Reviewed Elsewhere: Christina Abreu, Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940–1960.
Christina Abreu. Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940–1960. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. 322 pp. $32.50 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-469-62084-8.
Rhythms of Race provides a detailed historical analysis of Cuban musicians and their audiences in mid-twentieth-century New York City and Miami. This book joins a diverse literature by ethnomusicologists, cultural studies scholars, social scientists, and historians who have examined Cuban music and migrants in the United States, as well as issues of race, ethnicity, and nationality associated with cross-border movements. To offer a fresh look on well-known musicians, Christina Abreu utilizes new primary resources (e.g., recently available oral-history interviews at the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños and Bronx County Historical Society) and includes audiences in her analysis of performers. The work also sheds new light on Cuban migration by examining the two decades before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Post-1959 Cuban exiles have overshadowed Cubans who left the island during the 1940s and 1950s, making Abreu's work an important corrective to the scholarly record and popular memory. Along with this shift in temporal focus, Abreu constantly links Cuban musicians and migrants to other Latino populations. She challenges "Cuban and Cuban American exceptionalism" and argues that "Cuban musicians and migrants, both black and white, shaped the development of a collective cultural consciousness of Latinidad," which was contested and sometimes racially exclusive (19). Moving between musician and community experiences, her nuanced yet expansive approach demonstrates how cultural producers fit within larger discussions about Cuban and Latino identities in the United States.
Exceeding biography, Abreu reveals how performers navigated the racial and ethnic stereotypes that permeated show business and US society. In stressing race relations and discourses, Abreu complicates previous work on musical developments. She illustrates how music and musicians interacted with Cuban myths of racial harmony in a transnational context, aligning her work with historians like Alejandro de la Fuente, Alejandra Bronfman, Melina Pappademos, and Frank Guridy. ...
Provocative insights in Abreu's work suggest future avenues of research. Abreu addresses popular culture rather than elite institutions, but the study remains focused on performers with significant social and cultural capital. Despite some discussion of audiences, Rhythms of Race leaves room for later studies that further explain the dancing and listening of everyday Cuban and Latino publics. For instance, how did musical preferences and practices differ by race, class, gender, and generation? ... Abreu's work challenges scholars to interrogate Cuban and Cuban American exceptionalism by analyzing migration histories relationally. Abreu leads by example. She ... encourages researchers to make other connections across spatial, temporal, and ethnic divides.