Latin America in the Civil War Era: A working bibliography and research memo

This evolving list is the first of many steps of an intellectual process to comprehend the scope of relevant literature in this field. It is a very broad initial attempt to identify important books, essays, articles, memoirs, archival collections and other primary and secondary sources.

 

The U.S. Civil War sent economic, political and social shockwaves around the world. My great objective is to understand how they were felt primarily throughout Latin America, specifically throughout the republican and imperial governments, the intelligentsia, the diplomatic circles, the street-level multiracial societies, and the military commands.

I intend to illustrate these histories through biography whenever possible and through narrative history in general. I may be fashionably late to the transnational party, but I definitely intend to earn my place among its best scholars.

This evolving list is the first of many steps of an intellectual process to comprehend the scope of relevant literature in this field. It is a very broad initial attempt to identify important books, essays, articles, memoirs, archival collections and other primary and secondary sources.

A second, sharpened, edited version of this bibliography will follow in the coming months. The third step will be an annotated bibliography. That will then lead to a comprehensive review essay analyzing the evolution of the literature, the conversations and the debates. The essay will also identify potential avenues of future research and the challenges of traveling down those avenues. That essay will, in part, guide my future scholarly ambitions and plans.

I have a very long and very beautiful intellectual journey ahead of me. I certainly welcome corrections, comments and suggestions as this self-introductory process continues. You may reach me at this address: remembrance_@hotmail.com.

Working bibliography (by region)

Mexico

Aldis, Owen F. “Louis Napoleon and the Southern Confederacy.” North American Review 129 (October 1879): 342-362.

Bacha-Garza, Roseann, Christopher L. Miller and Russell K. Skowronek. The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2019.

Barker, Nancy N. “Monarchy in Mexico: Harebrained Scheme or Well-Considered Prospect?” The Journal of Modern History 48, no. 1 (March 1976): 51-68.

Brettle, Adrian Robert. “The Fortunes of War: Confederate Expansionist Ambitions During the American Civil War” (PhD Dissertation, University of Virginia, 2014).

Gonzalez-Quiroga, Miguel Angel. “Conflict and Cooperation in the Making of Texas-Mexico Border Society, 1840-1880” in Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, pp. 33-58, edited by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andrew R. Graybill. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010.

Hanna, A.J. “The Role of Matthew Fontaine Maury in the Mexican Empire,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 55 (April 1947): 105-125.

Hanna, Kathryn Abbey. “The Roles of the South in the French Intervention in Mexico,” The Journal of Southern History 20, no. 1 (February 1954): 3-21.

—. Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

Hardy, William E. “South of the Border: Ulysses S. Grant and the French Intervention.” Civil War History 54, no. 1 (March 2008): 63-86.

Hart, John Mason. Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Miller, Robert Ryal. “Arms across the Border: United States Aid to Juarez during the French Intervention in Mexico,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s, 63, no. 6 (1973): 1-68.

Mora-Torres, Juan. The Making of the Mexican Border: The State, Capitalism, and Society and Nuevo Leon, 1848-1910. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Ridley, Jasper. Maximilian and Juarez. London: Constable, 2001.

Rister, Carl Coke. “Carlota: A Confederate Colony in Mexico,” The Journal of Southern History 11 (February 1945): 33-50.

Rolle, Andrew F. The Lost Cause: The Confederate Exodus to Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.

Schoonover, Thomas. Dollars Over Dominion: The Triumph of Liberalism in Mexican-United States Relations, 1861-1867. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

—., ed., Mexican Lobby: Matias Romero in Washington 1861-1867. Lexington, Ky: University of Kentucky Press, 1986.

Truett, Samuel. Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Tyler, Ronnie C. Santiago Vidaurri and the Southern Confederacy. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1973.

Wahlstrom, Todd W. The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

General Imperial Spanish America

Bowen, Wayne S. Spain and the American Civil War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011.

Kelly, Patrick J. “The Cat’s-Paw: Confederate Ambitions in Latin America” in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Edited by Don H. Doyle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

May, Robert E. Slavery, Race and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglass and the Future of Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Sanders, James E. The Vanguard of the Atlantic World: Creating Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in Nineteenth Century Latin America. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014.

General South America

Scott, Rebecca, et. al. The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press, 1988.

General Spanish Caribbean

May, Robert E. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

Rugemer, Edward Bartlett. The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1870. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999.

—. “From Aggression to Crisis: The Spanish Empire in the 1860s” in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Edited by Don H. Doyle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Cuba

Corwin, Arthur. Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817-1886. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967.

Scott, Rebecca. Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

—. Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba After Slavery. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

General U.S. Civil War

Beckert, Sven. “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the Worldwide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the American Civil War,” American Historical Review 109 (December 2004): 1405-1438.

Bonner, Robert E. “The Salt Water Civil War: Thalassological Approaches, Ocean-Centered Opportunities,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 6, no. 2 (June 2016): 243-267.

Crook, D.P. Diplomacy during the Civil War. New York: Wiley, 1975.

Davis, Jefferson. The Papers of Jefferson Davis. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971 to present.

Davis, William C. “Confederate Exiles.” American History Illustrated 5, no. 3 (June 1970): 30-43.

Egerton, Douglas R. “Rethinking Atlantic Historiography in a Postcolonial Era: The Civil War in a Global Perspective,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 1 (March 2011): 79-95.

Fleche, Andre. Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Grant, U.S. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant. Edited by John Y. Simon. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1991.

—. The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. New York: C.L. Webster, 1886.

Grimsley, Mark, and Brooks D. Simpson, eds. The Collapse of the Confederacy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

Hahn Steven. “What Sort of World Did the Civil War Make?” in The World the Civil War Made. Edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Hubbard, Charles M. The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Hunt, Jeffrey William. The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Jones, Howard. Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Kelly, Patrick J. “The North American Crisis of the 1860s,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 3 (September 2012): 337-368.

—. “1848 and the Transnational Turn in Civil War History,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 4, no. 3 (September 2014): 431-443.

Kerby, Robert L. Kirby Smith’s Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863-1865. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.

Lincoln, Abraham. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by Roy P. Basler. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953-1955.

Lonn, Ella. Foreigners in the Confederacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

McDaniel, W. Caleb, and Bethany L. Johnson. “New Approaches to Internationalizing the History of the Civil War Era: An Introduction,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 2 (June 2012): 145-150.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

May, Robert E., ed. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1995.

Owsley, Frank Lawrence. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.

Prior, David M. et. al. “Teaching the Civil War in Global Context: A Discussion,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5, no. 1 (March 2015): 126-153.

Robinson, Michael. “William Henry Seward and the Onset of the Secession Crisis,” Civil War History 59, no. 1 (March 2013): 32-66.

Sexton, Jay. “The Civil War and U.S. World Power” in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Edited by Don H. Doyle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Townsend, Stephen A. The Yankee Invasion of Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006.

