiny. Luis-Brown’s approach is a refreshing and very necessary shift away from the national, ethnolinguistic, and racial boundaries that have most often defined American, African American, Latino, Mexican, Mexican American, Cuban, and Caribbean studies.” - Kenya C. Dworkin y Méndez, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This insightful study uses a much-needed hemispheric approach to track the listed groups’ reaction to the imperial whirlwind. Meticulously researched and documented, the book presents a literary-historical analysis covering the period from the 1880s to the 1930s. . . . In Waves of Decolonization, Luis-Brown has woven a rich tapestry of the anticolonial and anti-imperial discourse that accompanied the consolidation of U.S. hegemony. The book is a valuable contribution to scholars, students, and laypersons working in such varied fields as American, African, ethnic, Caribbean, and Latin American studies.” - Jorge Chinea, History: Reviews of New Books

“David Luis-Brown’s meticulously researched Waves of Decolonization contributes much to the nascent but growing field of transnational and hemispheric studies. . . . [T]he author posits crucial, substantive questions, employing a comparative interdisciplinary methodology with far-reaching implications. In doing so, his study advances and contributes to the continuing transformation of American Studies.” - Maria del Carmen Martinez, E.I.A.L.

“Luis-Brown must be commended for his ambitious, multidisciplinary approach. The sheer breadth of understanding he displays about so-called ‘native’, ‘primitive’, or auto-ethnographic works of literature, visual art, and political prose issuing from the Americas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is staggering. . . . David Luis-Brown has written an innovative book which will usefully engage academics and students concerned with Afro-American, American, or comparative literature as well as Caribbean, Mexican, ‘post’ colonial, and transnational studies.”
- James Cullingham, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“From his perceptive reconsideration of the role of mestizaje in the writings of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Helen Hunt Jackson, to his astute analysis of the redeployments of sentimentalism and primitivism by W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Nicholás Guillén, David Luis-Brown’s careful research and thoughtful critiques demonstrate the necessity of thinking beyond the nation, of viewing race and empire from hemispheric and global perspectives. Waves of Decolonization is at one and the same time a radical revision of our hemisphere’s literary history and proof of the possibility of a post-nationalist and post-imperial American studies.”—George Lipsitz, author of Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music

“With Waves of Decolonization, David Luis-Brown practices rather than prescribes a transnational American studies, going beyond the purely thematic level to engage with other languages, cultures, and literary histories. Luis-Brown presents a vast amount of literary material and many cross-cultural connections that will be unknown or little known to scholars in U.S. American studies, while he also contributes new understandings of familiar and canonical writers.”—Anna Brickhouse, author of Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822391463
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2008
  • Series: New Americanists
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 458 KB

Meet the Author

David Luis-Brown is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and English at Claremont Graduate University.

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Read an Excerpt


Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States


Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4366-0

Chapter One


Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona (1884) and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton's The Squatter and the Don (1885) deploy the discourses of sentimental melodrama and romantic racialism in representing conflicts over land, class position, and racial status in California in the 1870s. These novels portray Anglos, Californios, and Indians as struggling for social position following the U.S. annexation of half of Mexico as a result of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

I want to address three related sets of questions. First, what are the ideological limits and possibilities of the traditions of sentimental melo-drama and romantic racialism that Jackson and Ruiz de Burton use in structuring their novels? Second, what happens to one's understanding of the limits and possibilities of the form when sentimentalism travels from England and the U.S. northeast to areas that are politically contested zones of empire? Third, to what extent are the discourses of sentimental melo-drama and romantic racialism adequate to the task of not only representing imperial conflicts, but also promoting decolonization? I pose these three related questions because some would question a focus on sentimental discourse in a book about decolonization because of the form's long-standing association with the formation and consolidation of the middle classes in opposition to the lower classes in England and the U.S. northeast, as Nancy Armstrong and Ann Douglas have shown. Douglas has charged that Harriet Beecher Stowe equated domesticity with middle-class leisure in such a way that the moral high ground claimed by sentimental women served to rationalize their privileged position in a consumer society.

