Dreaming With the Ancestors: Black Seminole Women in Texas and Mexico, by Shirley Boteler Mock, University of Oklahoma Press (2010), 383 pp., $34.95 (hardback)
In 1849, almost 200 Black Seminoles, the descendents of runaway African slaves and Florida’s Seminole Indians, made the dangerous trip from a reservation in present-day Oklahoma to Mexico, fleeing hunters who threatened to sell them back into slavery. In Mexico, they founded a new life, as they had done several times before. Although scholars have recently produced a good deal of work on the Black Seminoles, few have focused on the role of women in their migratory history. Anthropologist Shirley Boteler Mock seeks to remedy this in Dancing With the Ancestors, as she charts the Black Seminoles’ journey from Florida to Oklahoma, Mexico and back to Texas, all the while drawing on interviews and expansive historical research. “I want to honor the women who exist unknown between the pages of Western history,” Mock writes.
Through their memories, stories, and yearly celebrations, the Black Seminoles have conserved their multicultural and mobile past. The memory of Alice Fay, for example, the now elderly granddaughter of a 19th-century Black Seminole leader in Mexico, is “like a vast genealogical map,” according to Mock, traveling “back and forth through time to her ancestors, somehow transcending the past and the present.”
Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay, by George Reid Andrews, University of North Carolina Press (2010), 231 pp., $22.95 (paperback)
Uruguay is not typically synonymous with the African Diaspora. In the country’s 2006 census, more than 87% of the population of 3.3 million people considered themselves “white,” while only 2% self-identified as “black.” But Afro-Uruguayans have played an important role in the country’s history and culture. Since the late 19th century, Afro-Uruguayans have published more than two dozen newspapers, generating one of the most active black presses in all of Latin America. Traditional Uruguayan rhythms (candombe) and carnival marching groups (comparsas) are descended from Africa. And yet “most of the performers are white!” writes University of Pittsburgh history professor and author George Reid Andrews.
“How did an African-based cultural form come to be practiced and populated mainly by white people?,” he asks. “How can this be?” With more than 10 years of research, Reid Andrews attempts to answer and explore questions of cultural appropriation and racial equality and inequality in Uruguay, while challenging the myth of “racial democracy” and delving deeply into Afro-Uruguayan history. The book also builds off of the author’s prior research on the African Diaspora across the region to compare and contrast the Afro-Uruguayan experience with that of Argentina, Brazil, and other Latin American nations.
Black and Indigenous: Garifuna Activism and Consumer Culture in Honduras, by Mark Anderson, University of Minnesota Press (2009), 290 pp., $25 (paperback)
Seeking to understand how the identities of “black” and “indigenous” manifest themselves in the activism and culture of the Garifuna people, anthropologist Mark Anderson looks to the eastern coast of Honduras in Black and Indigenous. The Garifuna, who trace their ancestry to the indigenous Caribes from the island of St. Vincent and runaway African slaves, have called Central America home since the late 18th century, when the British banished them there. Anderson highlights the work of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), which, he writes, “has provided crucial support for land struggles . . . and employs a discourse of territoriality borrowed from indigenous movements.” Since 2009, when this book was published, OFRANEH has also played an integral role in the Honduran resistance against the coup and its aftermath.
But coupled with this resistance is a steady migration of Garifuna to the United States. Young Garifuna men often appropriate U.S. African American styles and brands, which in the Honduran context can be seen as both “racial resistance” and “U.S. dominance.” This identification, Anderson explains, is often at odds with the more activist indigenous Garifuna discourses that emphasize Garifuna identity and cultural traditions, as against “neoliberal domination and U.S. imperialism.”