Tucker, Phillip Thomas. The Final Fury: Palmito Ranch, The Last Battle of the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2001.

Tyrner-Tyrnauer, A.R. Lincoln and the Emperors. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962.

U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

Zimmerman, Andrew. “From the Second American Revolution to the First International and Back Again: Marxism, the Popular Front, and the American Civil War” in The World the Civil War Made. Edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

General works

Baptist, Edward E. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Bayly, C.A. The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004: 165-166.

Beckert, Sven, “Merchants and Manufacturers in the Antebellum North” in Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy. Edited by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

—. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Knopf, 2014

Bender, Thomas, ed. Rethinking American History in a Global Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

—. A Nation among Nations: America’s Place in World History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Bensel, Richard Franklin. Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Doyle, Don H. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Eichhorn, Niels. “North Atlantic Trade in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: A Case for Peace during the American Civil War,” Civil War History 1, no. 2 (June 2015): 138-172.

Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Durham, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Foreman, Amanda. A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. New York: Random House, 2010.

Geyer, Michael, and Charles Bright. “Global Violence and Nationalizing Wars in Eurasia and America: The Geo Politics of War in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Comparative Studies in History and Society, 38, no. 4, (October 1996): 619-657.

Greene, Jack P., and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Reappraisal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Guterl, Matthew. American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Hamalainen, Pekka. The Comanche Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Johnson, Walter. Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

—. River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.

LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Roediger, David R. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso Books, 2007.

Rothman, Adam, “The Slave Power in the United States, 1783-1865” in Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy. Edited by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Stoke, Donald. The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Fidel Castro’s love affair / Celebrating the brilliance of “Scarface” / The secret power of ISIS / Molly Ringwald looks back / The British Empire’s shadow on today’s world

This week: Fidel Castro’s love affair / Celebrating the brilliance of Scarface / The secret power of ISIS / Molly Ringwald looks back / The British Empire’s shadow on today’s world

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. ‘My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro
By By Peter Kornbluh | Politico Magazine | April 2018
“The untold story of how Lisa Howard’s intimate diplomacy with Cuba’s revolutionary leader changed the course of the Cold War.”

2. Revisiting the Controversy Surrounding Scarface
By Jason Bailey | Vulture | April 2018
“It landed on VHS and Betamax the following summer, at what may have been the perfect moment, as home video reached a penetration point and videotape rentals were becoming part of the average moviegoer’s diet.”

3. End of the American dream? The dark history of ‘America first’
By Sarah Churchwell | The Guardian | April 2018
“When he promised to put America first in his inaugural speech, Donald Trump drew on a slogan with a long and sinister history — a sign of what was to follow in his presidency”

4. How Trump Moved the Mexican Border North
By Emily Gogolak | Politico Magazine | April 2018
“It started in Texas. And the rest of the country is next.”

5. The ISIS Files
By Rukmini Callimachi | The New York Times | April 2018
“We unearthed thousands of internal documents that help explain how the Islamic State stayed in power so long.”

6. ‘The Clock Is Ticking’: Inside the Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades
By William Langewiesche | Vanity Fair | April 2018
“A recording salvaged from three miles deep tells the story of the doomed ‘El Faro,’ a cargo ship engulfed by a hurricane.”

7. What About ‘The Breakfast Club’?
By Molly Ringwald | The New Yorker | April 2018
“Revisiting the movies of my youth in the age of #MeToo.”

8. 5 Reasons Why a Writer Should Move to Tampa
By Arielle Silver | LitHub | April 2018
“Welcome to the lightning capital of North America.”

9. My Caribbean trip opened my eyes to the legacy of the British empire
By Lenny Henry | The Guardian | March 2018
“After Brexit, the Commonwealth could play a crucial trading role. But the historic associations with slavery still resonate.”

10. Essential Writing Advice from Virginia Woolf
By Emily Temple | LitHub | March 2018
“Woolf was a once-in-a-generation mind, and as both a writer and publisher, she had strong opinions about what made a piece of literature great (or, more often, mediocre). Luckily for us, she wrote many of her ideas down, in some of the many essays and letters she penned over the course of her life.”

Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 22: ‘Narcos’ and the South South of the South

From Sept. 2016: “Colin uses the Netflix drama ‘Narcos’ as a jumping off point for talking about his fascination with the deep, deep South: the Caribbean and South America.”

Colin uses the Netflix drama “Narcos” as a jumping off point for talking about his fascination with the deep, deep South: the Caribbean and South America.

via Podcast 22: Narcos and the South South of the South — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: Quite a brilliant audience

Velazquez ends her Caribbean tour in Havana, where she relaxes with relatives, makes a new friend, and confronts personal tragedy once again.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 63: Velazquez ends her Caribbean tour in Havana, where she relaxes with relatives, makes a new friend, and confronts personal tragedy once again.

******

Through the exertions of my friends to make my visit to St. Thomas a pleasant one, the time passed rapidly, and when the arrival of the steamer Pelyo gave me warning that I must prepare for my departure, I would gladly have prolonged my stay for a number of days more had it been possible to do so.

The time of leave-taking was come, however, and I was escorted on board the steamer by quite a large party, many of whom, as I said goodbye, eagerly requested me to correspond with them and to keep them posted about my movements as they expected that I would scarcely be satisfied unless I undertook some strange adventures.

The steamer stopped at Porto Rico but I did not go on shore, not liking the looks of the place. We only remained for a few hours to take in some freight and passengers and then were off to sea again. Among the passengers was a young Spanish officer. Capt. F. Martinez, whom I had met before and who knew that I had served in the Confederate army. He came up to me and gave an officer’s salute, at which I laughed and held out my hand to him, saying that the time for that sort of thing had passed. We then fell into an animated conversation about the war and other matter, and during the rest of the trip he paid me every attention in his power.

As we were promenading the deck together in the evening, he informed me that he was engaged to a young lady in Santiago de Cuba, and he was very solicitous that I should stop there and see her. I was not unwilling, as I had relations residing near the city whom I was anxious to visit, and so I made arrangements for a return to another of the homes of my childhood.

When we reached Santiago, I called with Capt. Martinez upon his betrothed and was much pleased to see that he had made so excellent a choice. The young lady was very pretty and amiable and belonged to a wealthy family.

Having notified my cousin, who was married to a Prussian gentleman, of my arrival, I went out to her home about ten miles in the country and remained a day or two with her.

In the city, I was waited upon by many distinguished people and was invited to dine at the mansion of the general in command of the Spanish forces. At this dinner my health was proposed, with some complimentary remarks, at which honor I was immensely flattered, and after it was over, the company adjourned to the grand plaza to listen to the military band and to see the beauty and fashion of Santiago.

