Journal of Transnational American Studies
A Transatlantic Slavery Narrative: Work Sketches of a Nineteenth-Century Bristolian-Cuban Sugar Cane Plantation and President Barack Obama’s “Black Speech” in Cuba
- Author(s): Ocasio, Rafael
- et al.
After the Haitian Revolution in 1804, Cuba became the world’s largest producer of sugar and the United States its principal buyer. There was a close commercial relationship between Cuba and Bristol, Rhode Island, which supported an illegal slave trade for Bristolian-owned ingenios, or sugarcane plantations in Cuba.
This paper examines two outstanding testimonial accounts in the context of that shared transatlantic slave trade spearheaded by the United States. George Howe, a Bristolian manager of an ingenio, wrote in 1833 a work diary that recorded select operational details performed by enslaved workers. Howe’s travelogue provides the critical foundations for a literature of the plantation, a discursive narrative that served him well to reflect upon the impact of enslaved workers as the true underpinnings of Ingenio New Hope. American travelers to Cuba also documented racialized cultural practices. In President Barack Obama’s public address as part of his official three-day visit beginning on March 20, 2016, which impacted ongoing negotiations surrounding the US embargo to Cuba, Obama spoke about the racial heritage shared by both countries and stemming from slavery practices. Obama not only referred to the convoluted diplomatic relationship between both countries, but he also highlighted an Atlantic, Pan-American racial legacy.
Through a racialized narrative allusive to the impact of plantations, Obama set himself as an African-American, a hybrid identity through which he examined the colonial histories of both countries. The intertextual conversation between Howe's diary and Obama’s speech ultimately illustrates the latter’s own struggle with the negative heritage of a hideous slave trade.