Black in Latin America

270 pages

50 illustrations

September, 2012

ISBN: 9780814738184

$23

Paper

Also available in

Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and holder of the distinguished title of Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of twelve books, including several award-winning works of literary criticism as well as the memoir Colored People; The Future of the Race, co-authored with Cornel West; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and Tradition and the Black Atlantic. Gates has hosted ten PBS television specials, including Looking for Lincoln and the two part series, African American Lives, upon which his book In Search of Our Roots (2009) was based. He is winner of the 2009 Ralph Lowell Award for Outstanding Contributions to Public Television and the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Non-Fiction.

All books by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Selected as a 2012 Outstanding Title by AAUP University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World during the Middle Passage. While just over 11.0 million survived the arduous journey, only about 450,000 of them arrived in the United States. The rest—over ten and a half million—were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. This astonishing fact changes our entire picture of the history of slavery in the Western hemisphere, and of its lasting cultural impact. These millions of Africans created new and vibrant cultures, magnificently compelling syntheses of various African, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish influences.

Despite their great numbers, the cultural and social worlds that they created remain largely unknown to most Americans, except for certain popular, cross-over musical forms. So Henry Louis Gates, Jr. set out on a quest to discover how Latin Americans of African descent live now, and how the countries of their acknowledge—or deny—their African past; how the fact of race and African ancestry play themselves out in the multicultural worlds of the Caribbean and Latin America. Starting with the slave experience and extending to the present, Gates unveils the history of the African presence in six Latin American countries—Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Peru—through art, music, cuisine, dance, politics, and religion, but also the very palpable presence of anti-black racism that has sometimes sought to keep the black cultural presence from view.

In Brazil, he delves behind the façade of Carnaval to discover how this ‘rainbow nation’ is waking up to its legacy as the world’s largest slave economy.

In Cuba, he finds out how the culture, religion, politics and music of this island is inextricably linked to the huge amount of slave labor imported to produce its enormously profitable 19th century sugar industry, and how race and racism have fared since Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in 1959.

In Haiti, he tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic, and finds out how the slaves’s hard fought liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire became a double-edged sword.

In Mexico and Peru, he explores the almost unknown history of the significant numbers of black people—far greater than the number brought to the United States—brought to these countries as early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the worlds of culture that their descendants have created in Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Chica region on the Pacific, and in and around Lima, Peru.

Professor Gates’ journey becomes ours as we are introduced to the faces and voices of the descendants of the Africans who created these worlds. He shows both the similarities and distinctions between these cultures, and how the New World manifestations are rooted in, but distinct from, their African antecedents. “Black in Latin America” is the third instalment of Gates’s documentary trilogy on the Black Experience in Africa, the United States, and in Latin America. In America Behind the Color Line, Professor Gates examined the fortunes of the black population of modern-day America. In Wonders of the African World, he embarked upon a series of journeys to reveal the history of African culture. Now, he brings that quest full-circle in an effort to discover how Africa and Europe combined to create the vibrant cultures of Latin America, with a rich legacy of thoughtful, articulate subjects whose stories are astonishingly moving and irresistibly compelling.

Reviews

  • “An amazing travelogue that swiftly transports the reader from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries through the racial histories of Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., brilliantly describes the formation of these New World societies as they evolved from colonialism and slavery into complex national communities with rich and vibrant Creole cultures. This is an essential book that helps us understand the similarities and differences between post-slavery societies in the Americas today.”

    —Frank Moya Pons, author of History of the Caribbean: Plantations, Trade, and War in the Atlantic World

  • “A fascinating and engaging journey through past and present, this book offers us a rich portrait of the complexities of race as it is lived in contemporary Latin America. Gates is the perfect guide, sharing his insights, emotions and surprises with eloquence and candor.”

    —Laurent Dubois, Duke University, and author of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

  • “Henry Louis Gates, Jr., leads us on a country-by-country tour exploring the recesses of blackness in well-known and lesser-known regions of Latin America, surprising us at every turn with his findings. Through the pages of the book, we embark upon a process of historical discovery, learning as Gates does from his informants and sources. Accessible, witty, insightful, and informative, both for its regional coverage and its comparative analysis, this book will be welcomed by scholars and laypersons alike.”

    —Ben Vinson III, Johns Hopkins University

  • "Gates expands his focus on the black experience in Latin America...While Gates’ tour reveals a burgeoning brown (mixed-race) pride, it also reveals lingering valuation of lighter skin."

    Booklist

  • "In approaching this vast topic, Gates displays disarming modesty and enthusiasm; his tone is that of a letter from a perceptive friend who can't wait to share what he's learned."

    The New Yorker

  • "Gates doesn't linger in the past. Through music, cuisine, art, dance, politics, religion and language, he finds living links to Africa...would be an interesting companion to any guidebook for the Caribbean and Latin America."

    —Jennifer Kay, Associated Press

  • "An entertaining alternative to the chronologically framed textbook...in a folksy vernacular [the book] recounts a great range of historical events and actors, offering a wonderful level of detail without overly challenging the novice audience."

    —Micol Seigel, The Journal of American History

  • "An entertaining alternative to the chronologically framed textbook, [Gates's] approach has its advantages."

    —Micol Seigel, Journal of American History

  • "it offers general readers a snapshot perspective on the history and life of New World blacks and legacies of slavery, plantation economics, and poverty"

    Library Journal

  • "Black in Latin America provides a different in-depth survey of the African migration to the New World."

    The Midwest Book Review

  • "Black in Latin America would be an interesting companion to any guidebook for the Caribbean and Latin America,as it reveals not just a hidden history but also an evolving sense of identity."

    Associated Press

  • Black in Latin America is a lively and intelligent introduction to the complex history and reality of race in Latin America. Readers accompany Gates as he travels across the region interviewing scholars, activists, cultural figures, and ordinary people who share their insights and experiences—often surprising, at times painful—of how creolization, discrimination, and anti-racism have evolved historically and are lived in the present.”

    —Ada Ferrer, author of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898