University of Rhode Island
Mentor: Dr. R. Michael Jackson, UNH Department of Communication
The Rhetoric of Mestizaje: Envisioning Race in Cuba
Cuban national identity is constructed upon a rhetoric of mestizaje, a discourse that purports to celebrate the preponderance of mixed-race heritage among the island's population due to the influx of Africans via the transatlantic slave trade. Mestizaje rhetoric privileges the historical co-mingling of African and Spanish cultures as the sublime integration of two worlds that together comprise Cuba's national identity. Mestizaje discourse can be viewed in several sites, particularly among texts that speak to Cuban national identity: a speech from Fidel Castro at a political gathering, the works of Jose Marti, Cuba's literary hero, or through essays written by Cuban scholars and citizens.
Through close readings of Cuban history, fiction, poetry, biography, and scholarship, this study examines the manner in which the rhetoric of mestizaje has come to define Cuban nationalism, how it has been used to represent issues of race and racism, and the systemic function it has served in communist, post-revolutionary Cuban society. An examination of these phenomena asks why mestizaje discourse has shaped the lay community's understanding of national identity; to what extent the laymen has questioned or accepted this construction of Cuban identity, and how and why the scholarly community has become skeptical of mestizaje discourse.