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 Roots of Caribbean identity
 The Hispanaphone Caribbean
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Title: Introduction to Popular culture, national identity, and migration in the Caribbean
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Title: Introduction to Popular culture, national identity, and migration in the Caribbean
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Carnegie, Charles V.
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    Roots of Caribbean identity
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    The Hispanaphone Caribbean
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    Migration and cultural identity
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Full Text

Introduction to Popular Culture, National Identity, and Migration

in the Caribbean.

Helen I. Safa

Charles V. Carnegie

Center for Latin American Studies
University of Florida


Introduction to Popular Culture, National Identity, and Migration in the



Identity Lost or Identity Found?

The idea that the cultural identity of Caribbean peoples is somehow

problematic has been around for so long and been upheld by such a variety

of writers that it has became almost an axiom. Certainly, at least some

of the apprehension about Caribbean identity is founded in an insiduous

racism that eventually came to justify the continued subjugation of an

African slave labor force in the New World. It is easy on this account to

dismiss the doubting remarks of observers like the historian of the

Jamaican Maroon wars, Dallas, who, in his book published in the early

nineteenth century, asserted: "the notion of a free, active, negro

republic does not seem to have any reasonable foundation."(1) On similar

grounds, one might disregard Froude's convinced assertion nearly a century

after: "Give them independence, and in a few generations they will peel

off such civilization as they have learnt as easily and as willingly as

their coats and trousers." (2)

It is less easy to dismiss the considered opinions of more recent

scholars who point to other peculiar features of Caribbean identity.

Anthropologist Michael Horowitz, for instance, in his introduction to the

widely used Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean notes that: "West

Indian nationalism as it emerged after the Second World War differed from

the early nationalists of Ireland, India and the Arab lands, and the


contemporary nationalisms of Africa and other parts of Asia, in its

general avoidance of nativism and the evocation of its own past. The

metropolitan colonial country remains the model of intellectual excellence

in the Caribbean."(3) Such an observation is less easily dismissed

because it speaks to seemingly unarguable empirical observations: the

apparent reluctance to break the colonial connection in some parts of the

Caribbean-Puerto Rico and the French Antilles, for example-and the

continued cultural dependence on the metropolis even in those countries of

the region that have attained political independence.

An incident drawn from newspaper accounts in the Second World War

might help drive home the point Horowitz makes. The British Colonial

Office in 1940 invited a delegation of newspaper journalists from the West

Indian colonies to London to observe the war effort from the vantage point

of its camnand center; it was, presumably, a public relations effort to

garner further support for the war in the colonies. The delegation of

eleven travelled a circuitous route, via Canada, New York, and Bermuda, to

London. In one of those ironies of the colonial experience, the six

noticeably non-white editors in the group, who were in a few days to meet

Prime Minister Churchill himself, were refused accanodations in Bermuda in

a fourth class hotel while their 'white' colleagues were put up overnight

at the island's finest. Writing in the press to protest their treatment

one of the newspapermen declared: "I was profoundly shocked to find on

landing in Bermuda that there is one place in the Empire where the fight

for democracy and all it stands for is considered of secondary

importance."(4) The basis of his outrage was as a loyal subject to the



Crown. The noted Caribbean author, V.S. Naipaul, holds that: "Nothing.

was generated locally; dependence became a habit," while David Lowenthal,

a careful student of the region, suggests that West Indians are lacking in

self-confidence. (5)

Indeed, not only is the collective consciousness of Caribbean peoples

held to be insecurely founded, some of the most influential models of

these societies (especially those colonized by the British, Dutch, and

French) posit that they are a patchwork of non-yet-sewn-together

fragments. Herskovits' fixation on an Afro-American cultural universe,

and M.G. Smith's description of distinct plural social segments, are cases

in point.

the creolization process through which a distinctive cultural and

national identity is forged has long been felt to be more advanced in the

Hispanophone Caribbean. Scholars point, for instance, to the ascendancy

of the Spanish language in marked contrast with the multi-lingual and

diglossic speech cannunities in other parts of the Caribbean. Yet even in

the Hispanophone areas the identity question has not been unproblematic.

As will be shown later, these societies continue to be uncomfortable about

the position of those of darker skin color and of African cultural

retentions within the wider national entity. It has been a thorny problem

as much for novelists and poets as it has been for the societies as a

whole, as Jose Alcantara shows in his review of Dcainican literature in

this volume.