The argument linking sentimental culture to class exploitation is quite persuasive. But sentimentalism's rationalization of class exploitation is a possible outcome of the form, not a necessary one. The argument about the class politics of sentimentalism is persuasive only if one (incorrectly) assumes that the use of the form was restricted to Anglo-Americans in England and the U.S. northeast and that the form cannot be unmoored from its roots in the white middle classes. Sentimental discourse was ideally suited to representations of populations victimized by empire, whether related to the British empire, as Julie Ellison has shown in her analysis of Joseph Addison's Cato (1713), or the U.S. empire, as I show here. Contrary to the assumption that sentimental melodrama was restricted to England and the U.S. northeast, the racially oppressed and colonized used the form to "write back" against the empire, as is the case with W. E. B. Du Bois and José Martí (see chapter 2). My analysis of The Squatter and the Don and Ramona supports the claim that sentimentalism has reinforced hierarchies of social class. But it would be a mistake to claim that it necessarily entails a specific ideology on class and race; in fact, the form is remarkably protean.

One measure of the pliant character of sentimentalism can be seen in Martí's assessment of Stowe and Jackson as sentimentalist writers. He offers hints as to how sentimentalism could appeal to writers such as himself, who grew up in poverty in a colonized country and sought to end Spanish colonialism by forging an alliance with tobacco workers and Afro-Cubans (see chapter 2 on the centrality of this alliance in Martí's anticolonial activism). In the prologue to his translation of Ramona (1888), Martí makes a strong case for the continued relevance of Stowe's brand of sentimental melodrama in addressing the differing political context of U.S. expansionism after the Civil War. He favorably compares Ramona to Uncle Tom's Cabin, whose sentimental qualities he had earlier recognized, praising it as "a tear that has something to say." As this metaphor suggests, nineteenth-century sentimentalism appeals to readers' emotions and morals in an effort to shape their politics, often through tropes of family separation. Martí claims that he found in Ramona "our novel," a model full of "fire and knowledge" for what he would call "Our America," a racially egalitarian Latin America opposing both Spanish and U.S. imperialism. Martí celebrates Ramona as "la mestiza arrogante" (the arrogant mestiza), implying that she is the ideal subject of the revolutionary interracial movement that he calls "our mestiza America." Martí represents this collectivity as embodied by the product of interracial love, a mestiza of mixed Indian and white heritage; he thus implicitly recognizes the utility of sentimentalism in representing the intertwined character of the plights of the victims of U.S. racial politics and empire.

Even as Martí is reinventing the figure of Ramona for his own purposes of decolonization and downplaying the moments in the novel that appear to consign Native Americans to menial labor, he is teaching a useful lesson about the potential of sentimental discourses. If on the one hand sentimentalists could represent national, linguistic, and ethnic differences in a favorable if patronizing manner; on the other hand sentimentalism traveled across national boundaries into new cultural and historical contexts and occasionally crossed into the hands of the lower classes and colonized. Sentimentalism, Martí implies, can be a tool of decolonization-did it promote decolonization in the hands of Jackson and Ruiz de Burton?

Cultural production on the aftermath of the Mexican-American War in California presents an ideal opportunity for investigating what happens when sentimental discourse turns its attention away from antislavery reform and toward defining political agendas in response to U.S. imperial expansion. Before I turn in chapter 2 to the overt politics of decolonization in Du Bois and Martí that strategically deploy and transform sentimentalist discourse, I would like to examine in this chapter how Jackson and Ruiz de Burton play out the limits and possibilities of the form in a context in which they had not identified an explicit project of decolonization but rather aligned themselves with various reformist movements and political causes in the shadow of U.S. imperial expansion.

Ruiz de Burton and Jackson corroborate Martí's insights on the continued usefulness of Stowe's version of sentimentalism by describing their own texts as indebted to sentimental antislavery novels like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Although commonly deployed by both male and female writers, sentimentalism proved especially useful to northern white women writers, affording them a way of morally transforming "the values and practices of domination" in patriarchy in such a way that their activities were not stigmatized as political and hence unladylike, as Lauren Berlant has argued. Sentimentalism thus comprises a cluster of tactics by which writers effect reform by representing the public sphere in terms of domestic tropes -emotions, love, and family-and thereby claim moral authority through representations of areas of life that were commonly construed as irrelevant to political concerns.

