Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantations to the Slums
Inspired by Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz, Dr. Rafael Ocasio diverged from the traditional tourist paths of Cuba and wandered into the Black neighborhoods of Havana in search of “real” Cuban music. With a winning smile he easily made friends. They introduced him to music, food and to some extent the religious customs often hidden from mainstream Cuban society. He even had his fortune told. Fascinated, he wanted to learn more.
Not far into his research of 20th century Afro-Cuban culture, Dr. Ocasio discovered that very little scholarship on Afro-Cuban culture in the 19th century existed. The more he dug the more he realized that heavy censorship prevented the Costumbristas, writers who capture and define regional customs, from accurately illustrating the experiences of Black slaves and freed Blacks. Even without interference from the government, which wanted to protect the institution of slavery and control the Cuban image, few of the white male writers enchanted by the emerging Afro-Cuban culture could see beyond stereotypical images of Blacks in Cuba.
Rafael Ocasio’s latest book, Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantations to the Slums, explores how Cuban Costumbristas reported on the African traditions in the Black slave and freed Black populations. He highlights the common images that were used in literature and identifies the customs and characters that were left out of these portrayals of Cuban life. Dr. Ocasio also examines how the African traditions shaped Cuban culture, especially in the musical and religious traditions of Cuba.
Students immersed in the process of researching their senior seminar topic or gathering information for their first college-level research paper may be impressed that this energetic professor spends much of his free time researching and writing. Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo took Dr. Ocasio three years to research and write. During the school year, he relied on texts obtainable through interlibrary loan and when classes were not in session, he traveled to libraries that possessed slave manuals, guides produced by the Catholic Church on how to evangelize to new Black slaves, and other 19th century writings about Cuba that were too fragile to travel through interlibrary loan. Since few databases contained articles about the topics that interested Dr. Ocasio, he combed through the footnotes and the bibliographies of the works he did find so that he could discover other related sources.
Though Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo is fresh off the press, Dr. Ocasio already is on to his next work. Collaborating with Calvin Burgamy for technical support, Dr. Ocasio is creating an iBook on Latin American cinema that will be used as a textbook for his course. In addition, he is researching and compiling Puerto Rican folktales for an anthology. To see the full scope of Dr. Rafael Ocasio’s work, check out the links below:
If you are ready to start learning about 19th century Afro-Cuban Culture, head the the New Books shelf in the Main Reading Room to be the first person to check out Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantations to the Slum!