Nor has the issue of race been the only factor seen as threatening to

cultural identity in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. In his portentously

1 6, 1

. 6


titled Requiem por una Cultura Eduardo Seda Bonilla laments that Puerto

Rican values of family and community life, the rich popular poetic and

philosophical tradition, and much else are in imminent danger of being

lost (much as Tasmanian and other cultures have perished) in the face of

Puerto Rico's incorporation into the United States imperial sphere.(6)

Given this pessimistic history of the identity idea in the Caribbean,

it is quite striking that the contributors to this volume, representing

several parts of the Caribbean and a variety of disciplines, write from

the perspective of an already assured cultural identity. With detachment,

Rex Nettleford treats the hyphenated notions of the Caribbean

("Anglophone-Caribbean," "Afro-Caribbean," etc.) as artifacts of

intellectual history. He goes on to posit that the underlying "African

presence" has stamped Caribbean culture with such fastness that it has

been able repeatedly to enrich music, dance, art, and much else in the.

Caribbean itself and in the metropolitan world. Juan Flores demonstrates

the tenacity of Puerto Rican identity even under the bombardment of New

York City life, and suggests ways in which the Puerto Rican presence is

contributing to the emergence of new cultural configurations in the

metropolis itself.

The tenor of discussion has shifted fran musings over whether

Caribbean culture exists at all and what does it consist in if it does, to

a dialogue among Caribbean voices about how the region's culture might

assist in redefining the direction of national and regional development

strategies. Angel Quintero Rivera's examination of one aspect of the

Caribbean collective unconscious-the opposition between city and

countryside, and the veneration of the rural ideal-and Jean Casimir's

discussion of how Creole languages and family forms were inventions that

allowed Caribbean peoples to carve out same independent space for

themselves in a colonial context, have the effect of encouraging

indigenous reflection on things cultural and of having that reflection

lead to self-conscious transformation in social life. In a similar vein,

Aggrey Brown's paper initiates discussion on how the mass media might

either be abused or used effectively as organs for a two-way dialogue

between leaders and populace, and for giving expression to Caribbean

cultural forms.

Many of the contributors show very clearly the degree to which

scholars have came to appreciate in the last few years the strength of

Caribbean 'folk' cultural forms. Erna Brodber, for instance, points to

the wide national and international recognition that Jamaican popular

music has attained, while Juan Flores draws on the subtleties of

code-switching in Nuyorican poetry, a mode of expression long thought to

be impoverished, to tell of the dynamic of present-day Puerto Rican

culture, in the metropolis.

It is not so much that the problematic issues raised by earlier

writers are no longer present; rather, the perspective on them has

changed. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, for instance, in showing how debate

over a homogeneous versus a heterogeneous national culture has played

itself out in Cuban literature over the past three decades, removes

entirely the analytical presupposition that a viable national culture need

necessarily be monolithic. The papers by Casimir, Brodber, Brown and


Gonzalez Echevarria all suggest in various ways how the presumed

ambiguities of Caribbean cultural identity are less a reflection of an

ill-formed culture than an indication of multi-ethnic, class stratified

societies whose elites have either found it in their interest to adopt

aspects of the cultures of their colonizers, or to deny recognition to

their own "folk" culture.

On another level, the differences of interpretation have to do with

how the concept of culture is being used. In Seda Bonilla's Requiem ...,-

at least part of the author's despair comes from his not recognizing the

dynamic quality of culture. By contrast, Juan Flores and Rex Nettleford,

for example, perceive clearly that it is because of this dynamic quality

that Caribbean culture has been able to triumph and to make for viable

adjustment to new settings.

Indeed, precisely because they were primarily slave societies in

which the maintenance and establishment of public institutions

(government, forms of organization for production, etc.) was prevented,

and other overt forms of cultural expression discouraged, the cultural

system that did emerge in the Caribbean has a surreptitous quality that

challenges our skills of social observation and analysis.(7) With Flores'

and Nettleford's contributions that stress adaptability we have further

corroboration of a perspective that has been developing in the past few

years which identifies innovation in artistic form, option building and

flexibility in economic pursuits and social relations as pivotal cultural

principles in Caribbean life.(8) Anthropologist Lee Drummond(9) has even

gone so far as to suggest a theory of "intersystems" that would account


for the multiplicity of cultural symbols put together from seemingly

distinct cultural/ethnic groups which people in the Caribbean routinely

plug into. Drummond suggests that Caribbean culture works much like

creole languages do. He argues, based on Derek Bickerton's work on

Guyanese Creole, that the approach, borrowed from structural linguistics,

which sees cultures and languages as discrete, rule-governed systems is

inappropriate for understanding creole systems in which speakers

habitually employ different sets of grammatical rules from both the

standard and the creole language.

So, too, in Guyanese and Caribbean culture Drummond suggests that the

long history of interaction between various ethnic groups has led to a

continuum of physical features and a blurring of group boundaries. In

these societies what would otherwise be regarded as bounded systems are

all part of a larger cultural system in which transformations routinely

occur between one and another 'sub-system'. Adjustment and adaptability

are key elements of the system and people are accustomed to cultural

symbols that appear ambiguous to the outsider only because their meaning

shifts according to social context.