The use of sentimentalism as moral critique in Jackson and Ruiz de Burton is structured by the discourse of romantic racialism/feminism utilized in reformist writings from Stowe to Du Bois and beyond. Romantic racialism is most often intertwined with its double, romantic feminism, the pair equating blacks and women as pious victims of-and hence morally superior to-white men. Romantic racialism is a more benign version of racialist thought than scientific racial determinism because it holds that various national and cultural groups are fundamentally different, with distinct racial "gifts," but that blacks and women are inherently superior rather than inherently inferior in that they allegedly possess a greater degree of Christian morality, reverence, and deeply felt emotions than white men. Depending on how the writer uses romantic racialism, the groups defined as victimized by race, gender, or region can be white women and Indians, as in Ramona, or, in a reversal of Stowe's portrayal of blacks as victims, landed white southerners and elite Californios, as in Squatter. Romantic racialism provided women writers with a vocabulary to yoke their protofeminism to more legitimized traditions of racial reform. Hence sentimentalism in its romantic racialist mode intervenes in politics by specifying morally superior victimized groups whose values should define the priorities of a given polity.

The mechanisms by which these novels simultaneously arm and rework dominant discourses can be explained in relation to the novels' allegorical structures. The key strategy of the mode of melodrama in these novels is to imaginatively resolve social conflict through the allegorical union of differing national constituencies in marriage. I use the term melodrama because it is itself defined by its allegorical structure: characters embody "primal ethical forces." These allegorical unions at once expand and contract the privileged sphere of whiteness to include and exclude groups other than Anglo-Saxons. In 1870s California, recently conquered by the predominantly Anglo United States, being identified as white conferred a social and economic advantage quickly solidifying into law. In this chapter I join a growing body of scholars who focus on the ways in which white identity, understood as a socially constructed category, has been assumed or rejected in the process of redefining a socioeconomic order.

Minority characters in Ramona and Squatter exploit the protean character of whiteness, reconfiguring its bounds and meanings so as to realize differing versions of hemispheric citizenship in relation to the U.S. empire. Sentimentalism in these novels thus redefines the ethnic boundaries of whiteness in order to undermine the cultural authority of male Anglo-Saxons, condemning the alleged materialistic tendencies of white men, particularly squatters, as immoral. These forces of "immorality" are arrayed against the virtue of the marginalized, whether white women, Californios, or Indians.

In the novels' redefinition of whiteness, the race/class politics are quite complex, including positions that are at times egalitarian (expanding whiteness through incorporating groups marginalized by ethnicity and/or class) and at times biased against the lower classes (in Jackson sympathy for Indians coincides with a representation of their willingness to serve the upper classes, and in Ruiz de Burton the Californios' scorn for the squatters partly stems from their class position). If sentimental melodrama in Ruiz de Burton and Jackson results in similarly contradictory class ideologies, the two novels construct sharply contrasting discourses of hemispheric citizenship along the lines of region, ethnicity, and nationality: whereas Squatter calls for the allegedly victimized regional populations of white southerners and Californios to claim U.S. imperial citizenship, Ramona focuses attention on the ways in which Indians and Mexicans have been victimized by the U.S. empire.

To briefly summarize, Squatter and Ramona both endorse the infusion of the virtue of the victimized into the white male-identified dominant culture through sentimentalism, a form of engagé writing constituted through the narrative strategies of the melodrama: defending morally superior victims; adopting conciliatory approaches to avoid direct, violent conflict; and forging alliances among the elite of different cultures and regions through marital and other unions that expand whiteness. In my analysis of Squatter and Ramona, I will examine the tension between the exclusionary logic of whiteness and the cross-cultural alliances in the melodrama that alternately reinforce and undermine it. By exploring how these novels contract, expand, and sometimes even disrupt the ideology of whiteness, I explain their strikingly distinct versions of hemispheric citizenship in the shadow of U.S. empire.


