This is a fine study of the consolidation of nationalist ideas in Cuban revolutionary thought among exiles in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. It focuses on the Cuban communities in Key West, Tampa, and New York City and on the leaders who helped to shape the ideas prevalent there.
Poyo connects intellectual and social history. He links his study of the evolution of ideas about Cuba and Cubans to an analysis of the social circumstances of exiled Cubans in the United States. He effectively interweaves the discussions about the social-class origins of leaders and followers and the relationship between such origins and evolving ideologies. Poyo’s scholarship is thorough and wide-ranging, drawing heavily on material from newspapers, pamphlets, and other Spanish-language documents from the Key West and Tampa Cuban communities. His writing is careful and effective.
Nonetheless, he better records than explains the relationship between social structure and political leadership as the source of ideas. At times, he suggests that working-class communities are the well from which popular nationalist ideas spring. Thus, José Martí’s “nationalism reflected popular opinion in the Florida communities” of workers. This is the point of chapter 4 and of the discussion (pp. 107-108) of nationalist cohesion at the expense of working-class solidarity. At other times he suggests that politicians shaped the exile communities’ nationalism: social-class structure mattered only as a problem to be overcome. This is implied in chapter 5, in the epilogue, and in the point (p. 94) that working-class conditions in Florida weakened worker support for Cuban nationalism. The complex relationship between leadership and social structure should have been addressed analytically, not just narratively.
This welcome study connects the study of Florida to that of Cuba. It sheds light on the evolution of political movements in exile communities and on the tensions between those who consider themselves exiles and those who consider themselves immigrants. It shows the thoughtful work of an able scholar.