It is fitting, then, that we are now beginning to recognize more

clearly that one of the very features of Caribbean culture that seemingly

gives evidence of -its insecure foundation is in fact a root principle of

the system that has served the social needs of these oppressed peoples

most effectively.



Roots of Caribbean Identity

What, may we ask, are the reasons behind this new-found confidence in

the viability and validity of Caribbean culture? What has happened in the

post-war period to foster a new sense of Caribbean nationhood and cultural


The papers in this volume give us a clue, but we need to go beyond

them to look at the historical determinants of the concept of cultural

identity in the Caribbean. This concept has evolved quite differently in

the Anglophone and Hispanophone Caribbean (although they share a common

history of colonialism and plantation slavery). In particular, race has

played a far more important role in the formation of cultural identity in

the Anglophone Caribbean, than in the Hispanophone islands. At the same

time, several post-war events have helped to stimulate the development of

cultural identity in both areas, such as migration, the Black Power

movement in the U.S. and the Cuban revolution. We shall discuss below the

impact of these and other factors on changing cultural identity in these

two areas of the Caribbean.

The Non-Hispanic Caribbean

In the Anglophone Caribbean, race is a cornerstone of national

identity. This is evident in both the papers by Nettleford and Brodber in

this volume, who address the issue of black consciousness in the Caribbean

and Jamaica in particular. They also note how this comparatively new

I I 'I

interest in Afro-Caribbean culture marks for the elite a decided shift

from the Eurocentric orientation of the past.

The roots of this Eurocentric orientation go back to a creole

colonial society which assigned all racial and ethnic groups a rank order

within a system of sharp status group differentiation. Creole society was

in turn based on the highly hierarchical and absolutist rule of slave

plantations, which strove to strip blacks (and later indentured laborers

from Asia) of their cultural heritage and impose European notions of white

racial superiority upon them. As R.T. Smith (10) has noted, creole

society was rooted in the political and economic dominance of the

metropolitan power, was color stratified, and was integrated around the

-concept of the moral and cultural superiority of things English.

The nature of race relations in the colonial society of the

Anglophone Caribbean has to be understood in terms of power. With the

full development of the plantation system, blacks far outstripped the

small white planter class on most of the islands. This planter class was

largely absentee, and never developed a strong Creole orientation.(11) In

order to maintain control under these conditions, the dominant planter

class excluded blacks from any form of political participation in the

society. Even freemen were denied basic rights such as

property-ownership, voting or office holding because of fear of any black

political base. An intermediate mulatto buffer group, as developed in

Hispanophone Caribbean, emerged very slowly, and like the planter class,

was thoroughly oriented toward European values and culture. Nevertheless,

this mulatto group was never really accepted into white colonial society,


with its strong racist bias, and only succeeded in alienating itself from

the black masses. This weakened the development of a sense of national

identity in the Anglophone Caribbean and led to a cultural split between

the brown elite and the black masses, who retained strong elements of

African identity and culture. This split formed the basis for the

continuing struggle today between official, elite culture and the popular

culture in the Anglophone Caribbean, described by Brodber and Casimir.

By denying their African heritage and emphasizing their cultural

whiteness over a nationalist image, the mulatto Creole elite lacked an

alternative ideology on which they could build .a separate style of life in

opposition to that of the colonial power. This elite was frightened by

figures like Marcus Garvey, who appealed to black nationalism, and they

resisted any appeal to racial solidarity as a basis for national identity.

The weak nationalist sentiment of this elite helps explain why the process

of independence of the Anglophone Caribbean did not begin until the


Why, then, do we now see an apparent change in favor of racial

solidarity and black pride in the Anglophone Caribbean? Though political

independence has not led to economic or cultural autonomy, it has forced

the Creole elite to turn to the black masses as a political constituency

rather than sharply differentiating themselves as they did previously.

They must shed the old symbols of colonial rule and replace them with new

national symbols which incorporate the people. Although Brodber tells us

that some politicians in Jamaica preferred to downplay racial issues, they

could not continue to govern on the basis of their cultural whiteness.

Since colonial society was based on the superiority of white European

culture, these newly independent states had to reject this notion in favor

of the affirmation of black racial identity. In the Anglophone Caribbean,

blackness has come to symbolize nationhood, because there is no other

basis on which a new national or cultural identity could be built. This

is one of the reasons why Trinidad and Guyana, with important East Indian

populations, have had such difficulty coming to grips with their national

identity and continue to manifest sharp ethnic divisions.

Another reason for the renewed interest in Afro-Caribbean culture in

the Anglophone Caribbean is the political independence of many African

states in the post-war period. Brodber notes that as these African

countries shed their colonial ties and took part in Third World political

fora, they served increasingly as points of identification for Caribbean

peoples anxious to recover their African past. The civil rights and black

power movement in the U.S. had similar consequences. The new

self-confidence with which Black Americans viewed themselves and their

rejection of the superiority of white middle class values was reflected in

the Caribbean, particularly among migrants who had participated in these

movements.(12) As we shall see, the interest in civil rights and black

power in the U.S. is only one indication of the way migration has

increased the racial consciousness of the Caribbean population.

