Latin America and the Caribbean: Cultures and Societies


This interdisciplinary course paid special attention to the way Caribbean historical fiction and poetry have examined Black rebellion in the region during colonial times (Césaire) until the 19th century. Some of the topics we addressed were the European capture of Africans (Dadzie), domestic resistance in plantations (Arroyo Pizarro; Carnegie; Dadzie) the Haitian Revolution (Trouillot), escapes, freedom practices, and emancipation (Manzao; Engle; Pettway). We supplemented this literary analysis with historical essays, documentaries, and videos that looked at the political, cultural, and socioeconomic conditions of Latin America and the Caribbean during the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Recommended Article On the Protests Against Austerity, Social and Racial Inequality in Colombia:

‘They can’t take it anymore’: pandemic and poverty brew violent storm in Colombia

“No Más Discriminación” – Kombilesa Mí

(No más discriminación
Negros y blancos en un sólo rincón
Somos los mismos aunque nos cambie el color
Somos los mismos, con el mismo corazón
Aunque a veces el mundo nos separe sin razón)

One more time I invite you
to our maroon town
where discrimination
we left her without direction
I don’t care about your color
nor your religion
the only thing that matters is that you think like me
because the other is different
you are not going to damage their environment
is enough
don’t you see that what you do is humiliate
The one in front of you, we are all men

My maroon town is to be admired
for all its songs full of emotions
that comes out of the heart, like an invasion
considering conservation
and tradition
Palenque is my biggest attraction
the main tools against racism are
language and education

(Black I am, black I will be
black I was born, black I will die) [x2]

I am black
because I consider myself a palenquera
black, let the whole earth listen to me
well I will always be and I will never forget my identity
much less the truth that surrounds us
a thousand times

I’m a black man
listen well and see
so I’ll say it even if you get diarrhea
listen well and see

Listen to my lyrics
I don’t come looking for violence
what I want is that black and white
look at each other with decency
and not be out there discriminating

I turn off the word racial discrimination
the whole race one world family
no one to make fun of another
because of the way they talk
or because of its color
all the world in one corner

(Hey, we are the same, we are the same, we are the same) [x2]

(No more discrimination
blacks and whites in one corner
we are the same even if we change our color
we are the same, with the same heart
although sometimes the world separates us for no reason)

This song comes in the form of protest
looking for a proposal
for discrimination
it is something that affects
this planet
like earthquakes
because there are guys who make fun of us
either because of the way we speak or because of our face
because of our skin color
or because of our way of being before others
all I want is for you to think clearly
and with reason, because you are white
you think you better than me?

Full stop, but with the permission of my friends
this song I will end
I come to say that we are being run over by racism
it shouldn’t be like that if the color of human blood is the same
mulattoes, mestizos, gringos, hands up
in this world, I do not want more discrimination

… Discrimination to hell with it [x4]

(Hey, we are the same, we are the same, we are the same) [x2]

Group Discussion

What was a major takeaway from our class?

What was difficult this semester and how did you overcome that obstacle?

Chat Discussion

Send some good vibes and words of encouragement to your classmates.

Asynchronous Assignment on “Present But Unseen (Pages 151-173)

Asynchronous Assignment (due on 5/11 before the class)

Matthew Pettway argues that Manzano’s use of dream sequences in his poetry represents the powers of spirit to transform the black subject. He considers these poems as visions of black familial love and as symbolic acts of emancipation.


Thinking of these arguments:

.Pick an excerpt from ONE of the poems written by Juan Francisco Manzano and highlighted by Pettway: “A Dream” (Pages 155-164), “Poems” (Pages 164-167), or “The Poet Vision Composed on a Sugar Plantation” (Pages 167-171).

.In the comment section down below describe Pettway’s interpretation of your selected poem.

.Insert your views: do you agree with Pettway’s points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about the excerpt written by Manzano do you want to bring into the discussion?

Present But Unseen- Matthew Pettway

Entry Question

What topics from the second half of the semester (the Haitian Revolution and Juan Francisco Manzano’s poetics of emancipation) would you like to see included in the final?

