Spanish and Portuguese | Seminar in Hispanic Studies
S708 | 25822 | D. Cohn

Professor Deborah Cohn

S708	Seminar in Hispanic Studies

Topic: “So Close to the United States”: Anxieties of Race, Nation,
and Imperialism in Mexico and the Caribbean

TR 2:30pm – 3:45pm/class# 25822/3 cr./Room TBA

U.S. expansionism into Mexico and the Caribbean in the 19th and 20th
centuries was, as scholars such as George Handley, Amy Kaplan, José
Limón, and others have demonstrated, inextricably linked to notions
of (white) racial supremacy and doubts about the capacity for self-
government of “non-whites.”  Rigid ideas about race in the U.S.
(e.g., the “one drop rule”) were exported to and imposed on the
newly-acquired Mexican territories as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico,
where attitudes towards race and ethnicity had historically been
more elastic.  As the color line became more inflexible, anxieties
about racial mixing (miscegenation and mestizaje) heightened, and
citizens of “mixed” background found their ability to participate in
local politics—and even be recognized as social and political agents—
curtailed at moments when efforts at characterizing and asserting
national identity were on the rise. In the case of the Mexican
territories, Suzanne Bost has argued that “'mestizos' of the
Southwest were racially unintelligible in a system designed to
support the racial hierarchies of U.S. slavery and whose ‘criteria
of intelligibility’ were, in the 1850 and 1860
censuses, ‘white,’ ‘black,’ and ‘mulatto’” (648), leading her to
conclude that “nineteenth-century census forms suggest that U.S.
national interests demanded the exclusion of Mexican or Latin
American identity from the borders of the American body” (649).
Handley, in turn, has analyzed how race-based “plantation discourse,
always dependent on structures of colonialism, wedded itself to the
growth of U.S. imperialism [into the Caribbean] after emancipation”

This course explores the treatment of race and ethnicity, and the
role of race and ethnicity in nation-building projects, in the
former Mexican territories and the Caribbean in the shadow of U.S.
imperialism. Questions that we will address include:  what role is
afforded to race (relations, conflict, miscegenation) in the
representations and constructions of regional and national
identity?  how does the plantation and its legacy factor into these
representations of collective identity? how are the political
relations between the U.S. and the Caribbean characterized, and to
what extent does race play a role in these relations?  what are the
privileges afforded to citizenship?  to what extent and in what
manner are the latter inflected by race? in what ways are notions of
blackness or mestizaje, on the one hand, and whiteness, on the
other, interwoven and interdependent?  We will read nineteenth- and
twentieth-century works that address these issues; the work of U.S.-
based writers who engage with these issues will also be included.