Santiago de Cuba is a very old town, and it has an extensive commerce. The chief exports are coffee, sugar, cigars, and fruit. The harbor is a fine one, and during the war it was a favorite resort for blockade-runners.

The day after the dinner at the general’s mansion, I went on board the steamer and started for Havana. That city was reached in due time, and once more I found myself on familiar ground and among friends who were ready to extend me a hearty welcome for the sake of old times.

My brother’s family and other relatives resided outside of the walls. I sent them word of my arrival but did not go to the house, on account of differences with my sister-in-law. During my stay in Havana my brother visited me frequently, as did also my niece — my sister’s daughter — and my nephew, who acted as my escort to the theater and other places.

In addition to my relatives, I had many acquaintances in Havana who were glad to extend the hospitality of the place to me. Among others, Gen. Juaquin Mansana and the officers of his staff were all warm friends of mine, and they seemed never to tire of paying me attentions. I was also acquainted with a great number of people with whom I had had confidential business relations during the war, and they too did what they could to make the time pass pleasantly.

Shortly after I reached Havana, there was a grand religious festival, and, at the suggestion of Gen. Mansana, I consented to appear in the procession in uniform. The general, enjoining me to keep the matter a secret, presented me with a handsome Spanish military suit. I attired myself in this, and arranging my disguise so that my most intimate friends would not know me, I took my place in the procession in a carriage beside Col. Montero, which drove just behind that of the general.

The colonel especially requested me not to let the other officers and soldiers know who I was, as there might be some excitement created if any one suspected that a woman disguised as an officer was in the procession. I accordingly kept my secret and was not recognized. During the day, I … passed quite close to Mr. Savage, the United States consul, and the members of his staff, and it amused the general greatly to see that they had not the slightest suspicion as to who I was. I was also introduced to a number of ladies as a young Spanish officer who had been educated in England. …

This procession took place on Friday, and Gen. Mansana, as we were about starting out, told me that there was a steamer in the harbor with some emigrants on board who were going to South America. He asked me if I would not see them, and, by relating my experiences, try and persuade them to return home again. This I promised to do.

In the evening, after the ceremonies were over, we went to the theater, where we found quite a brilliant audience assembled. Before the performance was over, Gen. Mansana said that he was hungry and retired. The rest of the party remained until the curtain fell, when we went to a restaurant and had supper. After supper we drove to the Plaza de Armas, where a room had been assigned me in the palace, and I changed my costume as rapidly as I could, appearing once more in female attire.

As I was coming out. Col. Montero met me in the hall and said that the general had been taken quite sick. I asked if I could see him, and on a messenger being sent, word was conveyed to the colonel that the general wished to speak with him. He soon returned and invited me to go into the sick chamber. The general was in bed, and the doctor was in attendance on him. He complained of severe cramps but did not think that anything serious was the matter and invited me to call on him the next morning, when he expected to be better.

After breakfast, the next morning, I went to the general’s quarters but the guard had orders not to admit any one. I sent in my card, however, and in a few moments the chief of staff came down and asked me to walk up to the reception room. The surgeon in attendance made his appearance and said that the general was worse instead of better but that I could see him if I would promise not to speak. I accordingly went into the sick-room and found the general looking very bad indeed. He smiled at me and seemed to be glad that I had called. I then retired, as I found that I could be of no assistance, and went to see the emigrants.

I gave them an account of my experiences and observations in South America and advised them in the strongest possible terms not to pursue their journey any farther, but to return home, and, if they wanted to get away from the South, to go West. Some of them were much impressed with what I said and came on shore to see me. I invited them to the hotel to take dinner and went into the matter more particularly, showing them the great risks they would run and the small chance they would have of establishing themselves in a satisfactory manner.

This interference on my part was bitterly resented by some of the leaders of the expedition, who expressed a desire that I should not come on board the steamer again. I had no wish to do this, having performed my duty, and I was willing now that they should take their own course and abide the consequences, although I was sorry for some of the poor women who I knew would regret not having followed my advice.

My expostulations proved of no avail, and the steamer sailed for South America after her old, worn-out and worthless boiler had been patched. The vessel itself, like the boiler, was worn out, and they were obliged to put in at St. Thomas with her and charter another boat. Some of the people, I believe, returned to the United States from St. Thomas, while the rest were glad to get back the best way they could after a very brief experience of Para, the port for which they were bound. After reaching their destination and endeavoring to effect a settlement, they very soon came to the conclusion that my advice was good.

On Sunday morning I learned, to my infinite sorrow, that Gen. Mansana was dead. The funeral took place the next day, and the body, having been embalmed, was carried through the streets, followed by his carriage, dressed in crape, and his favorite horse. The funeral was an imposing but sorrowful spectacle, for the general was a good man, and although, like other public men, he had his enemies, he deserved and enjoyed a great popularity.

With this visit to Havana concluded my trip to South America and the West Indies. In some of its aspects it was far from being enjoyable, and yet, on the whole, I managed to have a pretty good time, and I did not regret the journey. I had learned a great deal about a part of the world that it was worthwhile to know something about, and I had met a great many good friends whom I was exceedingly glad to meet. Taking it all in all, the pleasures of the trip far more than counterbalanced its disagreeable features, and the main thing I had to complain of was that I returned to the United States with a much lighter pocket-book than when I set out.

Loreta’s Civil War: Sadness and strangeness

Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 62: Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.

******

Being bent upon visiting my relatives and my early home, I purchased a ticket permitting me to stop at St. Lucia until the next steamer, and after a short and pleasant cruise, which was not marked by any incident of note, we reached the island which was endeared to me as being my mother’s birthplace, and on account of my residence on it, being among the most fascinating recollections of my childhood.

As I was preparing to leave the steamer, I was surprised by the steward bringing me a beautiful basket filled with different kinds of fruit. A card which accompanied it told me that it was from Capt. F., who had been obliged to stop at St. Lucia for repairs, having broken a mast. On going on shore, I sent the captain a note, requesting him to call on me at the residence of my cousin, the old family homestead. This he did, and I introduced him to my relatives. His visit was a short one, however, as his vessel was almost ready for sea, and so he said goodbye again, and for the last time. I have never seen him since.

It was not without a certain feeling of sadness and strangeness that I found myself once more domiciled in the old-fashioned stone house where I had lived with my father and mother and brothers and sisters when a little girl. The house and its surroundings were much the same as they were many years before, and yet there was something oddly unfamiliar about them, and it took me some time to reconcile my recollections with the realities. The stone house, built in the English fashion, the marble floor, the ancient furniture of Spanish make, the stone water-pool and stone filter, and the banana and prune bushes which grew at my mother’s window were, however, all as they had been, and as if I had left them but yesterday.

