A microhistory of racial segregation in Cienfuegos, a central Cuban port city
Founded as a white colony in 1819, Cienfuegos, Cuba, quickly became home to people of African descent, both free and enslaved, and later a small community of Chinese and other immigrants. Despite the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity that defined the city’s population, the urban landscape was characterized by distinctive racial boundaries, separating the white city center from the heterogeneous peripheries. A Cuban City, Segregated: Race and Urbanization in the Nineteenth Century explores how the de facto racial segregation was constructed and perpetuated in a society devoid of explicitly racial laws.
Drawing on the insights of intersectional feminism, Bonnie A. Lucero shows that the key to understanding racial segregation in Cuba is recognizing the often unspoken ways specifically classed notions and practices of gender shaped the historical production of race and racial inequality. In the context of nineteenth-century Cienfuegos, gender, race, and class converged in the concept of urban order, a complex and historically contingent nexus of ideas about the appropriate and desired social hierarchy among urban residents, often embodied spatially in particular relationships to the urban landscape.
As Cienfuegos evolved subtly over time, the internal logic of urban order was driven by the construction and defense of a legible, developed, aesthetically pleasing, and, most importantly, white city center. Local authorities produced policies that reduced access to the city center along class and gendered lines, for example, by imposing expensive building codes on centric lands, criminalizing poor peoples’ leisure activities, regulating prostitution, and quashing organized labor. Although none of these policies mentioned race outright, this new scholarship demonstrates that the policies were instrumental in producing and perpetuating the geographic marginality and discursive erasure of people of color from the historic center of Cienfuegos during its first century of existence.
List of Illustrations
A Note on Terminology
Introduction: Urban Orderand Racial Exclusion
1. A White Colony in the Age of “Africanization,” 1790–1830s
2. A Town of Racial Enclaves, 1840–1860s
3. Freedom and Marginality in a Divided City, 1860–1890s
4. Negotiating Exclusion in the Historic City Center, 1890s
5. Consolidating a White City Center under US Rule
Conclusion: Reclaiming Urban Space in the Early Republic
Bonnie A. Lucero is an associate professor of History and director of the Center for Latino Studies at the University of Houston-Downtown. She is the author of Revolutionary Masculinity and Racial Inequality: Gendering War and Politics in Cuba and coeditor of Voices of Crime: Constructing and Contesting Social Control in Modern Latin America.