Present But Unseen

Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of South Alabama and scholar of Afro-Latin American and Caribbean literatures, Dr. Matthew Pettway argues in his book Cuban Literature in the Age of Black Insurrection that Afro-Latin Americans such as Juan Francisco Manzano took hold of the aesthetic and spiritual tools available to them (catholicism along with Yoruba and Bakongo spiritual perspectives) to conceive a poetics of emancipation.

In his chapter “Present but Unseen: African-Cuban Spirituality and Emancipation in the Literature of Juan Francisco Manzano” Pettway defends that Manzano’s deference for catholic requiems and rituals did not “constituted an indifference to African-inspired spirituality nor represented a disdain for African sources of religious power. Manzano negotiated the disparities between Catholic doctrine and African-inspired ideas about death, the afterlife, and the struggle for black freedom.”

Pettway conceives Manzano’s autobiography as transcultural colonial literature because of Manzano’s combination of a Catholic belief system with passages about spirit apparitions and the power of African divine spirits, with Catholic saint names.

Oral Presentation on the essay “Present but Unseen” (Pages 120-151)

Vargas, Ricardo

Downer, Ginelli Ivette

Sanchez, Johairy

Dr. Matthew Pettway’s Lecture: “Manzano at the Crossroads”


Asynchronous Assignment on The Poet Slave of Cuba (Pages 129-172)

Asynchronous Assignment (due on 5/4 before the class)


1. In the comment section down below, answer ONE of these questions (200-words minimum):


Discuss the ways Manzano achieves his dream of literacy and poetic rebellion.


Elaborate on how Manzano values her deceased mother’s spiritual well-being at all costs.  How the death of his mother amplify his rebelliousness?


In the last poem, Juan Francisco Manzano conveys the notion of a collectivity (concrete and abstract) praying for him, singing, and wishing him well in his escape from La Marquesa’s plantation. Expand on Manzano’s vision. How his escape represents a  form of historical awareness?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about The Poet Slave of Cuba (pages 129-172) do you want to bring into the discussion?

The Poet Slave of Cuba (Pages 87-129)

Entry Question

What mental and emotional techniques do you use to cope when you feel stressed out and/or under pressure?



In this third section of the poetry collection, The Poet Slave of Cuba,  Margarita Engle explores the traumatic relationship between La Condesa del Prado Ameno and the young Juan Francisco Manzano. The reader learns about the constant punishment Juan barely endures and how this almost daily torture tries to suffocate Juan’s literary inclinations and his will. It could be argued that the extreme acts against Juan aim to kill him or at least slowly destroy his body and mind.

However, Engle also focuses on Juan’s deep reflections, spirituality, and poetic views.

What ideas and images stand out from his description of la Zafra, the sugarcane harvest? (Pages 87-9)

Oral Presentation on the poetry book The Poet Slave of Cuba (Pages 87-129).



Castillo,Devora E

Group Discussion

How does Juan Francisco Manzano use his creativity, spirituality, and intellectual skills to survive the horror imposed by la Marquesa del Prado Ameno?

Pages 93-4, 100, 102,  104-105, 106, 107-9, 107, 120-4, 127-9

Asynchronous Assignment on The Poet Slave of Cuba (Pages 44-86)

Asynchronous Assignment (due on 4/27 before class)


1. In the comment section down below, answer ONE of these questions (200-words minimum):


Discuss all the distinct ways the young Manzano keeps “writing” verses and “reading” poetry even though the Marquesa del Prado Ameno punishes any literacy activity. Refer to specific poems and/or scenes from this section.


Explore Manzano’s complex spiritual views and how they help him to cope with the punishments and torture imposed by the Marquesa del Padro Ameno. Refer to specific poems and/or scenes from this section.


What does Don Nicolas means when he says that the Marquesa del Prado Ameno has a mind “that needs light.” Describe how Don Nicolas, Manzano’s mother, María del Pilar, and the girls at the kitchen offer him consolation and solace.


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about The Poet Slave of Cuba (pages 44-86) do you want to bring into the discussion?

