This article examines Amerindian identity and the trope of extinction through the prism of anthropological and other representations of indigenous peoples, with a particular focus on observations of peoples labeled as “Indian” or “aboriginal” in Cuba during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By the nineteenth century, indigenous peoples assumed a privileged position as subjects of scientific study, but as peoples undergoing or having undergone biological and cultural decline, if not disappearance, especially in Cuba, where indigenous Taíno were (are) considered long extinct. This diminution was facilitated by anthropological paradigms, historiography, and the ideology of race. Though indigenous studies have recently advanced toward a richer, more complex and nuanced understanding of these issues, necessarily facilitated by indigenous participants, holdovers from the old theories of blood quantum and cultural essentialism endure. Paradoxically, however, representations of indigenous peoples based in these persistent paradigms, however obsolete, provide important evidence for the persistence of indigenous peoples and communities in places like Cuba.

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