One could argue that there is greater convergence between official

and popular culture now than in the past in the Anglophone Caribbean, with

wider acceptance of Afro-Caribbean patterns of speech and dress, and a

renewed appreciation of Afro-Caribbean cultural forms in music, dance and


even religion. Brodber reminds us of the pivotal role played by

Rastafarianism in maintaining black consciousness in Jamaica during

periods of colonial censure, and of its importance in the revival that the

"Culture of Dread" is now undergoing throughout the Anglophone Caribbean.

As she notes, the popular recognition in Jamaica of the late singer and

composer, Bob Marley, as a national hero is one manifestation of this

important shift away from a European orientation of the elite toward an

Afro orientation of the folk.

In Jamaica, this resurgence of Afro-Caribbean culture is manifest in

a variety of art forms, ranging from the National Dance Theatre of Jamaica

directed by Rex Nettleford to the pop music described by Brodber. Many

writers like Nettleford note that the essence of Afro-Caribbean identity

is to be found in popular music and dance, and certainly these have long

been areas of significant diffusion and intermingling among the various

Caribbean islands. Music and dance could transcend boundaries erected by

language and state regulations. In his eloquent description of these

various art forms, Nettleford notes the influence of various neighboring

Caribbean countries like Haiti and Cuba on this resurgence of interest in

the Afro-Caribbean heritage.

Nettleford stresses that these Afro-Caribbean art forms are not

reproductions of Africa, but native innovations stemming from a "cammon

ancestral source." In a similar view, Casimir argues that neither Africa

nor Europe represent the source of Caribbean culture, which instead is to

be found in the indigenous Creole cultures developed under colonialism and

slavery symbolized by language. Casimir maintains, for example, that

Creole preceded French as the lingua franca in Haiti, while French has

only been maintained by the elite in order to separate themselves from the

Creole-speaking masses. Casimir's paper is a powerful indictment of the

Creole elite in the Caribbean for failing to recognize the validity of

tneir own culture in order to maintain their own class superiority.

The Hispanophone Caribbean

In the Hispanophone Caribbean, the sense of cultural identity is

based less on race, than on language, religion, and other aspects of

Spanish culture. As in the Anglophone Caribbean, cultural disengagement

from the mother country was never complete, despite the breaking of

political and economic ties. This Spanish heritage included the

superiority of white skin and culture, but in the Hispanic Caribbean,

racial divisions were never as strong as in the Commonwealth

Caribbean. (13) In part, this is due to the later development of sugar

plantations in the Hispanic Caribbean and the lesser numerical importance

of black slaves as a percentage of the total population. By the time

slaves were imported-in great numbers into Cuba and Puerto Rico in the

19th century, they could be incorporated into an already developing creole

culture, in which a free colored class played an important part. This

creole culture attempted to integrate blacks into a hierarchical social

order and did not exclude them on the basis of skin color as in the

Anglophone Caribbean. The possibilities for assimilation were thus much


The idea of racial and cultural synthesis as a basis for societal


integration in the Hispanic Caribbean emerged on the hacienda, which, as

Quintero Rivera describes, "fostered a paternalistic conception of the

fatherland ( patria ) as an all embracing family: a stratified family

under the control of the "padre de agrego" -the hacendado -but, family

nonetheless." Quintero Rivera's article in this volume notes how in

Puerto Rico this paternalistic social order of the hacienda tried to

incorporate artisan workers and slaves into this sense of family, thereby

weakening the development of class and racial solidarity. Contemporary

politicians like the late Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin, have

