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VI Global migration/Mediterranean crossings

Caribbean borderlands and traveling theories Imperial frontier, translocal nations, federation of diasporas, planetary archipelago

Agustin Lao-Montes

This chapter addresses the topic of Border as category, process, and perspective, particularly from the political-epistemic lens of Caribbean critique from two angles:1 first, counterpointing Cuba’s and Puerto Rico’s national formations as translocal diasporic processes; and second, exploring the multiple meanings, interpretive possibilities, and critical values of several categories of Caribbean critical discourse: archipelago, creolization, crossroads, marronage, transcul-turation, and translocation. In this task, I follow the political-epistemic engagement that Edward Said and Maria Lugones characterized, from different angles, as Travel Theories. I also incorporate the perspective that Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson called Border as Method, wherein geo-historical categories are crafted to apprehend movement, process, and relationality beyond the confines of the nation-state, against what we call methodological nationalism. This engagement entails a situated cosmopolitanism, where local histories are explicitly linked to larger landscapes of power, knowledge, and culture.2

Long-distance nationalism: Forging Cuban & Puerto Rican nations from the world city

Puerto Rican writer Luis Rafael Sánchez, in his celebrated short story La Guagua Aérea (The Airbus), represents Puerto Rican nationality as taking place inbetween two shores of broken dreams, the archipelago of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican communities in the US. Sánchez’s narrative, which inspired a film with the same title, and many analyses about the multiple locations of Puerto Rican-ness, refers to the Puerto Rican condition as constituting a translocal nation, a trans-nation, or nation-on the move (as labeled by Jorge Duany) since the great migration after World War II, when almost half of its population moved to the US imperial territory between 1947 and 1960, representing the first major exodus by air in the world?

The phenomenon Benedict Anderson calls long-distance nationalism is much older for Puerto Rico and Cuba. The concept of long-distance nationalism refers to the leading role of intellectual-activists in exile for developing nationalist movements and discourses. In this vein, nations are forged to a large extent through processes of political organization and intellectual production of active exchange between activists living in metropoles with those in national territories. In this avatar, national formation and anti-colonial nationalisms are partly conceived and configured in translocal spaces in-between metropolitan centers and colonial places.

The Cuban Revolutionary Party was founded the year 1892 in New York City, to fight for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico, the two remaining colonies of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. Cuban and Puerto Rican flags were designed together in New York with the same red, blue, and white colors inverted between star and lines. Hence, the repeated phrase Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird, a verse from a 19th-century poem by Puerto Rican patriot Lola Rodríguez de Tío. In this tune, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the Afro-Puerto Rican who founded what still is the most important archive of the African Diaspora in the world, and Jose Marti, the most prominent ideological leader of the 19th-century Cuban revolution, arguably the sharpest anti-colonial intellectual in the fin-de-siécle invention of Latin America as a world-region, shared membership in the Two Antilles Club of the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York. Marti and Schomburg also participated in La Liga (The League), a mutual aid community association and political organization of Cubans and Puerto Ricans of African descent who gathered in early 20th-century New York City to advocate for full citizenship for the class of color, and to fight for the joint independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico, for their constitution as sovereign nation-states.

In his book Racial Migrations: New York and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean, Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof tells a story of Cuban and Puerto Rican Blacks such as Rafael Serra, Pachín Marin, Sotero Figueroa, and Manuela Aguayo, all leaders of La Liga, forging political communities building afro-diasporic, anti-colonial nationalist, and labor solidarities, crossing and transgressing imperial, state, capital, and territorial borders. Rafael Serra, a key leader of La Liga, born and raised in Cuba, was prominent in a translocal-transnational network of anarchist and socialist cigar makers, formed within a web of cities that included San Juan, Ponce, New York, Tampa/Ybor City, Havana, Matanzas, and Santo Domingo.

The intertwined histories of these two Antillean archipelagos reveals the entanglement of two borderlands or borderscapes - New York City and the Hispanic Antilles - in the hemispheric contact zone of the Americas. The project of the Federation of the Antilles, advanced by the most lucid anti-colonial (in present terms decolonial} voices of the time, such as Puerto Rican Ramón Emeterio Betances and Cuban Jose Marti, demonstrate the combination of national and regional formation, as in the terms patria chica (small motherland) and patria grande (big motherland), that more than a juxtaposition of nation-states, expressed a radical democratic will of regionality and community-making across national borders. The democratic and decolonial nature of the Antillean Federation Project, a 19th-century prime example of critical regionalism, was manifest in its antiracist, anti-imperialist, and radical republican character. (Rama)

Antonio Benítez Rojo’s concept-metaphor of the Caribbean as an island that repeats itself, signifying cosmopolitan geographies that disseminate subjectivities, cultural practices, and genres, social and political movements, beyond insular territorial boundaries, apprehends the joint historical production of Cuban and Puerto Rican anti-colonial nationalisms with political, cultural, and intellectual headquarters in New York. An emerging world city, New York was a polyvalent space of multiple encounters and straggles - of capital and labor, of western and subaltern modernities - a nodal space for communites of activism forging anticolonial nationalisms for two key island-spaces within the zone conceived in US imperial discourse as backyard, unwittingly within the territory of the nascent American empire. The islands repeated themselves in New York, the belly of the beast, as Marti said, paradoxically facilitating important cultural and political exchanges, constituting meaningful historical developments for the Caribbean archipelagos of Cuba and Puerto Rico, born as translocal nations. The translocal as a key category of traveling theory signifies not simply relational fields and spaces of power and culture beyond the local and the nation, but also the intersection of locations (gender, class, sexual, ethnic-racial, generational) which constitute and mediate the self. In this complex matrix, I frame the argument of Cuba and Puerto Rico as translocal nations (Lao Montes “Introduction”).

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