In gazing on these familiar objects, I was forced, in spite of myself, to think of the many years that had passed since I had last seen them and of the many things that had happened. The happy family that had gathered under this roof had been scattered and most of its members were dead, while I, the darling of my father and of my gentle mother, what a strange career I had gone through — stranger far than that of many a heroine of romance whose adventures had fascinated my girlish fancy. I was yet, too, a young woman, and what strange things might not the future have in store for me? It was enough, however, just then to think of the past and of the present without perplexing myself with speculations as to the future, and I gave myself up to such enjoyment as a visit of this kind to a fondly remembered home of childhood was able to afford.

After viewing the old house and its immediate surroundings, I went to the family burying ground in search of the weather-stained vault, which contained the earthly remains of near and dear relatives, among others, of a sister and a brother, whose faces I never beheld after I left Cuba to go to New Orleans to school. The ivy and the myrtle grew so thick about it as almost to hide the inscription, and yet there was something beautiful in the appearance of the spot, which marked it as the fitting resting place for the beloved dead. As I stood by this vault and thought how lonely I was in the world and how unpropitious the future seemed, I thought that if it could be the will of God that my spirit should be taken to Himself, I would gladly have my body rest here beside those of my brother and sister. I was reluctant to leave the place but felt impelled to go on and seek the destiny that awaited me in another land and resolved to be as courageous as ever in meeting whatever fate or position the future might have in store for me. Before leaving the tomb, I knelt down to pluck some ivy leaves to carry away as remembrances, but as I stretched out my hand to gather them, something restrained me, and I went away empty-handed as I had come.

I remained in the old homestead, enjoying the hospitality of my cousins until the arrival of the steamer and then said farewell to St. Lucia — my visit to it having been the happiest episode of my journey.

From St. Lucia, I went to the Danish island of St. Thomas, where one of my friends of the war time, to whom I had written announcing my intention of revisiting the place, was expecting my arrival. When we entered the harbor, the passenger boat, which was to take us ashore, came off to the steamer, and as she neared, I recognized my friend. I waved my handkerchief to him, and he took off his hat, and when the boat came alongside he sprang on board, and shook me most cordially by the hand, expressing, as he did so, the greatest gratification at seeing me again.

When we reached the wharf, I met another of my old war acquaintances, the Italian consul. He also was glad to see me and asked me all manner of questions about where I had been and what I had been doing since the blockade-running business had come to a standstill. I walked between my two friends up to the hotel, where I found that a fine large room had been engaged for me, and, once fairly installed in it, the visitors came pouring in, one after the other — first, the proprietor and his wife, then the Danish commandant’s wife, then half a dozen others, until I was obliged to go into the drawing room and hold a regular reception.

Nowhere during my trip had I been welcomed with a more hearty and sincere courtesy or with a more evident disposition to make a heroine of me. All through the evening people were coming in, some of them acquaintances, who, having heard of my arrival, were anxious to extend a welcome, and others, strangers who had learned something of my adventurous career, were desirous of being introduced to me. One of the most agreeable of my visitors was Mr. English, the correspondent of a newspaper in Manchester, England. He was a fine, dashing young fellow, overflowing with wit and humor, and his lively conversation created a great deal of entertainment.

During the evening, some of the company amused themselves with dominoes, others with cards, while I was surrounded constantly by quite a little crowd of persons who persisted in having me relate to them some of my adventures. After a time, wine, ale, and cakes were brought in, and the gentlemen and some of the ladies, too, regaled themselves with cigars and cigarettes. It was nearly twelve o’clock when the Italian consul, a white-haired old gentleman, arose, and asking to be excused, wished us good night. As I was tired I followed him, asking my kind friends to excuse me, and so the party broke up.

I slept late the next morning and was awakened by a tap at my door. It was Mrs. Capt. B., who wished to know if I was sick. I said that I was quite well, whereat she smiled and said she would send me a cup of chocolate. The girl soon came with the chocolate, and after drinking it, I dressed myself and went down to the drawing room. As I passed the consul’s office, he came out and gave me a “good morning” and offered me his arm to take me in to breakfast.

After breakfast, I was joined in the drawing room by quite a large party of ladies and gentlemen, who proposed that I should go with them through the fort and up to the top of the hill to see the scenery.

The town of Charlotte is built on three hills, from the summits of which beautiful views of the harbor and the island are obtained. One of the features of the scene is a rock, called Frenchman’s Cap. It is almost perpendicular, and is, I believe, considered dangerous to shipping. Scorpion Rock is inhabited only by the horrid reptiles from which it takes its name. They are unusually abundant there, and for that reason it is generally given a wide berth, as no one cares to make its intimate acquaintance.

The principal fortifications of St. Thomas are Fort Christiana, and Prince Frederick’s and Mohlenfe’s batteries. These are occupied by a small force of Danish soldiers, who are clean and tidy looking but otherwise are not remarkable in appearance.

It was under the guns of Fort Christiana that the blockade-runners were accustomed to receive their cargoes and, notwithstanding the supposed vigilance of the United States fleet, most of them managed to get off in safety. On my former visit to St. Thomas, one of the Federal officers was pointed out to me as being in the trade himself. On one occasion, at least, where the consul notified him, he permitted a vessel with a contraband cargo to put to sea and did not pretend to give chase until she was so far away that there was no hope of overtaking her.

As the reader will, perhaps, remember, on the occasion of my previous visit to St. Thomas, I had the satisfaction of seeing the Confederate cruiser Florida come in, and coal, and get away again in safety through a clever trick played upon the Federals. The Florida took in her coal and supplies at the King’s wharf, and when she was ready for sea, one of the sailors pretending to be an Englishman went to the consul, Mr. Smith, and told him that as they were coming in they saw the Florida off to the westward of the island. Mr. Smith, accordingly, gave orders to the Federal man-of-war to go out and look for her, and so soon as the Federal cruiser was out of the harbor, and heading westward. Capt. Maffitt, having steam up, put on all speed and went out after her. Before the Federal commander discovered that he had been duped, the Florida was out of sight and out of danger.

The Danish commandant told me that he was heartily sorry the war closed so soon, for the people of St. Thomas profited greatly by it. He was of the opinion that could the South have held out for another year, the great powers of Europe would have interfered in her behalf and she would have secured her independence.

Loreta’s Civil War: Very beautiful to the eye

Velazquez leaves Venezuela and begins a tour of the Caribbean, visiting her friends from her days as a Confederate blockade runner.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 61: Velazquez leaves Venezuela and begins a tour of the Caribbean, visiting her friends from her days as a Confederate blockade runner.

******

The schooner Isabel, in which I sailed for Demerara, had a rather unsavory cargo in the shape of cattle, but being an experienced traveler and accustomed to roughing it, I did not permit myself to be annoyed by my surroundings, and as the weather was fine, I greatly enjoyed this brief cruise along the tropical South American coast.

