Louis A. Perez, Jr.


On his book Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos

Cover Interview of March 02, 2009

The wide angle

The premise of American nationhood in the nineteenth century was fully imbued with the presumption of possession of Cuba.  The island insinuated itself into the American sense of nation, and indeed was profoundly implicated in the ways that Americans assembled the terms of self-representation.  Cuba dawned upon the American imagination at a time of national formation, during years of territorial expansion, inscribing itself deeply into a deepening awareness of national interests.  With the purchase of Louisiana (1803) and Florida (1821), as the United States expanded onto the Gulf of Mexico, the acquisition of Cuba assumed something of an inexorable logic.  From the moment that the Americans began to imagine themselves as a nation, as a people with territory to defend, commerce to protect, and security to safeguard, possession of Cuba was perceived as a matter of strategic necessity.  A sense of national completion seemed to depend upon the possession of Cuba, without which the North American Union seemed unfinished, perhaps incomplete, maybe even slightly vulnerable.

Very early in the nineteenth century, and well into the twentieth century, the destiny of Cuba could not be imagined in any way other than as an extension of American needs. Cuba developed fully into an American preoccupation, one that reached deeply into the ways that the Americans contemplated the defense of their interests and the definition of their well-being.  Cuba in the American Imagination examines the ways that Cuba was drawn into the North American imagination as coveted territory, principally by way of accessible vernacular forms, including figurative representation, metaphor and metaphysical depiction, allegory and analogy.  These forms were arranged in a generally coherent narrative order around the expectation of possession by the United States.  Central to this process were the ways that metaphorical constructs of Cuba served as the basis with which to fix the American policy purpose.  The use of metaphor served as something akin to a shorthand system of culturally-determined representations, a way to encode cues and validate the premises that informed U.S. policy.

Cuba in the American Imagination is not only about U.S. policy toward Cuba, however.  It is also about the emerging consciousness of Cuba in the United States, about those perceptions and attitudes from which policy emerged and behavior ensued.  The book advances the argument that metaphors have real consequences, and that they are vital to–but until now absent from–a full understanding of the character of the North American relationship with Cuba.