continued to utilize the notion of "la gran familiar puertorriquena" to

great advantage in their effort to build multi-class coalitions on the


It would seem that the anti-state, anti-urban ethos which Quintero

Rivera analyzes in Puerto Rico is present not only in the working class,

but among hacendados as well. In the-19th century they struggled against

onerous Spanish state regulations that hampered their commercial

development, which was symbolized in the struggle between Ponce, governed

by hacendados, and San Juan, the center of Spanish bureaucracy on the

island. Hacendados led the opposition to Spanish rule, but were seriously

weakened by the American occupation of 1898. In their defense against

this new and far more powerful form of colonialism, the Puerto Rican

elite-including many of the Puerto Rican intelligentsia-have sought

refuge in the evocation of a real or imagined rural past, based on the

19th century hacienda social order. Thus, the celebration of rural life,

through the jibaro or la isla in Puerto Rico not only represents freedom

.1 ((


from state control for the working class (embodied in the 18th century

concept of cimarronerIa or maronage) but nostalgia for the lost world of

the 19th century hacienda, in which a creole elite held local hegemony and

formed the basis of national identity. Today Puerto Rico's national

identity is severely threatened by United States' political and economic

domination and cultural penetration. This has led the Puerto Rican

intelligentsia to reaffirm their Spanish or Creole roots-often symbolized

by the rural world of the hacienda-as a defense against U.S. cultural


Gonzlez Echevarria in his article, also refers to the concept of a

rural patriarchal order as a basis for racial and cultural synthesis in

his analysis of the idea of identity in contemporary Cuban poetry. The

rural patriarchal order is present in Vitier, a member of the Origenes

group of pre-revolutionary Cuban poets, but is replaced in the

post-revolutionary poetry of Sarduy by a more egalitarian, pluralist view

of culture into which enter the various groups that make up Cuban culture,

including, of course, the Afro-Cuban. According to Gonzalez Echevarria,

Sarduy's vision of culture is modeled, not on the Christian patriarchal.

family, but on Afro-Cuban religions that had to rebuild themselves under

the most adverse circumstances. There is no master text nor hierarchical

social order in which all characters (African slaves, Antillean blacks

from the other Caribbean islands, Chinese coolies), assume their appointed

role, but a form of "religious bricolage" of heterogeneous elements whose

cohesiveness depends on constant adjustment and flexibility.

Sarduy's vision of culture is strikingly similar to what Drummond


proposes with his theory of intersystems, drawn from Creole linguistics.

It abandons the notion of racial and cultural synthesis in favor of a

cultural system based on heterogeneous elements "that will never

relinquish their quilt-like relationship to each other."(14) Drummond

suggests a Creole metaphor of culture that "replaces invariance with

transformation, boundedness with internal variation, and centre with

periphery." (15) But what is the basis of integration in such a

heterogeneous, free floating culture? It is quite different frame M.G.

Smith's model of cultural pluralism, in which distinct plural social

segments are held together by force. That force in the Caribbean was

colonialism, which embodied the myth of white European superiority. In

-the Hispanophone Caribbean, it took the form of racial and cultural

synthesis, which permitted the assimilation of black and other

non-European groups into the Creole framework. If we reject the notion of

synthesis, on the grounds that it is still based on Hispanic domination,

are we not negating the notion of a unitary culture with a canmon cultural

identity? How can Afro-Caribbean culture assume its rightful place as an

important element of cultural identity in the-Hispanic Caribbean without

being subsumed in the notion of synthesis?

Cuba presents an interesting case in this regard, because of its

political as well as cultural uniqueness. Many Caribbean scholars(16)

maintain that Cuba had the most developed sense of cultural identity and

nationhood in the area, in part due to its protracted and bloody struggle

against Spain from 1868-1878. It also has a strong Afro-Caribbean

culture, replenished by the importation of antillanos from Jamaica and

~I r

other Anglophone islands during the latter part of the 19th century and

Haitians in the early 20th century. Now, how is Cuba dealing with the

question of cultural identity under socialism?

Fidel Castro has publicly pronounced that Cuba is an Afro-Latin

country. Critics claim this is only rhetoric that Castro is using to

promote his ties with African nations and his legitimacy as a Third World

leader. They claim that Afro-Cuban culture is repressed in Cuba, and no

longer enjoys cultural vitality.(17) Others maintain that

Afro-Caribbean culture is thriving in Cuba, that it is no longer a culture

of defense or rebellion, but a symbol of national pride.(18) Surely a

socialist revolution such as Cuba has experienced can no longer seek its

cultural identity in a patriarchal social order of the past. Socialism

does permit it to repudiate colonialism and the superiority of white

culture without raising the question of race on its own and directly. But

it must find another basis for social unity, one in which Afro-Caribbean

culture will hopefully not be subsumed under a new form of domination as

in the past.

The Cuban revolution gave new impetus to the search for national

identity in other areas of the Caribbean, because it demonstrated the

extent of U.S. domination, in cultural as well as economic terms. (19)

The ability of Cuba to stand up to the U.S. superpower strengthened the

hand of the Caribbean intelligentsia who sought to reaffirm national

values in opposition to U.S. cultural and economic domination. This can

be seen clearly in Alcantara's analysis of black images in Dominican

literature. Because of its proximity to Haiti and bitter memory of

Haitian occupation, racist attitudes in the Dominican Republic have been

particularly strong. In fact, the Dominican sense of nationhood has been

formed in opposition to the black republic of Haiti, and it has

historically defined itself as white, Catholic and Spanish. (20) The

Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, could even attempt to deny his

blackness with the slaughter of 30,000 Haitians in 1937. During those

years, the Dominican Republic had to defend itself against dictatorship,

bitter civil strife and American occupation. The fall of Trujillo in 1961

signalled a cultural renaissance in which, according to Alcantara,

sociopolitical questions dominate, but the old thesis of the black's

inferiority was also debated and revised. One of the most significant

results is a new generation of black Dominican writers depicting

Afro-Caribbean culture as they see it, as opposed to the largely white

perspective of the past.