There were two lady passengers besides myself, whose companionship I found very agreeable, and I had with me a number of pets, whose capers and gambols afforded all on board much amusement. These pets were two monkeys, a young South American tiger, two parrots, and a dozen paroquets. One of the monkeys was named Bob Lee, while the tiger was called Joe Johnston. One of our chief diversions was to get up contests between these animals over their meals. The monkey, being of more mature age and of superior cunning, almost invariably got the better of his antagonist, although the tiger would make a good fight. This tiger was very tame and very gentle, and he liked nothing better than to be taken in my lap and petted.

On landing at Georgetown, we were beset by negroes offering us sapadillos for sale but, disregarding them, I bade adieu to my traveling companions and went to the Prince of Wales Hotel and asked for accommodation. The sapadillo, I may remark here, is a small fruit, shaped something like a pear, the skin is rough, and the flesh inside is of a maroon color, and rather tart to the taste. The Prince of Wales Hotel was kept by a negro, on discovering which I was rather dubious about stopping there. The captain of the schooner told me that there was another hotel kept by white people but, on inspecting it, I concluded that it would be wise for me to take up my quarters at the African establishment.

The hostess of the Prince of Wales Hotel was a mulatto woman of about forty-five years of age. She was quite good-looking and had been the wife of an English sea captain, by whom she had two daughters. Her husband was dead, and one of her daughters was married to a white man, who was extensively engaged in coffee-growing. This woman was very intelligent herself, and she had taken pains to have her children carefully educated. As a hotel keeper, she was much above the average, and during my stay in her house, she did everything possible to make me comfortable.

The captain of the schooner introduced me to a number of prominent people in Georgetown, and I went of my own accord to call on the United States consul. This official was a German by birth, and he was engaged in making a collection of animals for the Zoological Garden of Frankfort-on-the-Main. His wife, a very pleasant woman, took a great deal of interest in his pursuits and devoted a large portion of her time to the care of the numerous pets, in the way of monkeys, dogs, cats, and squirrels, with which the house abounded.

Among the persons with whom I became acquainted was an officer belonging to a United States man-of-war which was lying in the harbor. This gentleman, hearing that I was one of a party of emigrants from the States, and was on my way back, supposed that I must be in destitute circumstances. He accordingly represented my case in such a way, on board his ship, that a considerable sum of money was raised for me, and the commander of the vessel called at the hotel to give it to me and to offer me such other aid as he was able to bestow. The consul, when he heard of this occurrence, was much annoyed that I had not informed him that I was in want of money, in order that he might have assisted me. I had some trouble in making these good gentlemen understand my real position. They were very indignant over the story I told with regard to the manner in which people in the Southern States had been deluded into emigrating to Venezuela and other portions of South America, and [they] promised to use their influence to check the schemes of such men as Johnston and Price.

Having expressed a desire to proceed on my journey northward, the consul introduced me to the captain of a vessel which was shortly to sail for Barbados, and I arranged with him for a passage. …

Like Venezuela, this portion of Demerara is very beautiful to the eye and is very rich in products of the soil. The palm trees grow to a great size and are useful in innumerable ways. The adobe, or mud huts of the poorer classes, are invariably thatched with palm leaves, interwoven with cane, and plastered with mud. This kind of a roof has merits, but it also has some disadvantages, not the least of which is that it affords an admirable habitation for ants, lizards, snakes, roaches, scorpions, and spiders of all colors and sizes. The people, however, do not appear to mind this vermin, and it has seemed to me that they rather enjoyed sharing their habitations with the venomous reptiles and insects. Of the fibers of the palm are made various kinds of cordage, nets, hammocks, lassos, mats, and many household conveniences.

There are a number of different kinds of cactus, some of which grow to a great height. The fruit of the scarlet variety is made into a kind of preserve, which is pleasant eating, resembling in flavor that made from the crab-apple. From this fruit, also, an agreeable drink is prepared, which is very refreshing.

From the candle tree, the natives at certain seasons extract the sap by making incisions in the bark. This sap, which is oily in its nature, is caught in earthen bowls, and after it solidifies, which it does very rapidly on being exposed to the air, is made into candles.

The milk tree is treated in the same manner. The juice, when it is first extracted, is thin and watery, like that of the grape vine. After standing for a short time, it thickens and becomes of the color of goat’s milk. When it is in this condition the natives drink it and are exceedingly fond of it. If permitted to stand a sufficient time, the milk solidifies to the consistency of thick jelly and then twists of cotton are dipped in it and are used for candles.

The guaca is a powerful antidote for poisons and is used to cure the wounds caused by the bite of snakes and insects. It is also said to be an antidote for the virus of a mad dog. The odor is very peculiar but not unpleasant.

The tamarind trees grow to a large size — their fruit greatly resembles the bean of the honey locust of the United States. The tamarind beans, when preserved, make a cooling beverage by being soaked in water, which is useful in the sick-chamber, especially in fever cases.

The pili is used for the manufacture of ropes, cordage, and sacks, and I think would make good paper. Of the divi, cart wheels are made. The nutmeg trees grow luxuriantly without cultivation. These are only a few of the vegetable products of Demerara, but they will suffice to give the reader a general idea with regard to the products of the soil.

The snakes of Demerara are of all sizes, kinds, and colors. One of the most curious is a small snake, which is spotted with twelve different colors — these are chiefly found lodged in the branches of the bamboo. They are said to be harmless — other varieties, however, are exceedingly venomous.

There is a species of red ant which builds its habitations up in the forks of the trees, where they look almost like the prairie dog villages of our western country. The houses are made of mud, which is collected into a ball, and then pushed up the tree by the insect with infinite labor.

The birds of Demerara are as numerous and as gorgeous in their plumage as those of Venezuela. The parrots of all kinds … abound in immense numbers. While I was at Georgetown, my friend Capt. M. shot at some parrots who were in a mango tree feeding on the fruit, and wounded one, which fell and lodged in the fork of two limbs, making such a pitiful cry that he had not the heart to shoot again. The mate of this wounded bird attended to its wants with infinite care, bringing it food and water for several days, until it died. The last day water was brought every hour, and when at length the sick bird died, the mate uttered a most human-like cry of sorrow and despair. The parrots of all kinds go in couples, and like the pigeons they migrate in the rainy season.

The humming-birds appear to be quite as numerous, while there are even more varieties of them than there are of the parrots. They are beautiful little creatures, and I never became tired of watching their motions. Like the parrots, these tiny birds seemed to be gifted with extraordinary intelligence.

My vessel being at length ready, I sailed for Barbados, by way of Trinidad. The weather was very rough for a couple of days, and … I was terribly seasick. I however recovered before we reached Port Spain, and having a tremendous appetite, I made sad havoc between meals with the captain’s sweetmeats, sardines, and crackers. He was a whole-souled, jolly sort of a man, who, in consideration of my being his only lady passenger, paid me particular attention and placed his private larder at my disposal.

