(Post-)colonial Archipelagos: Comparing the Legacies of Spanish Colonialism in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines , by Hans-Jürgen Burchardt & Johanna Leinius (eds.)

In: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids
Koichi Hagimoto Wellesley College Department of Spanish and Portuguese Wellesley MA U.S.A.

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Hans-Jürgen Burchardt & Johanna Leinius (eds.), (Post-)colonial Archipelagos: Comparing the Legacies of Spanish Colonialism in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2022. ix + 370 pp. (Paper US$ 44.95)

(Post-)colonial Archipelagos makes a timely contribution to transatlantic studies as well as transpacific studies. It is an ambitious volume that brings together scholars from both the Global North and the Global South to discuss the continuing influence of colonial legacies in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Through the postcolonial lens based in history and social sciences, these scholars highlight more similarities than differences among the three island nations. The comparative, transregional focus is in dialogue with what Christine Beaule and John G. Douglass call “the Global Spanish Empire” (2021).

The book’s 18 chapters are divided into four parts, the first of which provides the conceptual and methodological framework. In their opening essay, Johanna Leinius and Hans-Jürgen Burchardt not only introduce some of the key concepts, but also propose a new approach to postcolonial studies through what they call “an empirically anchored comparative sensitivity” (p. 5). Leinius then discusses the politics of comparison/comparability that the volume seeks to address. Most importantly, she suggests the idea of “postcolonizing comparative research” in order to underline the paradoxes of colonial archipelagos. Chapter 3, by Josep M. Fradera, examines how the waning Spanish Empire brought important economic and social transformations to the three colonies by the late eighteenth century. He argues that, while each colony had a different plantation society, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were equally transformed into enclaves of agrarian capitalism.

The book’s second part presents different case studies that explore the political economy and authority in the three colonies. Antonio Santamaría García and Jacqueline Laguardia Martinez focus on Cuba, especially the crisis of slavery, the complex relationship with the United States, and the colonial legacies that persisted after the Cuban Revolution. Emilio Pantojas-García, Argeo T. Quiñones Pérez, and Ian J. Seda-Irizarry discuss the continuing effects of the Spanish and U.S. empires in Puerto Rico, which they consider a “postcolonial colony” dominated by metropolitan elites and influenced by American interests. Alvin A. Camba, Maria Isabel B. Aguilar, and Teresa R. Melgar examine the political economy of the Philippines, both in the past and in the present. In their view, a critical analysis of the Philippines’ colonial legacies can shed new light on comparative research with other Spanish colonies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The third part examines the hierarchization of difference created by the Spanish colonial regime, with particular attention to the issues of race and gender. Javiher Gutiérrez Forte and Janet Iglesias Cruz point out how colonial relations continued in Cuba after the 1898 Spanish-American War, while Jenny Morín Nenoff underscores the paradox between the elimination of structural racism and the continuation of cultural racism against women and Mulattos/Blacks in contemporary Cuba. Milagros Denis-Rosario turns to Ramón Bulerín’s oil painting Plaza del Quinto Centenario (2007) to highlight the exclusion of African elements from the political-cultural discourse of Hispanic identity in Puerto Rico. On the other hand, Miguel A. Rivera Quiñones investigates how American colonialism produced socioeconomic inequalities in Puerto Rico and how the U.S. government provided social transfers as a way to maintain its dominance on the island. For María Dolores Elizalde and Cristina Cielo, the reality of widespread inequalities in the Philippines reflects the interwoven legacies of colonial power, which are created by different political models, economic regimes, social structures, and population groups.

Finally, the three essays in the fourth part offer more comparative analyses. While Michael Zeuske scrutinizes the legacy of slavery in Cuba in comparison to that in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Jochen Kemner examines the socio-structural characteristics that were developed in various Spanish colonies in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the final essay, Hans-Jürgen Burchardt reemphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of the volume and presents synopses of shared legacies of colonialism in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. He concludes by suggesting further research on postcolonial studies, proposing the need for a “material turn” and underlining the role of a “rentier society” as a theoretical tool.

(Post-)colonial Archipelagos will be valuable to anyone who has interest in and beyond postcolonial studies, Latin American studies, Caribbean studies, Asian studies, transatlantic studies, and transpacific studies. Read together, these essays demonstrate the interconnected (post)colonial histories that are often overlooked by scholars of the traditional area studies model.

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