Constructing Afro-Cuban Womanhood: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in Republican-Era Cuba, 1902-1958

Constructing Afro-Cuban Womanhood: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in Republican-Era Cuba, 1902-1958

University of Texas, Austin
343 pages
August 2011

Takkara Keosha Brunson

Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation explores continuities and transformations in the construction of Afro-Cuban womanhood in Cuba between 1902 and 1958. A dynamic and evolving process, the construction of Afro-Cuban womanhood encompassed the formal and informal practices that multiple individuals—from lawmakers and professionals to intellectuals and activists to workers and their families—established and challenged through public debates and personal interactions in order to negotiate evolving systems of power. The dissertation argues that Afro-Cuban women were integral to the formation of a modern Cuban identity. Studies of pre-revolutionary Cuba dichotomize race and gender in their analyses of citizenship and national identity formation. As such, they devote insufficient attention to the role of Afro-Cuban women in engendering social transformations. The dissertation’s chapters—on patriarchal discourses of racial progress, photographic representations, la mujer negra (the black woman), and feminist, communist, and labor movements—probe how patriarchy and assumptions of black racial inferiority simultaneously informed discourses of citizenship within a society that sought to project itself as a white masculine nation. Additionally, the dissertation examines how Afro-Cuban women’s writings and social activism shaped legal reforms, perceptions of cubanidad (Cuban identity), and Afro-Cuban community formation. The study utilizes a variety of sources: organizational records, letters from women to politicians, photographic representations, periodicals, literature, and labor and education statistics. Engaging the fields of Latin American history, African diaspora studies, gender studies, and visual culture studies, the dissertation maintains that an intersectional analysis of race, gender, and nation is integral to developing a nuanced understanding of the pre-revolutionary era.

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • Introduction: Constructing Afro-Cuban Womanhood: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in Republican-Era Cuba, 1902-1958
  • Historiographical Contributions
  • Mapping the Dissertation
  • A Note on Terminology
  • Chapter 1: Patriarchy and Racial Progress within Afro-Cuban Societies in the Early Republic
    • Patriarchy, Racial Progress, and Social Hierarchy
    • Afro-Cuban Organizations during the Republican Era
      • Gender, Patriarchy, and Respectability
    • Afro-Cuban Social Life during the Early Decades of the Republic
      • Class, Gender, and Society Life in Santa Clara
    • A Shift in Discourse: Morality
      • Women, the Family, and Racial Regeneration
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: Exemplary Women: Afro-Cuban Women’s Articulation of Racial Progress
    • Racial Progress and Republican Womanhood
    • Republican Womanhood and the Work of Racial Improvement
      • Writing Republican Womanhood
    • Women of the Partido Independiente de Color (Independent Colored Party)
      • Patriarchy and Women’s Contributions to the PIC
    • Minerva and the Emergence of Afro-Cuban Feminism
      • Marriage and Divorce
    • Patriarchy and Political Voice Through Letter Writing
      • Writing for Work and Educational Opportunities
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Visualizing Progress: Afro-Cuban Womanood, Sexual Politics, and Photography
    • Theoretical Framework and Methodology
    • Photography and Racism in Cuba
    • Afro-Cuban Photographic Portraiture and Racial Progress
    • Staging Racial Progress Through Adornment Practices
      • Racial Womanhood and Understandings of Beauty
    • The Legal and Moral Family
    • Modern Womanhood and Photography during the 1920s
      • Amelia González: Afro-Cuban Society and Modern Womanhood
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: La Mujer Negra (The Black Woman): The Transformation of Afro-Cuban Women’s Political and Social Thought during the 1930s
    • Popular Mobilization and the Tranformation of Gender Ideologies
      • The “Triple Discrimination” Confronted by Black Women
      • Political Debates on Race, Gender, and Citizenship
    • Black Women and National Politics
      • Afro-Cuban Feminism in the 1930s
    • Afro-Cuban Feminists and the Third National Women’s Congress of 1939
      • Black Womanhood and the Third National Women’s Congress
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: Enacting Citizenship: Afro-Cuban Womanhood in a New Constitutional Era
    • Political Alliances and Democratic Discourses
    • Afro-Cuban Women Communists in the New Constitutional Era
    • Labor and Citizenship
    • Afro-Cuban Women Communists and Popular Protests
      • Economic Reform and Anti-War Protests
      • Connecting Local Issues to Global Struggles after WWII
      • The Democratic Cuban Women’s Federation
    • Nuevos Rumbos (New Directions) and the Struggle for Citizenship
      • Women’s Political Representation and Civil Rights within Afro-Cuban Publications
    • Anti-Racial Discrimination Campaign
      • Racial Discrimination and the Law
    • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

List of Figures

  • Figure 1: “Úrsula Coimbra Valverde,” Minerva (15 December 1888)
  • Figure 2: “Úrsula Coimbra Valverde,” El Nuevo Criollo (17 December 1904)
  • Figure 3: “Consuelo Serra y Heredia,” El Nuevo Criollo (18 June 1905)
  • Figure 4: “Consuelo Serra y Heredia,” El Nuevo Criollo (18 June 1905)
  • Figure 5: “Esperanza Díaz,” Minerva (September 1910)
  • Figure 6: “Inéz Billini,” Minerva (30 September 1910)
  • Figure 7: “Juana M. Mercado,” Minerva (15 December 1912)
  • Figure 8: Advertisement for Pomada “Mora,” Minerva (15 December 1914)
  • Figure 9: Portrait of Martín Morúa Delgado and his daughters, Arabella and Vestalina. Published in Rafael Serra’s Para blancos y negros: ensayos políticos, sociales y económicos
  • Figure 10: Portrait of Martín Morúa Delgado, his wife, Elvira Granados de Morúa, and their daughters, Vestalina and Arabella. Published in El Fígaro (12 September 1910)
  • Figure 11: “Amelia González,” El Mundo (1 December 1922)
  • Figure 12: “Dámas de Atenas,” Revista Atenas (1931)
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