When we reached Port Spain, the chief town of the Island of Trinidad, the captain said that we would have to remain there about eight hours, and that I and the other passengers had better step ashore and see the place. We accordingly strolled about the town until it was time for the vessel to leave but were not impressed with its beauty. It was a very dingy-looking settlement, with a very ragged and dirty native population. There were a few Englishmen, but the majority of the people were negroes or half-breeds, whose habitations were disgustingly dirty and squalid.

I was not sorry to get away from Port Spain, although if there had been time I would have taken pleasure in exploring the interior of Trinidad, and especially in visiting the famous pitch lake, in the south-western portion of the island.

A quick run brought us to Bridgetown, Barbados, where I felt at home, having visited the place on blockade-running business during the war and having a number of acquaintances residing there, who, I anticipated, would be glad to see me for the sake of old times. I was not disappointed, for, on taking up my quarters at the Prince Albert Hotel, I soon fell in with friends who welcomed me as heartily as I could have desired, and who exerted themselves to make my visit in all respects a most enjoyable one.

The day after my arrival, Capt. P. of Liverpool came with a handsome carriage and pair and invited me to drive out with him and some other friends on a tour of inspection of the points of interest on the island. We went first to the barracks to see a drill of the British troops stationed there and afterwards drove to Speightstown, over a broad road lined with coconut trees, which presented a truly magnificent appearance. These graceful trees are extensively used in Barbados for dividing the farms instead of fences or hedges, and the use which is made of them adds greatly to the attractiveness of the landscape. On our way, we stopped at two dairy farms, and I obtained some good buttermilk, a beverage of which I am very fond. My companions, however, did not take kindly to it, and in true British fashion quenched their thirst with ale and beer. This trip to the interior was a delightful one in every respect, the country being very beautiful, and I enjoyed it greatly — more, perhaps, than I otherwise would, on account of having just made a sea voyage. …

I said goodbye to my Barbados friends with real regret, for they had been most kind to me and had fairly overwhelmed me with their attentions.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

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This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. No word yet from Fidel amid historic US-Cuba shift
By Anne-Marie Garcia | Associated Press | Dec. 19
“Everyone in Cuba is talking about the startling turn in relations with the United States, with one notable exception: Fidel Castro.”

2. Without Washington as its enemy, what will define Cuba?
By Tom Gjeten | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“Both governments are gambling that this new world will suit their respective political interests. In this negotiation, however, there is no win-win: One government or the other is likely to lose.”

3. Cuba’s cash boon for GOP
By Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti | Politico | Dec. 19
“[W]hile polls show that most Americans favor normalization, wealthy donors for whom the issue is a top priority overwhelmingly oppose engaging with the Castro regime. …”

4. Why Congress Hates Your Cuban Rum
By Tim Mack | The Daily Beast | Dec. 19
“Havana Club or ‘American’ Havana Club? How untangling decades of Washington’s embargo politics could start a rum war among the world’s most powerful alcohol companies.”

5. The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother
By Damien Cave | The New York Times | Dec. 18
“At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro … spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.”

6. A Historical Perspective on the Cuba-U.S. Relationship
By Jason Steinhauer | Insights :: The Library of Congress | Dec. 19
“Let’s start with this: soon after Fidel Castro’s rise to power, the U.S. viewed Cuba as a security threat. What was the basis for that viewpoint?”

7. Detente Scrambles Political Calculus in Latin America
By Reed Johnson, Ezequiel Minaya, and Kejal Vyas | The Wall Street Journal | Dec. 18
“The Detente Between the U.S. and Cuba Has the Potential to Redraw Political and Economic Alliances Across the Hemisphere”

8. Cha-Cha-Cha: Obama’s On a Roll
By John Cassidy | The New Yorker | Dec. 19
“If you doubted that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba was a political and strategic masterstroke, you only have to look at the reaction it has engendered to see otherwise.”

9. A Cuban who sold his beachfront home says he might regret that move
By Marco Werman | The World :: PRI | Dec. 19
“Yuro is part of the generation of Cubans known as the ‘lost generation.’ The ones who came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union — and the loss of all those Russian oil for sugar subsidies.”

10. The US Breaks Ties with Cuba
Witness :: BBC | Dec. 18
“It was in January 1961 that the USA first broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Wayne Smith was one of the last diplomats to leave the US embassy in Havana.”

11. Cuba: A Reading List
By John Williams | ArtsBeat :: The New York Times | Dec. 18
“[W]e asked editors at The Times to suggest books that offer the best looks at Cuba’s history and its relationship to the United States. Here are a few of their recommendations:”

12. Americans, here’s what you’ve been missing in Cuba all this time
GlobalPost | Dec. 19
“A new era in US-Cuba relations could see a travel ban lifted. Here are some of the sights US citizens could be visiting soon.”

13. U.S.–Cuba Agreement: Diplomacy At Its Best
By. John Parisella | Americas Quarterly | Dec. 18
“Just as Nixon went to China and Truman set up the Marshall Plan for Europe in the post-World War II era, Obama knew that he had to do something different with a nation just 90 miles off the U.S. shore.”

14. Pope Francis bridged gap between U.S. and Cuba during secret talks
By Paul Richter and Tom Kington | The Los Angeles Times | Dec. 18
“The pope’s secret role in the back-channel talks was crucial because, as a religious leader with the confidence of both sides, he was able to convince the Obama and Castro administrations that the other side would live up to the deal. …”

15. Topic: Cuba
By Ted Piccone and Richard Feinberg | The Brookings Institution | Dec. 2014
“See what they and other Brookings experts have to say about the measures and their impact on the two countries moving forward.”

16. Baseball in Cuba: A looming brain drain
By D.R. | The Economist | Dec. 18
“Cuban veterans represent the last remaining loophole in MLB’s regulation of players’ entry to the league, which helps to maintain competitive balance between rich and poor clubs.”

17. Opening Cuba and Closing Gitmo?
By James Stavridis | Foreign Policy | Dec. 19
“Havana will be pushing hard to shut the naval station at Guantanamo Bay — but Washington shouldn’t give in.”

18. Cuba’s Christmas Surprise for Caracas
By Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez | Foreign Policy | Dec. 18
“Despite Maduro’s self-serving rhetoric, future U.S. tourism dollars, increased remittances, and access to foreign markets could easily replace the resale value of Venezuelan oil. Cuba’s wily leaders have made it clear that they’re more willing to offend Maduro than to risk being left standing when the salsa stops.”

19. The Democrats’ risky Cuba bet
By James Hohmann and Kyle Cheney | Politico | Dec. 17
“Will Florida’s changing demographics offset a backlash among older Cuban-Americans?”

