What is Afro-Latin America?

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science, United States on 2016-09-06 02:23Z by Steven

What is Afro-Latin America?

African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)
2016-09-04

Devyn Spence Benson, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and Latin American
Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina

From Mexico to Brazil and beyond, Africans and people of African descent have fought in wars of independence, forged mixed race national identities, and contributed politically and culturally to the making of the Americas. Even though Latin America imported ten times as many slaves as the United States, only recently have scholars begun to highlight the role blacks and other people of African descent played in Latin American history. This course will explore the experiences of Afro-Latin Americans from slavery to the present, with a particular focus on Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. We will also read some of the newest transnational scholarship to understand how conversations about ending racism and building “raceless” nations spread throughout the Americas and influenced the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

In doing so, the course seeks to answer questions such as: What does it mean to be black in Latin America? Why has racism persisted in Latin America despite political revolutions claiming to eliminate discrimination? How have differing conceptions of “race” and “nation” caused the rise and decline of transnational black alliances between U.S. blacks and Afro-Latin Americans?

Last Tuesday, I began my eighth year of university teaching, but my first day at my new institution – Davidson College. Feeling both like a newbie (I was still unpacking boxes of books last week) and like an old pro, I dove right into teaching two introductory courses—Afro-Latin America and History of the Caribbean—passing out the course description pasted above. Both of my courses were cross-listed with Africana and Latin American Studies and fell under my purview as the new professor of Afro-Latin America. Mine is a joint position and the first untenured new hire for both Africana and Latin American Studies. I was initially shocked when I saw the advertisement last summer and remain shocked in many ways that both Africana and Latin American Studies at Davidson were interested in hiring an Afro-Latin Americanist as their first faculty position (other than chair) in two relatively young departments…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Race And Radicalism In Puerto Rico: An Interview With Carlos Alamo-Pastrana

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2016-08-19 01:11Z by Steven

Race And Radicalism In Puerto Rico: An Interview With Carlos Alamo-Pastrana

African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)
2016-08-02

Devyn Spence Benson, Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies
Louisiana State University

This month I interviewed Dr. Carlos Alamo-Pastrana about his new book, Seams of Empire: Race and Radicalism in Puerto Rico and the United States (University Press of Florida, 2016). Tracing cultural and political exchanges between African Americans, U.S. white liberals, and Puerto Ricans, this timely work highlights how activists and politicians in both spaces understood race, empire, and colonialism in the 20th century. Alamo-Pastrana illuminates the potential for fruitful multiracial alliances by uncovering the archive of a sub-group of Puerto Rican independentistas called the Proyecto Piloto. Led by Puerto Rican doctor Ana Livia Cordero, who had been married to Julian Mayfield, this group identified Puerto Rico as a black nation, worked to provide education and social services in poor barrios, and sought links with U.S. black radicals. Seams of Empire is a must read for scholars of transnational and diaspora history as well as anyone trying to build black and brown alliances in today’s antiracist movements.

Dr. Carlos Alamo-Pastrana is currently Associate Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources at Vassar College where he is also Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latina/o Studies. His research and teaching interests focus on comparative racial formations, Latino/a Studies, Afro-Latina/o intellectual history, popular culture, and prison studies.

Seams of Empire follows cultural workers and politicians in Puerto Rico and the United States to tell a story about racism, colonialism, and activism. What led you to focus the book on these exchanges?

Alamo-Pastrana: That is such a great question because it really gets at the heart of the book. As someone who studies race in the Americas, I have always found the conversations about race in Puerto Rico a bit limiting. These are in many instances reduced to the realm of popular culture especially music, film, etc. Even more, they are framed in very insular ways that really limit the scope of how we should think about race in broader contexts to include different national, racial, and political movements and groups. This is significant because it helps to produce and circulate some of the troubling forms of racial exceptionalism that I discuss in the book. Even I fell into this trap in some of my earlier research projects on Afro-Puerto Rican folk music.

But, for this book, I felt that I needed to push the analysis beyond the nation-state framework to see the more dynamic ways that people and ideologies travel across different spaces. The book tries to use cultural production and actors in larger global circuits in order to see how race is being (re)configured and used to explain certain political dilemmas…

…In the Introduction, you make a point of saying that you want Puerto Rican Studies scholars to “banish” la gran familia puertorriqueña as an analytical lens for looking at the island (11). What is the grand Puerto Rican family and what dangers (or challenges) does it present to the type of work you do?

Alamo-Pastrana: La gran familia puertorriqueña is one of the foundational state myths that asserts that Puerto Rico is somehow a racially heterogeneous (mestizo), inclusive, and equal nation. It is this, the argument goes, that makes Puerto Rico so much more different than its racist colonizer to the North. Well, you don’t have to look around much in Puerto Rico to see how untrue this is…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , , , ,

Author and Professor Devyn Benson Speaks on Her Book “Antiracism in Cuba”

Posted in Audio, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-04 02:12Z by Steven

Author and Professor Devyn Benson Speaks on Her Book “Antiracism in Cuba”

Block Report Radio
2016-07-14

“Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution” by author and professor Devyn Benson is an impressive study on the history of racism and Black organizing in Cuba prior to the 1959 revolution and right after it. This book is very important because there are very few that I have come across in the U.S. that document Black history on the island as well as exchanges between the Afro-Cuban and U.S. Black communities.

