Chapter

Juan Francisco Manzano's <i>Autobiografía de un esclavo</i>

Rafael Ocasio

in Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780813041643
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780813043913 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813041643.003.0003
Juan Francisco Manzano's Autobiografía de un esclavo

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Study of Cuban-born Manzano's memoirs offers a contrast between the life of Suárez y Romero's rural sugarmill slaves and that of an urban slave in Havana. In this exceptional text—the only surviving Black memoir completed during the slavery period—Manzano documents his living circumstances as a house slave, a refined and self-educated Black Creole who could read and write, who painted portraits, and who even became an accomplished poet. In his biased analysis of Black Creole cultures, however, Manzano fails to explore slave traditions, and he chooses not to offer a full picture of the horrors of the mistreatment of slaves, particularly the field workers on sugarcane plantations. He prefers, instead, to remain associated with mainstream culture within his self-description as a learned Black who speaks and writes in standard Spanish, a fact that separated him from other, raw slaves. He proudly becomes a mulato fino—a refined mulatto, a type that Costumbrista writing often reflects in Black male and female urban characters. Although his close association with a White power structure might have caused his memoirs to lose efficacy as an abolitionist text, it is today an important document, an example of a Black's self-depiction in response to literary canons and to social limitations upon the incorporation of Blacks into Cuban mainstream society.

Keywords: nineteenth-century Cuba; Cuban slavery practices; Manzano, Juan Francisco; Madden, Richard; urban slavery practices, Cuba; mulatto popular culture; mulatto psychology

Chapter.  12823 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture

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