Santa Barbara of Samaná, 1869: the imperial gaze.

I am also finding my hard-drive swelling with illustrations which I cannot yet use in publications.  Hopefully, by sharing them here, these historical documents will soon find themselves useful to others.  The picture below, which appeared in the Harper’s Weekly (1869), in the eve of the 1870-71 Annexation Treaty with the U.S., illustrates a couple of lines I wrote in my book’s epilogue:

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Samaná shifted in the world’s imagination from a presqu’île with a useful gulf to a bay with a funky peninsula attached to it. This conceptual turn was the work of the Atlantic print culture (blogosphere) becoming progressively fascinated with the Samaná harbor. Foreigners invoked the term “Samaná Bay” even when they had the peninsula in mind, referring to it as an exceptional harbor that shortsighted Dominicans were ready to trade for temporary debt-relief.

Santa Barbara of Samaná, 1869.

Santa Barbara of Samaná, 1869.

The main purpose of this picture was to sell a particular image of Samaná to the public in the United States.

Notice that the view comes from the hill behind to the little town of Santa Barara of Samaná, and that the little cozy harbor lacks the walking bridge that today connects the islets. Like with any conqueror’s depiction, the purpose is not to highlight the human element, but to bring attention to natural resources. The obvious fertility is to show potential U.S. investors and speculators that their crops would yield good returns.  The little harbor here appears larger than what it really was (since then, it has been prepared for larger ships).  The message was that it would welcome all types of ships.  The people’s houses (or huts) are almost invisible because the fewer the better: more space for new buildings and northern settlers wanting to exploit the region’s natural resources.

12 Years a Slave and the Problem of Depicting Human Atrocities | Ana Lucia Araujo

12 Years a Slave and the Problem of Depicting Human Atrocities | Ana Lucia Araujo

Every now and then, thinkers and activists (of a certain kind) manage to convince producers to sponsor a film or TV show about the history of slavery that shocks the establishment. It does, not because the production is necessarily superior (it often is), but because it succeeds in inciting reflection of the intensity and current implications of slavery’s past. For many, the standard has long been Alex Haley’s novel and its inspired TV series, Roots, which transformed much of the intellectual and emotional landscape, not only in the U.S., but in Latin America and even Europe (even despite its controversies).

If college tests’ results, and media’s ignorance are any indication, I would say we need more of this and more often. Fortunately, this year we are witnessed to one of these films. I have not watched the film yet (I live far from any screening or showing), but by reading the criticism, summaries and being familiar with the primary source (autobiography) in which is based, it seems safe to think this film will add to the resources educators can use to bring life to the classroom and will stimulate much-needed intellectual discussion among lay people about a topic often cover by myth, fear and secrecy.

“12 Years” seems to markedly contrast with sweeter films like “Amazing Grace” (2006) in portraying the realities of racial oppression in more stark terms, to the point that Morgan Freeman, an actor in similar films (i.e., Glory 1989′ Invictus 2009) have publicly said he prefers not to watch it. He admitted that this type of film hits the amygdalae hard and there are limits in what a person like him can take of these hits. The crudeness of reality in this film apparently challenges our common practice of escapism in movie-watching.. It also forces watchers to make space for more anger and repulsiveness in their lives.

Time will tell the impact this film will have in the consciousness of people, in and outside of the U.S. As for me, I am eager to watch it, but should recommend reading the original source first, reviews and blogs like that of my colleague Ana Araujo.

Latino or Hispanic?

I wrote a response to a query in H-LatAm that may be of interest to people outside of the list. 

 This is the link to the original query:

 This is the link to my reply:

 Below is the text:


 Nelly and Neteros

 The most common and inclusive name in Academia seems to be this: “Latin American, Latino & Caribbean Studies.” You may want to add “Luso” to specifically refer to Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking America. The stand-alone title of “Caribbean Studies” often includes the Creole, Dutch, French and English speaking regions of the Western Hemisphere and its Diaspora. You may cover it all with such an agglomerate and bulky title. More recently some programs have attempted innovative approaches that use variations of “Western Hemispheric Studies.” As long as the constitution clearly specify that the program will focus on the legacy of those mentioned above, I would go for the latter choice.

But I suspect your concern is more about the terminology as used to classify a diverse group of (brown?) people in the United States. This question, like Puerto Rico’s political status, seems unanswerable, and thus, appears regularly, as a frustrated inquiring student, in forums and chats, hoping for elucidation. H-LatAm has engaged on it occasionally, showing, “mas o menos,” the same basic concepts (a short piece I published once: As a person that is classified as both, Latino/a and Hispanic, I once found it supremely aggravating. Now, I see it more from a distance.

The disadvantages of the term “Latino” are that it may refer to a dead (and imperial) language, and that is sexist. Those who prefer it see the term relating more to the Latino-American Diaspora (and this would refer to those dispersed in Europe, Australia-NZ, Africa and Asia too). They see the Latin Language far enough in time as not being a threat, and some would even be willing to risk altering the English Language by making the term more gender-inclusive: “Latino/a.” They would also point out that the term Hispanic comes from Nixon’s attempt to classify this growing “Other” as a form of control.

The main disadvantage with the term “Hispanic” is that it attempts to group people under a living language that not all use. More specifically, the reference is not so much to the Spanish Language, but to the Hispanic Culture, and thus a direct relation to the Iberian Peninsula as opposed to Latin America. And this is anathema to those with anti-imperial sensitivities and who know well that not all classified as such are Spanish speakers (indigenous languages abound, and most in the second and third generations speak “Spanglish” instead). However, this term is more widely use (thanks to the U.S. government) and it is more gender-neutral than the alternative.

I have not recently looked at the latest published debates on this topic, but a review we once published here has a short, but very scholarly discussion (if not global) of the issue, which I have not seen in other places: “Memories of the Future”

I wonder how the debate has changed, if it has (an interesting research could be to find out the changes it has taken through the years in our forum).

For me, personally, I see it as deciding between two bad choices. Naturally, I prefer the least problematic, and for me it is “Latino/a,” but others would see it differently.

 This may not answer the original question, but when these issues arise, I use them as teaching opportunities to show (students and administrators alike) that the term is not what matters, but the meaning we ascribe to it.


Dennis R. Hidalgo

History Department

Virginia Tech


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