In This Review

Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York
Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York
By Lisandro Pérez
New York University Press, 2018, 400 pp

Given the long-running antagonism between the two countries, it is a little surprising that the flags of Cuba and the United States are so similar. But Pérez observes that there is a good reason for the shared red, white, and blue: the Cuban flag was designed in Manhattan. In the nineteenth century, New York hosted a thriving transnational community of Cubans, the flag-designing revolutionary general Narciso López among them. In those years, prosperous Cuban investors manufactured, financed, and traded sugar and cigars in Cuban and U.S., as well as global, markets. Cuban émigrés also organized to liberate their homeland from despotic Spain, some lobbying for U.S. annexation and others battling for full independence. The Cuban founding father José Martí lived in New York for much of his adult life. Writing for several Latin American newspapers, Martí mixed admiration for American industriousness and liberty with criticism of the United States’ social shortcomings and forebodings about U.S. imperial pretentions. Pérez vividly describes how the tightly knit Cuban émigré community reproduced the political cleavages and social mores of its homeland. Although some émigrés absorbed New York’s urbane democratic modernity, the intransigence and intolerance inspired by Spanish rule endured in Cuban political culture, abroad and at home.