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Part 3: Tropical Environment and Landscapes of Race

22 July, 2019 - 09:15
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Teachers can then discuss how descriptions of environment and landscape influence perceptions of race. For instance, hot tropical environments like Guerrero's Cuba were often described as places of racial difference and race-mixing in 19th century texts. As spaces of colonization, North and South America were often considered places where colonizers, colonized, immigrants, and imported/enslaved laborers sexually and cultural intermixed. British and Spanish colonizers responded differently to the intermingling of racial groups. Although tensions and hierarchies existed in Spanish-America, miscegenation became an important way to acculturate and assimilate natives into the new colonial order. (In British-America, miscegenation certainly occurred; but, British colonists adhered to concepts of race purity more stringently than their Spanish-American neighbors [Rosenthal 6]).

Figure 3.5 Woman of Puerto Rico 
Image of a woman from Puerto Rico. 

Spanish, Portuguese, and American Women highlights Spain's colonization of the Western Hemisphere and its history of race-mixing. For instance, Guerrero describes both Cuban and Puerto Rican women in terms of Creoles and natives, the first of which he defines as "a child born in America of European parents" (7). He writes, "These women are Cuban Creoles in the true sense of the word" (7), and "In the villages of Ponce, Mayaguez, Aguadilla, and Arecibo, one will find the Puerto Rican woman a pure-blooded Creole" (25). Guerrero explains the Creole through the history of Spanish colonization, and berates Spain's attempt to define these women as other than Spanish. For Guerrero, the divisions created by colonialism are an irrelevant set of racial distinctions. In regard to the natives of Puerto Rico, he emphasizes assimilation or "absorption," as he calls it. Unable to find the "copper complexion" of the "beautiful Indian" among the women of Puerto Rico, he explains their disappearance through assimilation and, in so doing, calls us to question where and if natives ft into the racial landscape of Central and South America that he depicts. As he writes, "Native Indian women have disappeared through absorption. The mixture of races is the cause of this change; just as a single grain of indigo loses its color as it is dissolved in water, the Indian woman, in the confusion with the white colonists, and later, the union of their natural descendants with African women, erased the racial print, taking with it savage customs, which would have been pushed aside naturally by the growth of civilization. As a result, much of Europe can be seen here today [...] (6). His comments call for us to understand the colonial history of miscegenation and race-mixture, and how these concepts are reflected in the setting of fictional novels and the landscapes of non-fictional documents.