Waves of Decolonization

Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States

Waves of Decolonization

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: Published: October 2008

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Waves of Decolonization, David Luis-Brown reveals how between the 1880s and the 1930s, writer-activists in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States developed narratives and theories of decolonization, of full freedom and equality in the shadow of empire. They did so decades before the decolonization of Africa and Asia in the mid-twentieth century. Analyzing the work of nationalist leaders, novelists, and social scientists, including W. E. B. Du Bois, José Martí, Claude McKay, Luis-Brown brings together an array of thinkers who linked local struggles against racial oppression and imperialism to similar struggles in other nations. With discourses and practices of hemispheric citizenship, writers in the Americas broadened conventional conceptions of rights to redress their loss under the expanding United States empire. In focusing on the transnational production of the national in the wake of U.S. imperialism, Luis-Brown emphasizes the need for expanding the linguistic and national boundaries of U.S. American culture and history.

Luis-Brown traces unfolding narratives of decolonization across a broad range of texts. He explores how Martí and Du Bois, known as the founders of Cuban and black nationalisms, came to develop anticolonial discourses that cut across racial and national divides. He illuminates how cross-fertilizations among the Harlem Renaissance, Mexican indigenismo, and Cuban negrismo in the 1920s contributed to broader efforts to keep pace with transformations unleashed by ongoing conflicts over imperialism, and he considers how those transformations were explored in novels by McKay of Jamaica, Jesús Masdeu of Cuba, and Miguel Ángel Menéndez of Mexico. Focusing on ethnography’s uneven contributions to decolonization, he investigates how Manuel Gamio, a Mexican anthropologist, and Zora Neale Hurston each adapted metropolitan social science for use by writers from the racialized periphery.


Waves of Decolonization represents an important contribution to the scholarly literature on the twentieth-century Americas. Luis-Brown’s argument about the formulation of a hemispheric citizenship is original and important, and will surely be debated and expanded in future work by other scholars writing about transnational politics in the Americas.” — Lorrin Thomas, H-Net Reviews

“[Luis-Brown] pulls together close readings of the work of Zora Neale Hurston and Manuel Gamio, two students of Franz Boas, one African American and the other Mexican, and both interested in the relationship of cultural production and migration. This juxtaposition (like many others in the book) is compelling, as are the careful exposition and the final call for new transnational histories of the Harlem Renaissance. The study’s potency, though, relies on the smallish series of tantalizing connections the author finds. Luis-Brown establishes the hemisphere as a political thing, as a collaborative, impactful political unit.” — Matthew Pratt Guterl, American Quarterly

“[W]ill appeal to readers interested in sociopolitical understandings of race, citizenship, and nation in postcolonial and global contexts.” — Manuella Meyer, Ethnohistory

“Luis-Brown’s study contributes to our understanding of how black and brown intellectuals, writers, and activists responded to European and American colonialism. . . . All scholars of the black diaspora and American Studies ought to read his literary, historical and theoretical study.” — Philip A. Howard, American Historical Review

“One of the strengths of Luis-Brown’s argument resides in the narrative of decolonization he reads onto the various sites of epistemic resistance that characterize much—though certainly not all—of the inter-American national archives he puts in conversation with each other. At its best, his work forces a reimagining of how cultural production must be read in relation to the emergence of imperial domination without hegemony.” — Lázaro Lima, American Literary History

“There is great value in following Luis-Brown as he retraces the tangled origins of hemispheric citizenship. . . . [T]he book brilliantly magnifies the tissues connecting decolonialist minds while it dissects their texts. Perhaps most satisfyingly, Waves of Decolonization offers a sweeping and novel way of thinking about intersecting currents among Mexican, Cuban, and African American author-activists. It is a shining example of thoughtful and comparative scholarship that points the way to a more global, Du Boisian vision of American studies.”
— John Nieto-Phillips, Journal of American Ethnic History

