Spanish Colonialism and its Effect on Cuban Identity
Environmental historian Alfred W. Crosby (1989) describes the Encounter in his essay, “Reassessing 1492”, otherwise known as the-discovery-of-the-Americas, as a sudden and boisterous event, likening it to “The Big Bang”. Before I delve into his explanation and defense I must add that the use of the term, Encounter, was intentional and used to describe a more truthful and egalitarian event in history. Crosby, much like Edward W. Said (1993) understood the importance of a narratives perspective in historical literature, especially during the Encounter of the Amerindians, to be one that told more about the narrator than its subject, the other.
Crosby suggests that in order to understand the influence and magnitude of change the Encounter should at some point be seen as a scale of time:
To find changes comparable to those wrought by Columbus and friends we have to go back beyond recorded time to the divisions between the periods of geological history. These were characterized by great geological changes-the meeting or separation of continents, the rising up of mountains, the draining or filling of inland seas, – and sometimes by large numbers of extinctions and the proliferation of new species. (p.665)
The Spanish colonization of Cuba changed the country geologically and possibly more notably, culturally, with the massacre of the Taino natives and the creation of a new species, The Cuban.
Before Cuba became Spain’s last colony Cuba was inhabited by Native Americans known as the Taino. Not much is known about this group other than they knew their land, farming, and fishing, hunting and gathering to sustain their lives on the island. Columbus’ exploration brought continents together and the encounter between the Taino and Spaniards had grave effects on the Taino population. Within a century the Taino were nearly extinct due to oppression and lack of immunity from disease brought by the Europeans. Death, some may even claim genocide, coupled with the importing of African and Chinese slaves and the immigration of European business men, other than the Spanish, would be the beginning of a new breed of man, The Cuban.
In the fifteenth century Spain had become a super power and empire that sought to expand its territories. Spain had perpetuated imperialistic ideals, something not new to history but significantly successful at an opportune time. This empire had grown and with the advancement of technology succeeded through colonization. Columbus and those that traveled to these distant colonies would be the voice, the narrators of a story that would become historical literature. This culture would describe from their perspective what they saw but more importantly how they saw it.
Said (1994) believed that the ideological theories that support and ground imperialism and colonization are the,“notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination’’(p.9). I would go even further and suggest that once a group of people are dominated these ideological beliefs become true for the dominant party and accepted as truth; Stockholm syndrome, creating a new culture of people. In Cuba’s case this did not take long to take effect. They were a small group of people in comparison to Spain and did not have guns, horses and ships. Cuba was Spain’s last colony and considered by Spain to be La Siempre Fidelísima Isla (“The Always Most Faithful Island”).
Cuba did not become significant to Spain until the 1800’s. Before this time a new culture had already been created. Blacks, Whites, Chinese even Mexicans were mixing and cultures were crossing and influencing each other. Cuba had already begun trading with their neighbors, the United States. Once Spain’s Caribbean territories began to revolt and create civil unrest; seeking independence from Spain; Spain began to use Cuba to manufacture and produce sugar amongst other things. Thereafter Cuba became a leader in the production of sugar.
Perhaps it was the economic growth or independent ideals spread by far reaching lands or even the need for an identity outside of Europe. Whatever the true power behind Cuba’s fight for independence was, fight they did. However, this small country did not fight alone and sought a powerful ally; The United States. This ally was no different however from Spain and held very similar imperialistic and colonial ideals that Cuba would learn much later were being fed to them not by the literal chains of slavery they once knew but by commercialism and capitalism.
The product of hundreds of years of dominance by Spain made The Cuban less sustainable, hungry for capital, and susceptible to be being over taken by a more powerful country. Nevertheless, like Said said, history cannot be completely wiped away, the Taino were still alive within the Cuban, and for that matter Cuba did not stop fighting for their independence no matter how large their opponent was. They wrote their own history and forged their own future without an imperialistic power. They created new ideologies that did not see race as significant, produced national pride through Cuban heroes and supported their people by providing free education and healthcare. This new man, The Cuban recreated himself.