Walking New York, Creating Nueva York: The 1820s US through Cuban Eyes

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:30 PM
Room 402 (Colorado Convention Center)
Ernesto Bassi, Cornell University
During the 1810s and 1820s political circumstances forced a number of Spanish Americans to flee their homelands and relocate—some temporarily, others permanently—in different cities of the growing United States. Spanish-speaking communities, thus, began to appear in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and New Orleans. In what most of them perceived as their temporary abodes, these Spanish-speakers actively pursued the political agendas that had brought them to the U.S. While living abroad, they also experienced their host cities on a more personal, intimate level. This paper explores the way in which a small group of Cuban exiles experienced New York. Focusing on the New York adventures of poet José María Heredia, journalist José Antonio Saco, and political figures Tomás Gener and Félix Varela, the paper offers a Hispanic reading of New York, Philadelphia, and other cities and sites of the northeastern United States. Based mostly on personal correspondence and newspaper articles, this paper reconstructs the exile experiences of these Cuban intellectuals as they take me by the hand through the avenues, buildings, parks, and monuments of New York (as well as Philadelphia and Washington). In doing so, their experiences make feasible an early Latino reading of U.S. cities, while also creating a Latino version of the cities these exiles inhabited. In addition, by interpreting these cities through their Cuban eyes, these exiles subvert the conventional perspective that emphasizes the view from “imperial eyes,” a view that stresses difference and European superiority. In the writings and experiences of Heredia, Saco, Gener, Varela, and many other Cubans, Mexicans, Colombians, Chileans, and Ecuadorians, European superiority is informative but not the norm. Their U.S. experiences make possible to uncover an interpretation of 1820s New York that turns it into Nueva York.
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