Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Representations of Race, Entanglements of Power: Whiteness, Garveyism, and Redemptive Geographies in Costa Rica, 1921–1950
by Leeds, Asia, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2010, 152; 3449004
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the making of race and the politics of belonging in Costa Rica between 1921 and 1950, during a period of shifting racial borders and entangled terrains of power. While the idea of “racial democracy” and official discourses of mestizaje (racial mixing) predominate in Latin America, Costa Rica has been long held as a unique country in Central America with an exceptional social geography characterized by “whiteness” and homogeneity. Employed in the United Fruit Company enclave in the Atlantic region of Limón since the late nineteenth century but not formally granted citizenship until 1949, persons of British West Indian origin posed alternative claims to racial belonging, based heavily on the language and ideas of Garveyism—the Pan-African political philosophy of Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The surge of anti-imperial protest against the United Fruit Company in the 1920s and the subsequent renegotiation of the Company's contract in 1934 transferred the centers of banana production from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, where “persons of color” were prohibited from employment. This process re-drew the borders of the nation and initiated the “Costa Ricanization” of Limón. Theorizing Limón as a borderland formed by the encounters of U.S., Central American, and Caribbean ideas of race, this dissertation maps the convergences and divergences of two distinct yet interwoven articulations of racial citizenship in Costa Rica; one West Indian, Garveyite, and black, and the other criollo-identified and white.

Utilizing interdisciplinary research methods and critical theories of race and diaspora, this project employs an analytical lens that engages the national and transnational politics of race, and the relationship between space, power, discourse, and visual culture in the making and contestation of racial belonging. This dissertation draws from the fields of African Diaspora Studies, Latin American Studies, Intellectual History, Cultural Geography, Women's Studies, and Media Studies to analyze the languages, logics, signifiers, and imageries of racial belonging, reading newspapers and petitions as “counterarchives” and key sites where Costa Ricans and West Indians forged cultures of redemption and contours of citizenship, putting them on the record.

Introducing the concept of “redemptive geographies,” the discursive spaces and territorial claims in which Costa Ricans and West Indians negotiated modern subjectivity and “diasporic” identity, this dissertation examines the re-mapping of the European and African diasporas alongside articulations of belonging to the Costa Rican nation. Costa Ricans re-formulated criollo whiteness and re-inscribed a mythology of homogeneity based on an identification with the Spanish settlers of the colonial past. The idea of national whiteness reinforced the outsider status of West Indians and was also an anti-imperial critique of the power of United Fruit in the country, which effectively reduced them to the status of colonized non-whites. Plagued with the problems of placelessness, lack of citizenship, and misrepresentation as savage threats to the Costa Rican nation, West Indians “invented” Africa in particular ways, highlighting legacies of greatness and civilization through the poetics and imageries of Garveyism to articulate black modernity and Afro-Costa Rican identity.

A key function of the dissertation is to highlight the internal hierarchies and exclusions that underpin the making of these redemptive geographies, complicating the notion of looking at history from below. I examine the ways Costa Rican and Garveyite ideologies of racial belonging invoked ideas and discourses of respectability, upstanding morality, and honorable behavior that drew interior borders along the lines of class, culture, gender, and sexuality. Defining and representing female honor was critical to producing and reproducing the authentic national body. I not only investigate the imageries of womanhood, motherhood, and femininity—including the frequent photographs of women featured in the newspapers—but I also analyze the ways that women theorized their own place within the projects of redemption.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Taylor, Ula Y.
Commitee: Allen, Robert L., Maldonado-Torres, Nelson
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: African American Studies
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 72/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Black history, Latin American history
Keywords: Costa Rica, Diaspora, Garveyism, West Indians, Whiteness
Publication Number: 3449004
ISBN: 978-1-124-55381-8
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