20. As Obama opens to Cuba, China experts remember benefits from U.S. engagement
By Simon Denyer | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“China has become a partner with the United States in some ways but also a powerful rival, geo-strategically and economically. Its leadership remains deeply suspicious of Western values, even as it pursues a deeper relationship with the United States.”

Dealing with the real America

Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.

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Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City. By Lorrin Thomas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Pp. 354, $35.00

*****

Throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans yearned for political respect from the United States. In Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, Lorrin Thomas explores how the demand for equal citizenship evolved into a larger, more noble demand for political recognition when Puerto Ricans realized the mere status of citizen would never sufficiently fulfill their political, social, and economic expectations as conquered members of the American republic.1

The U.S., Thomas explains, conquered Puerto Rico as part of its victorious 1898 war against the remnants of the Spanish Empire. Civilian island government was restored in 1900, and in 1917 the Jones Act declared Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. Few were happy with the arrangement. The American political elite didn’t want a whole new set of minorities integrated into the U.S. social and political calculus, and islander nationalists wanted independence from their conqueror. Some moderates looked forward to what membership among the U.S. states might offer, but those first rays of hope were quickly clouded. Puerto Ricans were marginalized as colonial Caribbean illiterates who could not rise to the level of political involvement equaling their mainland step-siblings. They were dismissed as one more set of brown or black people who needed “guidance” from experienced Anglo Americans in order to build a proper democratic community. Thomas persuasively argues that Puerto Ricans “wanted recognition beyond citizenship, a recognition that promises not just formal equality within the state but also the respect and dignity that come from real equality.” She uses Puerto Ricans living in New York as a core sample of the overall relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, in all its torment, tragedy, and unrest.2

Thomas uses an interesting variety of primary and secondary sources, including oral histories, news articles, memoirs, and personal interviews, to illustrate the evolution of Puerto Rican political sensibilities throughout the twentieth century. In the two decades before World War II, Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S., especially New York, and built new communities from which they hoped to participate fully in the citizenship Congress unilaterally granted them. Instead, Puerto Ricans engaged in choques — clashes with other minority groups who saw them as a threat. Some Puerto Ricans embraced the concept of latinidad, a working-class identity that elevated their self-perception from U.S. citizen to citizen of the U.S. and Latin America, a politically transcendent entity equipped to move easily across ethnic, racial, and political barriers. Some Puerto Rican leftists even reached out to support allies in the Spanish Civil War. As the Great Depression ravaged U.S. communities, Puerto Ricans demanded equal access to jobs and government assistance. They also plugged their political discourse into national debates and concerns over European fascism and Asian imperialism, pointing to themselves as the discrepancy in the U.S. view of itself as the glowing torch of morality, idealism, and freedom guiding the world out of its darkest age. “Discourses of human rights and recognition,” Thomas deftly highlights, “shared a sometimes paradoxical balance of demands: both called for universal equality as well as the acknowledgement of particular group difference … both sought to elevate the idea of the category of ‘citizen’ in a flawed, liberal democracy.” The Puerto Rican debates anticipated by a decade the nationalist, imperialist, and human rights debates that animated the bloodied ash heaps of Europe, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.3

By the 1950s, Puerto Rican hopes for independence faded. The Cold War began, Thomas explains, and Puerto Rico needed to be a showcase of what the U.S. could do for Latin American societies tempted to ally themselves with the Soviet Union. The dominant Puerto Rican discourses looked beyond the empty promise of citizenship to political and social recognition as new liberalist activism aimed to “save” Puerto Rican through economic and social development.4

The failure of American democracy to fulfill New York Puerto Ricans’ expectations of equal access to decent housing, failure to provide bilingual education, failure to provide jobs, and failure to live up to the tenets of its most attractive idealism all combined to convince Puerto Rican political leaders that even with the guarantee of citizenship, even with the opportunity to serve in the military, and even with the option of building a new life on the mainland, Puerto Ricans would never been seen as a part of the U.S. except on a map. Puerto Ricans, Thomas explains, supported politicians who fought for them within the government, like New York legislator Oscar Garcia Rivera, U.S. Rep. Vito Marcantonio, and Puerto Rico Gov. Jesus Pinero. They also supported advocates who took their voices to the streets, like the Young Lords, and labor leaders who staged strikes. In the ivory towers, academics tried to formulate curricula to properly teach Puerto Rico-specific issues of empty citizenship, imperialism, economic development, migration, and Caribbean racism. Puerto Ricans, Thomas argues, hoped to fully enjoy the benefits of “inclusion, belonging, and rights,” especially after World War II, when the U.S. pledged to support freedom and nationalism for all nations, but Puerto Ricans could never escape the realities that proved far more potent and damaging than the dreaminess of liberal American promises.5

Thomas deftly points out that Puerto Ricans “challenged the United States’ liberal democracy to acknowledge the reasons that their group experienced such persistent failures of justice.” Puerto Ricans remain the ultimate reminder to liberal idealists of the failure of a “democratic liberal society” that cannot fully acknowledge the “injustices of recognition.”6

By the 1970s, the energy coursing through Puerto Rican activism came from the grassroots, as “garbage strikes, rent strikes, [and] university takeovers” replaced measured political and academic debates as Puerto Rican expressions of frustration. Thomas paints a vibrant portrait of the blossoming Nuyorican cultural movements, dominated by playwrights and poets, though it’s also an example of the fragmentation of the overall fight for Puerto Rican recognition. Thomas explains that the old sense of multiple groups working together had generally faded, necessitating the renewal spearheaded by the arts. By the 1980s, Thomas explains, academics trying to establish Puerto Rican studies as a necessary field for U.S. history, government, and politics found themselves isolated or shuffled away under dismissive ethnic studies categories, their arguments thrown into a heap of identity politics with all the intellectual dignity of a demolition derby.7

By the end of the twentieth century, the academic world still struggled for a dignified place for Puerto Rico at the U.S. table. The Latino Cultural Studies Working Group embraced the concept of “cultural citizenship,” arguing that anyone who contributed to the “economic and cultural wealth of the country” should be recognized as citizens. It was a political view embracing Puerto Ricans, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized groups whose treatment in the U.S. set aflame the very banner of ideals the U.S. officially waved to the world’s tired masses.8

The root of the resistance to granting what Puerto Ricans demanded and deserved, Thomas argues throughout, is the cost of recognition. Would recognition merely acknowledge a differentiating quality of the Puerto Rican entity, or would that simply be the key unlocking a necessary “redistribution of economic resources and social and political power”? Would the elevating recognition change the U.S. more than it would Puerto Rico? Do citizens now recognized with full equality have the right to demand more from not just their government, but also from their fellow mainland citizens? Does their recognition also require that the U.S. admit its own culpability in the mistreatment of Puerto Ricans and the contradictions inherent in its own internationally advertised moral superiority?9

Thomas hints that the U.S.-Puerto Rican relationship is so weighed down by history, economic scaffolding, a nascent political discrimination that Puerto Ricans have little hope of achieving their goal of recognition. It is a sad tribute to the power of the Puerto Rican argument. Whatever aspect of political debate it touches, it promises (some would say threatens) to redefine the stakes, to demand a realistic recognition of the limits of a democratic republic and its failings, and to unveil a properly complex calculation of what it means to be a citizen in a globalized society. Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.