Waves of Decolonization is convincing in its argument for a transnational, decolonizing approach to American studies. It is accessible, grounded, and thorough. It will equally captivate researchers and students of this hemisphere and anyone interested in an alternative understanding of this hemisphere’s intertwined history and destiny. Luis-Brown’s approach is a refreshing and very necessary shift away from the national, ethnolinguistic, and racial boundaries that have most often defined American, African American, Latino, Mexican, Mexican American, Cuban, and Caribbean studies.” — Kenya C. Dworkin y Méndez, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[An] insightful and thought-provoking series of essays. . . . David Luis-Brown’s primary goal is to expand conventional readings of the selected writers, interrogating their contributions to the complex processes of nationalism, decolonization, anticolonialism, neocolonialism, and notions of hemispheric citizenship. He accomplishes this by deftly weaving together literature, history, and biography. . . . Waves of Decolonization can be rewardingly read across a wide range of academic disciplines.” — Franklin W. Knight, Journal of American History

“Careful not to conflate the demands of specific social movements, Luis-Brown lucidly delineates their connections, as, for example, in his discussion of how key figures of the Harlem Renaissance engaged Mexican Revolutionary cultural politics. . . . The last two chapters on primitivism and ethnography, respectively, chart the early-twentieth-century cultural turn that rejected essentialist theories of race while retaining a charged concept of the ‘primitive.’ Luis-Brown underscores the protean ideological valence of each of these discourses; his discussion of the complex positions on race and foreign policy in the ethnographic work of Zora Neale Hurston and Manuel Gamio is a tour de force.” — Claire F. Fox, American Literature

“David Luis-Brown’s meticulously researched Waves of Decolonization contributes much to the nascent but growing field of transnational and hemispheric studies. . . . The author posits crucial, substantive questions, employing a comparative interdisciplinary methodology with far-reaching implications. In doing so, his study advances and contributes to the continuing transformation of American Studies.” — Maria del Carmen Martinez, EIAL

“Luis-Brown must be commended for his ambitious, multidisciplinary approach. The sheer breadth of understanding he displays about so-called ‘native’, ‘primitive’, or auto-ethnographic works of literature, visual art, and political prose issuing from the Americas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is staggering. . . . David Luis-Brown has written an innovative book which will usefully engage academics and students concerned with Afro-American, American, or comparative literature as well as Caribbean, Mexican, ‘post’ colonial, and transnational studies.”
— James Cullingham, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“This insightful study uses a much-needed hemispheric approach to track the listed groups’ reaction to the imperial whirlwind. Meticulously researched and documented, the book presents a literary-historical analysis covering the period from the 1880s to the 1930s. . . . In Waves of Decolonization, Luis-Brown has woven a rich tapestry of the anticolonial and anti-imperial discourse that accompanied the consolidation of U.S. hegemony. The book is a valuable contribution to scholars, students, and laypersons working in such varied fields as American, African, ethnic, Caribbean, and Latin American studies.” — Jorge Chinea, History: Reviews of New Books

“From his perceptive reconsideration of the role of mestizaje in the writings of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Helen Hunt Jackson, to his astute analysis of the redeployments of sentimentalism and primitivism by W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Nicholás Guillén, David Luis-Brown’s careful research and thoughtful critiques demonstrate the necessity of thinking beyond the nation, of viewing race and empire from hemispheric and global perspectives. Waves of Decolonization is at one and the same time a radical revision of our hemisphere’s literary history and proof of the possibility of a post-nationalist and post-imperial American studies.” — George Lipsitz, author of Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music

“With Waves of Decolonization,David Luis-Brown practices rather than prescribes a transnational American studies, going beyond the purely thematic level to engage with other languages, cultures, and literary histories. Luis-Brown presents a vast amount of literary material and many cross-cultural connections that will be unknown or little known to scholars in U.S. American studies, while he also contributes new understandings of familiar and canonical writers.” — Anna Brickhouse, author of Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David Luis-Brown is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and English at Claremont Graduate University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction. Waves of Decolonization and Discourses of Hemispheric Citizenship 1

1. "White Slaves" and the "Arrogant Mestiza": Reconfiguring Whiteness in The Squatter and the Don and Ramona 35

2. "The Coming Unities" in "Our America": Decolonization and Anticolonial Messianism in Martí, De Bois, and the Santa de Cabora 67

3. Transnationalisms against the State: Contesting Neocolonialism in the Harlem Renaissance, Cuban Negrismo, and Mexican Indigenismo 147

4. "Rising Tides of Color": Ethnography and Theories of Race and Migration in Boas, Park, Gamio, and Hurston 202

Coda. Waves of Decolonization and Discourses of Hemispheric Citizenship 241

Notes 245

References 301

Index 329
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4366-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4365-3
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