Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Comparative Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



For more than six decades, the Cuban Revolution has been the object of representation by foreign authors―historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and also poets and writers. After the triumph of Fidel Castro on January 1, 1959, his revolution captured the imagination of U.S. intellectuals and activists. Many of them traveled to Cuba to become witnesses of the radical transformations that were taking place there. In my dissertation, I suggest that visiting Cuba was important for them to authenticate their views. Writing from Castro’s Cuba lent legitimacy to their narratives, with which they hoped to influence U.S. public opinion.My focus is on African-American citizens who sought refuge in communist Cuba. Some wrote about their experiences while still living on the Island and others after returning home. Some portrayed the Cuban Revolution as a utopian experiment. Others saw it as a dystopian system that betrayed the emancipation efforts of Cubans. I show the ways in which, in the context of the Cold War, the revolution was understood by foreigners as an exceptional alternative to representative democracy and capitalism. I discuss how the American gaze of these travelers encompassed an effort to write from the perspective of Cubans. I also consider that, ultimately, their narratives aimed to interpret Cuban reality for the American public in service of their own political agendas. My research has found that the same social issues―including racism―roiling the U.S. were, when displaced to Cuba, perceived in strikingly different ways by these writers than when they lived in the United States. I group these narratives in two clusters: those by travelers who adapted to the Cuban Revolution and those who resisted it. In the first group, the American gaze from the outside was adjusted over time. In the second, it undergoes an ideological inversion where the authors are alienated as revolutionary allies. My results invite new lines of multidisciplinary analysis in aspects not sufficiently explored by the fields of African American and Latin American studies.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Joseph Schraibman

Committee Members

Matthias Goeritz