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Colonial Imaginaries of Cuban Women: The Politics of Place, Performance and Urban Representation in Nineteenth Century Havana

Pilar Eguez Guevara


Women’s bodies and their sexuality had an important place in the dominant images of nineteenth century Havana popularized in artwork, travel logs and literature. The glorified image created of the white respectable Cuban woman taking a stroll in a carriage through the promenade contrasted with the scandalous image of the prostitute wandering through the streets calling the male passersby, or with the mythical dancing mulata—the quintessential object of white male desire transformed into the symbol of the Cuban nation. This article builds upon narrative and visual depictions of women’s bodies in urban settings created by Cuban, North American and European artists and travelers visiting Havana between 1820 and 1888. These authors created dichotomous images of different kinds of women – black and white, upper and lower class, respectable and non-respectable – occupying certain venues of the city such as streets, promenades, theaters, and performing in specific ways such as walking, strolling in carriages, smoking or dancing. I read these narratives as imaginaries: shared or conflicted ideas and values conveyed in dominant images of the city about the place that subjects (should) occupy. I discuss how the positioning of women’s bodies in these performative spaces was crucial to the construction and refashioning of ideologies of class distinction and respectability and to the specific meanings that modernity acquired in 19th century colonial Cuba.


Nineteenth Century; Cuba; Women’s Sexuality; Race; Color; The Body; Representation; Place; Distinction; Class Culture; Havana; Travel Literature; Modernization; Social Attitudes; Urban Imaginaries; Performativity

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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