We do not mean to imply that the search for national identity and the

interest in the Afro-Caribbean heritage started with the Cuban revolution.

Although the revolution undoubtedly gave new strength to these movements,

their historical roots go back much earlier in the century, to the

Afro-Antillean movement.in Cuba, the negritude movement in the

French-speaking Caribbean and the Garvey movement in Jamaica and other

parts of the Anglophone Caribbean (and Cuba, where the Garvey movement

had many followers). Then, as now, the Caribbean was reacting to U.S.

influence and control, which ranged from the mass media to direct military

occupation. Then, as now, interest in the Afro-Caribbean heritage was

stimulated by the development of socialist and social democratic movements



championing the popular classes.

Migration and Cultural Identity

The article by Jose del Castillo and Martin Murphy points to the

importance of migration for the formation of cultural identity in the

Dominican Republic, and by extension, to the rest of the Caribbean.

Though most attention is now given to Caribbean emigration to the U.S.,

they also document the importance of immigration from Europe, the Middle

East and the other Caribbean islands to the Dominican Republic,

particularly during the 19th and early 20th century. The apparent ease

with which these various immigrant groups were absorbed into Dominican

society reaffirms the strength of the "assimilation model" in the Hispanic

Caribbean, rooted in the vitality of the local Creole culture.(21) The

assimilation model provided a framework for racial and cultural synthesis

incorporating not only Afro-Caribbean elements but various other ethnic

groups as well.

The greatest challenge to this assimilation model now canes from two

sources: massive Haitian immigration to the Dominican Republic, primarily

as sugarcane laborers, and large-scale Dominican emigration to the U.S.,

again chiefly as unskilled labor. Given the traditional hostility toward

Haitians and the fear of being overrun by blacks, Haitian immigration may

be contributing to the heightened emphasis on Spanish ideology in the

official culture and among the intellectual elite, noted in the article by

Del Castillo and Murphy. On the other hand, Dominicans who have emigrated

to the U.S. are experiencing a new form of black racial consciousness

resulting from their discrimination in the U.S. as a group for the first

time.(22) It will be interesting to see whether the assimilation model

can withstand these challenges, which pull it in opposite directions, or

whether the concept of racial and cultural synthesis will be questioned in

the Dominican Republic as well.

Increased racial consciousness is also evident in Flores' analysis of

Puerto Rican identity in the U.S. Puerto Ricans have identified with

blacks more than other Hispanic migrants in the U.S., perhaps because they

now share a common history of ghetto culture and exploitation, which other

minority groups are only beginning to undergo. This is more evident in

the music, dance and poetry coming out of this shared experience, than in

-political struggles, which still tend to be quite divisive despite efforts

to unify these important minority groups. In Flores' terms, Puerto Rican

identity in the U.S. signifies a rejection of assimilation into the

dominant core culture, and a thrust "toward self-affirmation and

association with other cultures caught up in comparable processes of

historical recovery and strategic resistance."

The reasons behind this ethnic revitalization movement among

Caribbean migrants to the U.S. have been analyzed by Safa elsewhere(23).

Undoubtedly the barriers to assimilation, particularly race, led these

ethnic groups to reject cultural assimilation into a society from which

they had always been structurally excluded as equals. Flores posits a new

formulation of cultural integration, one which even rejects cultural

pluralism as a model since it still implies fitting into a given ethnic

mosaic. While the basis for his rejection of the dominant culture is

largely political, Flores appears to share a concept of culture close to

that of Sarduy, with its emphasis on the maintenance of distinct cultural

elements which relate to each other in the form of a bricolage. But the

questions raised earlier regarding the basis for social integration

remain, and become more acute in the U.S. setting. Can ethnic minorities

in the U.S. maintain a notion of cultural and racial separatism in the

face of the powerful and pervasive pressures toward assimilation?

Certainly the history of the Black Power movement in the U.S. suggests

eventual accanodation, although on the basis of greater self-respect and

self-esteem. Perhaps separatism is a necessary stage in the formation of

a positive self image among racial and ethnic minorities who have long

been-noppressed and debased by the dominant culture.

While one can understand the political need for Flores' call for

ethnic separatism and revitalization, there are several questions arising

from his analysis. First, how does Flores' image of amalgamation among

Third World ethnic groups in the U.S. take into account the bitter

conflict now existing among these groups, even among Hispanics like Puerto

Ricans and Dominicans, and of course Cubans, who see themselves as largely

middle class and still resist identification as an ethnic minority?

Undoubtedly migration has stimulated the emergence of a wider

pan-Caribbean identity, as migrants lose their island particularism and

are subjected to similar racial and ethnic stigmas and processes of

proletarianization in the U.S. Again, the sense of unity and

intermingling may be more evident in the arts (which Flores emphasizes)

than in political or economic terms, where competition between groups is


still the norm.