1. Lorrin Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
2. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 250.
3. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 8, 53, 129, 5.
4. Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Her online book is an excellent illustration of medical and social development projects in postwar Puerto Rico.
5. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 12-13, 21.
6. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 21.
7. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 251.
8. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 17.
9. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 16.

The Battle for Boricua

Is Puerto Rico the battleground for America’s intellectual future?
A review by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

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Is Puerto Rico the battleground for America’s intellectual future?
A review by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

******

Discussed in this essay:

Laura Briggs. Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 304. $29.95.

I.

Puerto Rico was one of the prizes the U.S. won in its 1898 victory over the Spanish Empire. The U.S. made Puerto Ricans citizens in 1917 and granted the territory an upgrade to commonwealth status in 1952. Debate has raged ever since over how, when, or if Puerto Rico should attempt to move in a new political direction, and over how it should cope with the degree of control the U.S. still wields over its economic and political systems. Like a moon trapped in planetary orbit, bathed only in the solar light reflected from that planet’s surface, struggles for self-definition and conflicting political visions dominate the island’s history.1

Laura Briggs extravagantly explores key components of Puerto Rico’s lurching political evolution in Reproducing Empire, a 2002 book based on her 1998 doctoral thesis composed at Brown University. Her book, standing tall among the work uniting colonial control and gender roles, illustrates Anglo American rulers at first disgusted with Puerto Rico, viewing the island territory as a cesspool of tropical subhumans blinded by rampant sexual desires and staggered by venereal disease, overpopulation endangering their natural and imported resources, and desperate, whether they knew it or not, for American guidance.

Puerto Rico’s social and economic problems were both caused and worsened, Briggs argues, by colonizing Americans who only saw themselves as solutions to those problems. She creatively examines the grinding conflict between the colonizer and the colonized through the prism of Puerto Rican sexuality, particularly the symbolically sexual body of the working-class Puerto Rican woman, whose propensity for sexual “deviancy” was blamed for spreading disease, for having too many children, and for essentially standing in the way of Puerto Rico’s proper Americanization. The fights waged over her sexual body became, Briggs argues, fights over Puerto Rican identity, political autonomy, ethnic equality, forced modernization, and Puerto Rican resistance. The Puerto Rican woman was the greatest battlefield in the titanic struggle over the island, which Briggs calls “the most important place in the world,” where she believes today’s essential debates over globalization issues are rooted in U.S. colonial attitudes.2

Americans saw prostitutes swarming over the men training to fight in World War I, posing their own venereal threat not just to the men but also to the women and children on the mainland, who would eventually be infected by the hapless victims of female Puerto Rican sexuality. U.S. incarceration policies on prostitution, Briggs argues, were one more supplement to colonial control and one more way Americans saw Puerto Ricans as foreigners, as people of lesser value to be kept apart from Americans, and as primitives who needed benevolent guidance. Puerto Rican women were either threats or weaklings needing protection. Islanders protested these prostitution policies, and Briggs sees in the rhetoric islander resistance not simply to the policies but also to the overall colonial project and later over their muddled citizenship.3

Americans saw overpopulation as also caused by these naturally promiscuous and illiterate women, prone to disease, doomed to poverty, and overly attached to the ideal of large hungry families. So, Briggs explains, American scientists developed new sterilization and birth control methods – diaphragms, contraceptive foams and jellies, and eventually the pill – and tested their effectiveness on Puerto Rican women, turning the island into “a social science laboratory.”4

II.

Throughout the Cold War, Briggs argues that Puerto Rico became a “political showcase,” advertising to Latin American nations vulnerable to Soviet seduction the beauty of a society that could result from an alliance (re: economic and military control) with the U.S. Puerto Rico was subjected to development projects — population control, industrialization, export control — again serving as a laboratory where models were analyzed before being sold to Third World nations.5

But the islanders had direct effects on the mainland too. Most importantly, Americans saw a huge post-World War II movement of Puerto Ricans into mainland cities, particularly into New York. The arrival of so many people in only a few decades permanently changed the racial and ethnic makeup of countless neighborhoods, sparked ethnic and political tensions, and re-engineered political activism. New arguments and alliances were born as these citizens struggled to live alongside Americans who saw them as anything but citizens and anything but white.

Overall, despite its strengths and creativity — particularly her intriguing view that the tentacles of colonization in Puerto Rico were only shorter and younger versions of the long American tentacles of globalization now strangling the globe — Briggs could have used a better editor to tighten a muddled narrative that often seems off balance and that could have been much shorter. Briggs often repeats the same points again and again, as if chapters were written months apart and she had to remind herself of the main thesis the latest chapter was supposed to be supporting. Also, the narrative needed more biographical sketches to bring alive the issues of sexuality, gender, and colonial victimization. Her ideas would have been so much more effective if the consequences of colonial decisions were shown in the wreckage of Puerto Rican lives, identities, and outlooks. Briggs bases her arguments on an impressive mountain of essays, books, and governmental studies. She complements a generally solid book with thirty-one pages of entertaining and informative notes and a 23-page bibliography.

One of the book’s best moments comes at the end, when Briggs argues that Puerto Rico illustrates “the explicit disalignment of the components of a nation.” The multidimensional identity of the Puerto Rican man and woman, Briggs seems to say, transcends maps, definitions of nationality, and concepts of national and international place. Imagine a map of the world laid out on a picnic table next to neatly typed definitions of every aspect of foreign affairs, U.S. government, and Latino identity. And then imagine the aurora borealis glowing in the night sky above. Puerto Rico, Briggs essentially argues, is the aurora. The rest of the world is the boring, ordered, defined arrangement on the table far below that celestial beauty.

Alternatively, the unique people of Puerto Ricans must find a unique solution to their unique “ethno-nation” quandary, effectively placing them on the cutting edge in terms of designing effective political entities for the twenty-first century. In that sense, at least, Briggs is absolutely right: Puerto Rico truly is the most important place in the world.6


1. Juan Gonzalez, Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America (New York: Penguin, 2000), 62-63. The Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 granted citizenship to all Puerto Ricans and established a three-branch government system. An online image of the bill is accessible here: http://tinyurl.com/93rbfx4. A PDF of the commonwealth constitution is accessible here: http://tinyurl.com/yjvo25z.
2. Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 194.
3. Briggs, 17.
4. Briggs, 9.
5. Briggs, 2.
6. Briggs, 195-196.