In This Review

On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture
On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture
By Louis A. Perez
University of North Carolina Press, 1999, 569 pp
The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball
The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball
By Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
Oxford University Press, 1999, 464 pp

Whatever Fidel Castro has done for Cuba, his revolution has unintentionally given the United States an extraordinary generation of Cuban American scholars. Two of the most gifted have just produced masterworks that lift the image of Cuba and the Cuban American diaspora out of the sterile politics of confrontation into the meaningful dimension of cultural interaction. In a sweeping multilayered history, Perez explores the intertwined lives of Cubans and Americans from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s to show how deeply each nation influenced the other. Using an array of sources, from music to oral history to popular magazines and movies, he provides a convincing and kaleidoscopic interpretation filled with colorful personalities. He concludes with a brilliant discussion of the cultural context for Castro's uprising, when Cuba's essentially anti-Spanish nationalism became anti-Americanism. The North Americans, he charges, operated on a presumption of familiarity that bred its own form of contempt: Cuba, an exotic tropical escape, was not to be taken seriously. By the late 1950s, this arrogance had generated profound consequences for the future.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez Echevarria examines the history of Cuban baseball and reinforces Perez's conclusion. As with Perez, this is cultural history at its best. Gonzalez Echevarria finds most Americans incredulous to learn that baseball is Cuba's national sport -- as if such an idea were bizarre. As both books demonstrate, Cuban identity has always been closely linked to the United States. A refugee (and baseball player) turned Yale professor, Gonzalez Echevarria is well placed to tell a chronicle of exile that recovers lost feelings and memories. He paints an extraordinary view of Cuba from the baseball diamond, a tale of Cubans' passionate love for the most American of pastimes and of Cuba's fierce independence from U.S. influences. Among the best books on Cuban-American relations of the past 30 years, these two works offer hope for the future.