An examination of the uses of the keyword sentiment from the 1830s to the early twentieth century will serve to explain the protean political uses of the term as it traveled among differing historical contexts, some beyond Europe and the United States, and was employed by writers in oppressed populations. Sentimentalism's racial politics are particularly controversial. Euro-American racial discourses in the nineteenth century generally portray the darker races as naturally subservient, yet differ on the question of their specific attributes and capacities. Their assessment of nonwhites ranges from the assertion in ethnology and in evolutionary anthropology that the so-called lower races are inferior (Josiah C. Nott and George R. Gliddon, Edward Burnett Tylor) to the romantic racialist and sentimentalist view that Negroes and Indians are subservient yet morally superior (Alexander Kinmont, Stowe, Jackson).

Antislavery writers like Lydia Maria Child, Kinmont, and Stowe adopted an account of the Negro in which the keyword sentiment both defined the specific attributes of Negroes and delineated the proper emotional and ethical responses of whites to Negroes. Both Child and Stowe adopted and popularized many of Kinmont's ideas, and Stowe was the chief literary model for Jackson.

Sentimentalist discourse was by no means limited to abolitionism. Scholars have uncovered a distinguished philosophical pedigree for the term. Nineteenth-century uses of sentiment are rooted in an Enlightenment debate between those who emphasized the role of reason in social improvement and those who emphasized the emotions. Responding to the perceived dangers of the empiricist views of John Locke (1632-1704), Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, writing in 1711, "formulated his idea of the moral sense, an additional human faculty that could innately perceive right and wrong by allowing one person to experience another's pains and pleasures through the power of sympathy"-an idea that caught on with the Scottish common sense philosophers, ranging from Francis Hutcheson to Adam Smith, who were deeply indebted to his pioneering work. Thus sentimentalism's early development in moral philosophy suggests that it was ideally suited to represent pressing ethical and political problems. Stowe, the best-known U.S. sentimental writer, reported that she read Archibald Alison's writings while she was a student and teacher along with those of two other Scottish philosophers, Hugh Blair and Lord Kames. In addition, Stowe may have been exposed to these writers' ideas through Kinmont, who from 1833 to 1834 gave a series of public lectures employing the Scottish Enlightenment doctrine of moral sentiments in explaining the characteristics of Negroes in Stowe's home of Cincinnati.

Stowe also drew on an allied narrative tradition that similarly linked the expression of emotions to morality: melodrama. Stowe's main exposure to melodrama was by reading the novels of Charles Dickens. As Linda Williams has argued, melodrama represents the virtue of victims who are caught in a clash among characters who embody primal ethical forces of good and evil: "If emotional and moral registers are sounded, if a work invites us to feel sympathy for the virtues of beset victims, if the narrative trajectory is ultimately concerned with a retrieval and staging of virtue through adversity and suffering, then the operative mode is melodrama." Although sentimentalism and melodrama are commonly associated with somewhat different intellectual traditions (moral philosophy, the novel, and poetry for sentimentalism; drama, the novel, and film for melo-drama), Williams's definition alerts one to their considerable overlap. Although sentimentalism and melodrama are difficult to distinguish from one another, they do differ in emphasis: while the discourse of sentiment calls to mind efforts to stimulate social change through the eliciting of sympathy in the minds of its readers, melodrama focuses attention on the contest between primal ethical forces.


Excerpted from WAVES OF DECOLONIZATION by DAVID LUIS-BROWN Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction. Waves of Decolonization and Discourses of Hemispheric Citizenship
1. "White Slaves" and the "Arrogant Mestiza": Reconfiguring Whiteness
in The Squatter and the Don and Ramona
2. "The Coming Unities" in "Our America": Decolonization and Anticolonial
Messianism in Martø, Du Bois, and the Santa de Cabora
3. Transnationalisms against the State: Contesting Neocolonialism in the
Harlem Renaissance, Cuban Negrismo, and Mexican Indigenismo
4. "Rising Tides of Color": Ethnography and Theories of Race and Migration
in Boas, Park, Gamio, and Hurston
Coda. Waves of Decolonization and Discourses of Hemispheric Citizenship
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