Translating Empire

José Martí, Migrant Latino Subjects, and American Modernities

Translating Empire

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 7 illustrations Published: January 2009

Author: Laura Lomas

American Studies, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In Translating Empire, Laura Lomas uncovers how late nineteenth-century Latino migrant writers developed a prescient critique of U.S. imperialism, one that prefigures many of the concerns about empire, race, and postcolonial subjectivity animating American studies today. During the 1880s and early 1890s, the Cuban journalist, poet, and revolutionary José Martí and other Latino migrants living in New York City translated North American literary and cultural texts into Spanish. Lomas reads the canonical literature and popular culture of the United States in the Gilded Age through the eyes of Martí and his fellow editors, activists, orators, and poets. In doing so, she reveals how, in the process of translating Anglo-American culture into a Latino-American idiom, the Latino migrant writers invented a modernist aesthetics to criticize U.S. expansionism and expose Anglo stereotypes of Latin Americans.

Lomas challenges longstanding conceptions about Martí through readings of neglected texts and reinterpretations of his major essays. Against the customary view that emphasizes his strong identification with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, the author demonstrates that over several years, Martí actually distanced himself from Emerson’s ideas and conveyed alarm at Whitman’s expansionist politics. She questions the association of Martí with pan-Americanism, pointing out that in the 1880s, the Cuban journalist warned against foreign geopolitical influence imposed through ostensibly friendly meetings and the promotion of hemispheric peace and “free” trade. Lomas finds Martí undermining racialized and sexualized representations of America in his interpretations of Buffalo Bill and other rituals of westward expansion, in his self-published translation of Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular romance novel Ramona, and in his comments on writing that stereotyped Latino/a Americans as inherently unfit for self-government. With Translating Empire, Lomas recasts the contemporary practice of American studies in light of Martí’s late-nineteenth-century radical decolonizing project.


“Laura Lomas’s new book complements a strong body of work, by talented scholars with a transnational Americas focus, that has emerged in the first decade of the twenty-first century; important work by people like Kirsten Silva Gruesz, Robert McKee Irwin, and Rául Cortado, whose formal disciplinary locations vary widely, but who are chipping away at literary-historical verities and dramatically changing the understandings of the nineteenth century on this continent.” — Debra A. Castillo, The Americas

Translating Empire aims to show how indispensable Latino migrant translations have been to the imagining of American cultural and literary history. It is a task that captures in a small but convincing and eloquent way the mood of the moment, in which Barack Obama’s appeal, for example, to engage with Latin America on the basis of equality and mutual respect, a shared Americanness, appears to herald a new era of relations.” — Gavin O’Toole, Latin American Review of Books

Translating Empire is a provocative study that will reorient our understanding of the late nineteenth century, modernism, and transnational Latino writing, and of José Martí as an important cultural worker of the period who translated empire across and between many borders.” — Marissa López, Nineteenth-Century Literature

Translating Empire is an often provocative text that manages to pull off a difficult feat: saying something new about Martí. . . . Lomas’s rereading of Martí’s work is an expert account of his political commitments and his formal innovations, and it offers a compelling vision for the political vocation of Latino Studies and an anti-imperial American Studies.” — John Patrick Leary, Criticism

“Laura Lomas’s monograph is a superb contribution to the scholarship on José Martí and the ways in which he and other Latino authors in the late nineteenth-century United States laid the foundations for a critique of a rising United States by viewing its relationship to Latin America from their anticolonial perspective as migrants. . . . [A] highly original and timely presentation on an exciting and growing field of literary and cultural scholarship.” — Raúl Fernández, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Lomas’s magisterial study focuses on the writings and intellectual legacies of Cuban independence leader José Martí. . . . In the process, Lomas seeks to engage explicitly with contemporary theories and critiques of empire undertaken in American studies and inter-American modernisms in order to instantiate a ‘genealogy of alternative American modernities’(ix).” — Lázaro Lima, American Literary History

“Lomas’s most valuable contribution in Translating Empire is the foregrounding of Martí’s lesser-known works. Examining Marti’s career as a journalist and translator during his fifteen-year stay in the United States, Lomas adds greatly to our understanding of a migrant Latino consciousness with roots deep in the nineteenth century.” — John Morán González, American Literature

“At a time when transnational cultural and economic flows preoccupy scholars and politicians, and debates on immigration rage in the media and in the halls of Congress, Laura Lomas returns us to the rich writings of José Martí. Lomas’s Martí is not just the towering intellectual and Cuban independence leader familiar to scholars of Latin American culture, but also a Latino migrant who thought deeply about the workings of the U.S. empire, about immigrants, and about how the imagination can shape a truly democratic future in the Americas. Lomas is a sensitive and learned reader of Martí and one of our very best guides into his vast corpus. She creates the conditions for Martí’s aladas palabras (winged words) to soar for legions of new readers.” — David Luis-Brown, author of Waves of Decolonization

“This beautifully written and meticulously researched book significantly broadens what most U.S. Americanists will know—and will think they need to know—about José Martí. Laura Lomas’s arguments about the imbrication of modernist experimental form with imperial modernity are provocative and likely to be widely discussed.” — Kirsten Silva Gruesz, author of Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Laura Lomas is Assistant Professor of English Literature and American Studies at Rutgers University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Criticar es Amar: Translation and Self-Criticism ix

Introduction: Metropolitan Debts, Imperial Modernity, and Latino Modernism 1

1. Latino American Postcolonial Theory from a Space In-Between 41

2. La América with an Accent: North Americans, Spanish-Language Print Culture, and American Modernities 83

3. The "Evening of Emerson": Martí's Postcolonial Double Consciousness 130

4. Martí's "Mock-Congratulatory Signs": Walt Whitman's Occult Artistry 177

5. Martí's Border Writing: Infiltrative Translation, Late Nineteenth-Century "Latinness" and the Perils of Pan-Americanism 216

Conclusion. Cross-Pollinating "Dust on Butterfly's Wings": Latina/o Writing and Culture Beyond and After Martí 278

Notes 285

Bibliography 347

Index 375
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Winner, 2009 MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4325-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4342-4
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