The Poet Slave of Cuba (Pages 1-43)- Margarita Engle

Entry Question

Considering that most enslaved people in the Americas were prohibited to read and write, do you think that literacy and poetry could be conceived as tools of resistance against slavery and colonialism? Why?

Cuba’s Historical Context after the Haitian Revolution

Why after the Haitian revolution, Cuban elites expanded the slave trade and thus increased the enslaved population during the nineteenth century? (Minutes 0:00-6:30)

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

In this poetry collection prolific poet and writer of Cuban descent, Margarita Engle re-contextualizes the 19th-century Autobiography of a Slave by Juan Francisco Manzano, the only known testimony of slavery written in the Spanish-speaking Americas. Although Manzano’s book is written as a first-person account, Engle uses different perspectives and the voices of his family members, collaborators, and tormentors to retell his afflicted but genius life. Engle frames poetry as an art form that allows Manzano’s transformation from a docile child slave into a self-emancipated abolitionist.

Oral Presentation on the poetry book The Poet Slave of Cuba (Pages 1-43)


Walcott,Cineikwa Akayla

Group Discussions

.Interpret the following lines corresponding to Juan and analyze the role of Poetry in Juan Francisco Manzano’s life :

Poetry cools me, syllables calm me

I read the verses of others

the free men

and know

that I’m never alone

.Why Margarita Engle uses the animal figures of the poodle and the parrot to describe Juan Francisco Manzano’s position as an enslaved child with Doña Beatriz de Jústiz, la Marquesa?

.Do you think Doña Beatriz uses her “gift” of manumission to increase her social standing? Yes? No? Why?

.Describe the different notions of motherhood presented in this first section of the book.

.How the change of “owner” (enslaver) transforms Manzano’s poetic activity?

Asynchronous Screening and Assignment on Egalité for All

Asynchronous Assignment (due on 4/20)


1. Watch the documentary Egalité for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

2. In the comment section down below, answer ONE of these questions (200-words minimum):


In which way the violence against French colonists and enslavers in the early and last stages of the revolution was a response to the conditions of slavery in the plantations and to colonial rule? (Suggested minutes: 15:20-23:23; 47:02-52:00)


Discuss the major role of Toussaint Louverture in the revolution (Suggested minutes: 9:20-11:08; 20:42-22:30; 23:26-29:00; 31:15-33:20; 36:15-41:15)


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about Egalité for All do you want to bring to the discussion?

Asynchronous Assignment on An Unthinkable History (Pages 88-95)

Asynchronous Assignment

In the comment section down below  write a response (225-words minimum) to ONE of these prompts (due on 4/13):


Give your explanation of and expand on the following quote by Trouillot:

Claims about the fundamental uniqueness of humankind, claims about the ethical irrelevance of racial categories of geographical situ­ation to matters of governance and, certainly, claims about the right of all peoples to self-determination went against received wisdom in the Atlantic world and beyond. Each could reveal it­self in Saint-Domingue only through practice. By necessity, the Haitian Revolution thought itself out politically and philosophi­cally as it was taking place.  (Pages 88-89)


Why the public opinion in France (and even in Saint Domingue) rejected and/or doubted the news of the massive uprising?  What Trouillot means by interested parties engaging in a game of hide-and-seek with the news coming out from Saint Domingue? (Pages 90-92)


Trouillot analyses how international recognition of the revolutionary victories of Toussaint Louverture and later on of the major achievement of Haitian independence was extremely difficult to gain. Explain why? (Pages 93-95)


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “An Unthinkable History” do you want to bring to the discussion?

An Unthinkable History (Pages 70-88)- Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Entry Question

Can you think of a current social issue to which there seems to be no solution, that is, it is extremely hard to conceive a world otherwise, beyond it?

“[In Silencing the Past] Trouillot suggested that the Haitian Revolution was (and in many ways remains) an “unthinkable” event: that the idea of enslaved populations rising up and not only resisting slavery but also achieving self-determination and forging entirely new conceptual categories of freedom and equality was beyond the grasp of both observers and participants. ”

-Yarimar Bonilla, “Burning Questions: The Life and Work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot 1949-2012”

There were doubts at times. But the planters’ practical precautions aimed at stemming individual actions or, at worst, a sudden riot. No one in Saint-Domingue or elsewhere worked out a plan of response to a general insurrection.