Secondly, what are the importance of class and generational

differences in the formation of Puerto Rican identity in the U.S.? Flores

speaks primarily for the Nuyorican, born and bred in the barrios of New

York City, for whom Puerto Rican popular culture is as much an expression

of increasing class consciousness as of national identity. He does not

speak for the island-born Puerto Ricans who continue to see return to the

island as the solution to their problems. Nor does he speak for the

significant proportion of middle-class Puerto Ricans in the U.S., who can

more easily assimilate into the dominant culture and do not, as Flores,

reject this as a goal. Their primary emphasis on upward mobility forces

them to accomodate to U.S. values.

Thirdly, how can ethnic separatism persist in the face of the

increasing xenophobia now gripping the U.S. as a result, in part, of the

influx of migrants and refugees from the Caribbean, Latin American and

Asia.? The 1980 Cuban refugees from Mariel along with the Haitian boat

people and the continued influx of undocumented aliens from Mexico and

Central America has made many people in the U.S. feel that the country has

lost control of its borders, and by extension, its very identity. This

identity was predicated for a long time on the superiority of white

Anglo-Saxon culture, which writers such as Flores and others are now

challenging by calls for resistance to assimilation and ethnic


While the racist implications of the myth of Anglo-Saxon superiority

need to be challenged, there is a danger that increasingly polarization


- 4 I


will lead to a backlash against all immigration, as well as attacks on

bilingual education and other programs designed to benefit Puerto Ricans

and other migrant groups. Immigrant groups are changing the nature of

U.S. society, but we need to find a new basis for social unity and

cultural identity in which these diverse groups can be accomodated.

Conclusion: Cultural Policy and Cultural Identity in the Caribbean

Undoubtedly, the search for cultural identity in the Caribbean is

made more acute by the massive exposure to the U.S. in the current period.

This exposure is facilitated by Caribbean migration to the U.S.,

particularly the circulatory type which is increasingly the norm in most

areas. Some scholars feel migration will only result in deculturation and

a loss of cultural identity, while others argue that it may be

contributing to the cultural revitalization and increased recognition of

the Afro-Caribbean heritage in the region. The intense debate among

Puerto Rican scholars on the validity of a "separate" Nuyorican culture is

illustrative of the problem. For Flores and others, Nuyorican culture is

no longer regarded as a mere offshoot of the island, but as a new cultural.

expression with its roots on the island.

With the exception of Puerto Rico and possibly Cuba, Caribbean

governments have tended to ignore the impact of migration on the cultural

identity and even socio-economic structure of the sending society. In the

Dominican Republic, for example, the official view tends to regard most

migrants as poor rural folk, whose loss does not represent a great drain

to the society. Their only value is seen in the large-scale remittances

in-U.S. dollars which help to bolster the nation's faltering economy.

This view is obstinately upheld, despite an increasing number of studies

documenting the urban, middle class nature of the migration, not only from

the Dominican Republic, but also other Caribbean areas.(24)

The other threat to cultural identity in the contemporary Caribbean

is the massive influence of the U.S. mass media, analyzed in the paper by

Aggrey Brown. While the influence of the U.S. mass media is not new to

the region, it has grown with the increasing technical sophistication of

these media manifest in satellite broadcasting, home video viewing, cable

TV and other electronic devices. The cost of this new technology has put

it beyond the reach of most small producers, including local governments

-in-the Commonwealth Caribbean who are increasingly forced to rely on relay

transmissions, with the result that 85 percent of all programming

originates outside the area.

There is a real danger that the massive cultural penetration which

the mass media represents will suffocate the resurgent forms of

Afro-Caribbean culture described by Nettleford and others. Yet Brown

notes that political leaders in the Commonwealth Caribbean seem

unconcerned with this threat to their cultural identity, and have tended

to utilize the media for their own partisan political concerns. The same

is true of the Hispanic Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba, where

government control of the mass media is carefully exercised. In fact,

there is probably a longer history of exposure to the U.S. mass media in

the Hispanic Caribbean, since the ties to Britain somewhat shielded the

Anglophone islands in the pre-independence period. (25)

Till now, the Caribbean has managed to retain a sense of cultural

identity despite centuries of colonialism and foreign domination. In

fact, we have argued that the sense of cultural identity is stronger than

ever, as manifest in the fluorescence of Afro-Caribbean popular culture,

and the resilience of Creole identity. But, increasingly, as the paper by

Del Castillo and Murphy points out, Caribbean nations are being asked to

define what is meant by criollo, to define the nature of creole culture

and to determine its historical origins. The definition of criollo can no

longer be subsumed under notions like la gran familiar puertorriquena based

on a rural patriarchal order of the past. The Caribbean can no longer

turn exclusively to Europe (or the United States) for its cultural models.

