Spanish American War Period
During the Cuban War of Independence, U.S. debates about intervention were often coded as a question of defending Cuba’s “honor.” One particularly paternalistic political cartoon of the period, for instance,
depicts Cuba as a maiden pleading for Uncle
Sam’s protection. The cartoon, which appeared in
a U.S. newspaper barely a month after the end of
the Spanish American War and entitled “Save
Me From My Friends,” depicts Cuba cowering
on her knees with her hands folded in
Figure 1 supplication.
A scowling Uncle Sam protects Cuba with American flag, as she looks wildly over her shoulder at a band of insurgents. Cuba’s skin is decidedly “swarthy,” especially in contrast to Uncle Sam’s pink-pale hand and face. Her black hair hangs loosely down
her back in waves which border on unkempt. Her eyes seem to roll violently against her dark face. She is barefoot with one long, dark set of detailed toes visible beneath her skirt. With her dark skin, wild hair and eyes and frantic expression, Cuba seems irrational, unpredictable. The cartoon appeared just before the official U.S. occupation of Cuba began – a time when the U.S. justified military intervention by claims of restoring order.
In later years, when annexationist debates and the Cuban Question dominated the public stage, Cuba is depicted in less threatening terms -- as much more refined and desirable figure. For instance, In “Miss Cuba Receives an Invitation” published in Harpers Weekly in 1901, Cuba Libre is clearly appealing - a delicate, calm beauty with an elegant, small nose and a slim, pretty waist.
She stands in contrast to North America - a blond
maiden who instructs Cuba by pointing to a map of North
America. Cuba is pretty, but she is also vaguely exotic,
especially in contrast to the blond elegance of North America,
whose blond hair is neatly arranged in an elaborate coif.
Cuba’s long straight air is utterly black and held in waist-
Figure 2 length braids with a few bedraggled strands at the end. Again,
Miss Cuba wears prominent hoop earrings, suggesting a kind of Spanish exoticism.
The overall image suggests a rather appealing if vaguely indigenous effect. But while North America seems to float above the corporeal plane, our pretty Cuban maiden is depicted, again, barefoot. The bare feet suggest poverty, backwardness – sensuality
itself. This preoccupation with the body reflects anxieties about race which surfaced during the annexationist period, when debates about the incorporation of “backward” countries like Puerto Rico and Cuba quickly became focused on ideas of racial fitness and the “degenerate” nature of “tropical” peoples.
Gendered representations of Cuba as damsel in distress certainly served to arouse early support for the splendid little war; later images of Cuba as a near-slattern later fueled natavist diabtribes and editorials about those deemed “unfit” to join the Union.
And images of Cuba as a docile, desirable girl as later served to ameliorate anxieties about the brown hordes to the south, particularly after Cuba was safely deemed a “protectorate” rather than a state.
In “Save Me From Friends” we have a wild jungle setting governed by passion. Later cartoons feature Cuba in a reassuring posture of reasoned civility. For instance, In “Cuba Receives an Invitation,” a 1901 Chicago Record Herald cartoon, Miss Cuba no longer cowers (Benjamin 57). She stands upright and calm, perfectly safe in the company of a lovely North America entitled Miss Columbia. It is a genteel setting, civilized and restive. Miss Columbia is seated, leaning forward slightly toward Cuba in an open and inviting fashion. Cuba’s stands with her hands folded quietly in front of her, listening carefully to Miss Columbia, who instructs her by pointing confidently to a map of North America which includes Cuba numbered as the forty-sixth state. . The frame suggests Cuba’s ability to listen to reason, a willingness to join the modern family of nations. Indeed, this paternalistic position continued to mark U.S. Cuba relations. As late as 1959, the year of the Revolution, CIA director Allen Dulles commented at a National Security Council meeting that "Cuban leaders had to be treated more or less like children" (The Circle of Connections 178).
“Liberty Calls Cuba” (1897) You can possibly make out a certain stage being set for the Spanish-American war by the Judge cartoonist here, whose caption reads “Uncle Sam Is Bound Hand and Foot---While Our Civilization Demands That Justice Be Done the People of Cuba.” The caricature of the “Cuban” as a small, brown child was utterly typical of the period.
thBy the late 19 century, Columbia is depicted in ways which serve to emphasize her “domesticating” or maternal attributes. In this 1894 representation titled “Miss Columbia’s School house,” a placid and buxom Miss Columbia fusses after a schoolyard full of “unruly and polyglot” children, including a near-naked Hawaiian, a distressed pickninny, several chinamen, and a napping Mexican. The caption reads “Please, Ma'am,
May We Come in?” Schueller argues that the idea of empire “served to mystify national
instabilities and bolster the idea of a strong, expanding nation” (9). Hawaii’s (and Canada) are poised politely at the threshold of the school yard, distracting Miss Colubia - no
longer a feminized
vision of an explorer
and conquistador, but a
pretty, if inept
schoolmarm - from her futile attempts to domesticate her quarrelsome charges. Regardless, Miss Columbia holds at least the promise of national consolidation and administration of the internal U.S. colonies. In her white and buxom body we have at least an official representation of the legitimate agents of the nation as white.
Figure 1: “Save Me From My Friends!” Puck, September 7, 1898. From Perez, Jr. The
War of 1898: The United States and Cuba in Historiography. Front
Figure 2: “Miss Cuba Receives an Invitation” Chicago Record Herald, 1901 From
Benjamin’s The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution.
Figure 3: Guerins’s “United in defense of little Cuba." 1898. Library of Congress. From
“The Spanish American War in U.S. Media Culture” by James Castonguoy
Center For History and New Media. Georege Mason University.