Although by no means mono­lithic, this worldview was widely shared by whites in Europe and the Americas and by many non-white plantation owners as well. Although it left room for variations, none of these variations included the possibility of a revolutionary uprising in the slave plantations, let alone a successful one leading to the creation of an independent state. (73)

The Haitian Revolution did chal­lenge the ontological and political assumptions of the most radi­cal writers of the Enlightenment. The events that shook up Saint-Domingue from 1791 to 1804 constituted a sequence for which not even the extreme political left in France or in England had a concep­tual frame of reference. They were “unthinkable” facts in the framework of Western thought. (82)

Oral presentation on “An Unthinkable History” (Pages 70-88)

Thiam, Fatou

Torres, Brian A

Vargas, Ricardo

Group Discussion

What is your understanding of these key concepts discussed by Trouillot: the west; Man; black; abolition and resistance?

The West

The West was created somewhere at the beginning of the six­teenth century in the midst of a global wave of material and symbolic transformations. The definitive expulsion of the Mus­lims from Europe, the so-called voyages of exploration, the first developments of merchant colonialism, and the maturation of the absolutist state set the stage for the rulers and merchants of Western Christendom to conquer Europe and the rest of the world…

These political developments paralleled the emergence of a new symbolic order. (74)

What is Man?

Philosophers who discussed that last issue could not escape the fact that colonization was going on as they spoke. Men (Europe­ans) were conquering, killing, dominating, and enslaving other beings thought to be equally human, if only by some. (75)

In the horizon of the West at the end of the century, Man (with a capital M) was primarily European and male. On this single point everyone who mattered agreed… westernized (or more properly, “westernizable”) humans, natives of Africa or of the Americas, were at the lowest level of this nomenclature. (76)

The lexical opposition Man-versus-Native (or Man- versus-Negro) tinted the European literature on the Americas from 1492 to the Haitian Revolution and beyond. (82)


By the middle of the eighteenth century, “black” was almost univer­sally bad. What had happened in the meantime, was the expan­sion of African-American slavery… Blacks were inferior and therefore enslaved; black slaves behaved badly and were therefore inferior. In short, the practice of slavery in the Americas secured the blacks’ position at the bottom of the human world. With the place of blacks now guaranteed at the bottom of the Western nomenclature, anti-black racism soon became the cen­tral element of planter ideology in the Caribbean.  (77)

The Enlightenment, nevertheless, brought a change of perspec­tive. The idea of progress, now confirmed, suggested that men were perfectible. Therefore, subhumans could be, theoretically at least, perfectible. More important, the slave trade was running its course, and the economics of slavery would be questioned in­creasingly as the century neared its end. Perfectibility became an argument in the practical debate: the westernized other looked increasingly more profitable to the West, especially if he could become a free laborer. (80)


Behind the radicalism, of Diderot and Raynal stood, ultimately, a project of colonial management. It did indeed include the aboli­tion of slavery, but only in the long term, and as part of a process that aimed at the better control of the colonies. Access to hu­man status did not lead ipso facto to self-determination. (81)

The sole sustained campaign of the self-proclaimed Friends of the Blacks was their effort to guarantee the civil and political rights of free mulatto owners. (87)


Resistance did not exist as a global phenomenon. Rather, each case of unmistakable defiance, each possible instance of resistance was treated separately and drained of its political content. (83)

Built into any system of domination is the tendency to proclaim its own normalcy. To acknowledge resistance as a mass phenomenon is to acknowledge the possibility that something is wrong with the system. Carib­bean planters, much as their counterparts in Brazil and in the United States, systematically rejected that ideological conces­sion, and their arguments in defense of slavery were central to the development of scientific racism. (84)

The evocation of a slave rebellion was primarily a rhetorical device. The concrete possibility of such a rebellion flourishing into a revolution and a modern black state was still part of the unthinkable. (85)