It must look to its own Afro-Caribbean roots to nourish indigenous forms.

In this search, cultural policy can play a critical role in encouraging

the development of indigenous forms of popular culture and in revealing

the racist and Eurocentric bias in the models of the past.

In this brief essay, we have tried to point out some of the major

issues with which such a cultural policy must deal. It must pay more

attention to the historical roots of cultural identity in the Caribbean,

with particular emphasis on the Afro-Caribbean contribution which has been

so long neglected in both the Anglophone and Hispanophone areas. It must

examine the impact of major events such as the Cuban revolution (and

conversely the Grenada invasion) on Caribbean people's sense of self-worth

and self-awareness. And it must look at the changes which migration is

bringing about in the Caribbean concept of nationhood and national




1. Cited in Gordon K. Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought.

Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1983, p. 106.

2. James Anthony Froude, The English in the West Indies. New York:

Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888, p. 287.

3. Michael Horowitz, ed., People and Cultures of the Caribbean.

4. The Voice of St. Lucia, for example, carried several items about

the incident. The citation is from a letter published in The

Voice of November 13, 1941 from the editor of the Barbados

Advocate newspaper.

5. V.S. Naipual, "Power to the Caribbean People." In, David

Lowenthal and Lambros Comitas editors, The Aftermath of

Sovereignty: West Indian Perspectives. Garden City, New York,

Anchor Books, 1973, and David Lowenthal, West Indian Societies.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

6. Eduardo Seda Bonilla, Requiem por una Cultura. Rio Piedras,

Puerto Rico: Editorial Edil, 1970.

7 See, for example, Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, An

Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past: A

Caribbean Perspective. Occasional Papers in Social Change 2.

Philadelphia: ISHI, 1976.

8. Charles V. Carnegie, "Strategic Flexibility in the West Indies:

A Social Psychology of Caribbean Migration." Caribbean Review

II, (1), 1982.

9. Lee Drummond "The Cultural Continuum: A Theory of Intersystems."

Ian. Vol. 15, June 1980, pp. 352-274.

10. R.T. Smith, "Social Stratification, Cultural-Pluralism, and

Integration in West Indian Societies," in Caribbean Integration:

Papers on Social, Political and Economic Integration. Rio

Piedras, Puerto Rico: Institute of Caribbean Studies, University

of Puerto Rico, 1967. pp. 226-258.

11. Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean. New York: Oxford University


12. Constance Sutton and Susan Makiesky, "1iigration and liest Indian

Racial and Ethnic Consciousness," in Migration and Development,

H. Safa, ed. Chicago: Aldine, pp. 113-145.

& 4 W* ,


13. Franklin Knight, op. cit.

14. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, this volume "Literature and Cuban

Cultural Identity: Sarduy reads Vitier."

15. Lee Drummond, op. cit.. p. 370.

16. See for example, Franklin Knight, op. cit. Sidney Mintz,

op. cit.. Gordon Lewis, op. cit.

17. For a scathing attack'on Castro's policies toward Afro-Cuban

culture, see Antonio lenitez Rojo, "La Cultura CaribeiTa en Cuba:

Continuidad versus Ruptura." Cuban Studies, Vol. 14, (1),

Winter 1984.

13. The pro-Castro viewpoint is.presented by the well-known Cuoan

writer and ethnographer, 'iiguel Barnet, "The Culture that Sugar

Created." Hispanic American Literary Review, Vol. VIII, ;Io. 16,

Spring-Summer 1980, pp. 33-46.

19. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, "Literature of the Hispanic

Caribbean." Hispanic American Literary Review, Vol. VIII,

No. 16, Sprin--Suamer 1980, pp. 1-20.

w .' -


20. Frank Moya Pons, "Dominican National Identity and Return

Migration," Occasional Paper No. 1. Caribbean Higration

Program, Center for Latin American Studies, University of

Florida. Gainesville, Florida, October 1981, pp. 23-33.

21. Sidney Hintz, "Caribbean Nationhood: An Anthropological

Perspective," in Caribbean Transformations. Baltimore: The

Johns Hopkins University Press, paperback edition 1984.

22. Frank Iloya Pons, op. cit.

23. Helen I. Safa, "Caribbean iligration to the United States," in

Different People: Studies in Ethnicity and Education. E.'Gumbert,

ed., Atlanta: Center for Cross-Cultural Education, Georgia State

University, 1983.

24. David Bray, "Strategies of Industrialization and International

Labor Migration: A Comparison of Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the

Dominican Republic, 1945-75." Paper presented at the IX annual

meeting of the Caribbean Studies Association, June 1984.

25. Franklin W. Knight, "United States Cultural Influences on the

English-speaking Caribbean during the Twentieth Century."


Working paper #11, Centro de Investigaciones del Caribe y America

Latina (CISCLA), Universidad de Puerto Rico, San German, Puerto


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