The historical narrative and the current day government of Cuba propagates an image of the island as a mixed race nation. That’s different from the U.S. historical narrative, which propagates that if you have a drop of Black blood, you are Black. I talked with author Devyn Benson about these racial nuances as we discussed Black Cuban history. Check her out in her own words in this exclusive interview.

Listen to the interview here. Read a transcript here.

Tags: , , ,

What Obama’s Trip To Havana Revealed About Race In Cuba And The U.S.

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-05-06 01:56Z by Steven

What Obama’s Trip To Havana Revealed About Race In Cuba And The U.S.

African American Intellectual History Society
2016-05-04

Devyn Spence Benson, Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies
Louisiana State University

During his groundbreaking visit to Havana last month, President Barack Obama suggested that the embrace of U.S.-style democracy and capitalism would “help lift up” Cubans of African descent. Following the speech, former Cuban President Fidel Castro reminded Obama that the Cuban Revolution had already eliminated racial discrimination in the 1960s.

The contemporary state of racial inequality casts doubt on both men’s assertions: black and brown North-American youth still face police brutality (murder), voter suppression, and low graduation rates, while Afro-Cubans have less access to the emerging tourist sector than ever before. “Democracy” or “socialism”—despite the propaganda and good intentions of our leaders—does not naturally uplift people of African descent.

The symbolism of a black U.S. president eating at one of Havana’s few black-owned restaurants and talking about Afro-Cuban access to the new economy should be celebrated. Missed, though, was the opportunity to reestablish coalitions and activism between people of African descent in both countries. Instead, debates about which country had been most successful in battling racism abounded. Similar to previous interactions between Cuba and the United States, this event showed how both countries invoke celebratory histories that reinforce national racial mythologies, rather than the controversial present…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2016-04-14 02:15Z by Steven

Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution

University of North Carolina Press
April 2016
332 pages
6.125 x 9.25
24 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4696-2672-7

Devyn Spence Benson, Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies
Louisiana State University

Analyzing the ideology and rhetoric around race in Cuba and south Florida during the early years of the Cuban revolution, Devyn Spence Benson argues that ideas, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices relating to racial difference persisted despite major efforts by the Cuban state to generate social equality. Drawing on Cuban and U.S. archival materials and face-to-face interviews, Benson examines 1960s government programs and campaigns against discrimination, showing how such programs frequently negated their efforts by reproducing racist images and idioms in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and school materials.

Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced a narrow definition of blackness, often seeming to suggest that Afro-Cubans had to discard their blackness to join the revolution. This was and remains a false dichotomy for many Cubans of color, Benson demonstrates. While some Afro-Cubans agreed with the revolution’s sentiments about racial transcendence–“not blacks, not whites, only Cubans”–others found ways to use state rhetoric to demand additional reforms. Still others, finding a revolution that disavowed blackness unsettling and paternalistic, fought to insert black history and African culture into revolutionary nationalisms. Despite such efforts by Afro-Cubans and radical government-sponsored integration programs, racism has persisted throughout the revolution in subtle but lasting ways.

Tags: , , , ,

Antiracism and the Cuban Revolution: An Interview with Devyn Spence Benson

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-03-21 01:40Z by Steven

Antiracism and the Cuban Revolution: An Interview with Devyn Spence Benson

African American Intellectual History Society
2016-03-08

Reena Goldthree, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire


Devyn Spence Benson

This month, I interviewed historian Devyn Spence Benson about her forthcoming book, Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (University of North Carolina Press, April 2016). Based on extensive archival research in Cuba and the United States as well as interviews with Afro-Cuban activists, Antiracism in Cuba explores public debates about race and racism in Cuba following the 1959 revolution. Benson reveals how the state’s ambitious campaign to eliminate racial discrimination was ultimately undermined by racist caricatures of Afro-Cubans in the media, the dismantling of independent black and mulato institutions, the underrepresentation of Afro-Cubans in highest ranks of the government, and the pervasive ideology of raceless nationalism.

Dr. Devyn Spence Benson is Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Louisiana State University (LSU). She received her Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work examines the history of Modern Latin America and the Caribbean with a particular focus on black activism in Cuba. She has received fellowships from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Williams College, and the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. Benson’s recent publications have appeared in the Hispanic American Historical Review, the Journal of Transnational American Studies, and PALARA: Publication of the Afro-Latin/American Research Association. She currently serves as the faculty director for LSU’s Honors College study abroad program in Cuba…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,