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A Cultural History of Cuba during the U.S. Occupation, 1898–1902$

Marial Iglesias Utset

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780807833988

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807877845_iglesias_utset

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Policies Governing Celebrations

Policies Governing Celebrations

Catholic, North American, and Patriotic Fiestas

(p.29) Two Policies Governing Celebrations
A Cultural History of Cuba during the U.S. Occupation, 1898–1902

Marial Iglesias Utset

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on almanacs, or calendars as they were also called, that marked the rhythms of social life by specifying all of the festivals, holidays, and special occasions of the civil and religious year. They were consulted by travelers, merchants, ranchers, planters, and others for their abundance of useful information about commerce, agriculture, politics, mining, geography, and other topics. On a less obvious level, however, these quaint little books, with their mixture of predictions to be borne out and precepts to be followed on the basis of accepted, long-established practice, articulated and reconciled representations of the past and ideological constructs regarding the future. By listing natural phenomena, religious festivals, and civic occasions in the same chronological sequence, the almanacs “placed” events in historical time and made recently created political commemorations seem as ineluctable as changes in the phases of the moon, the approach of an eclipse, or the recurring celebration of a popular religious festival.

Keywords:   almanacs, social life, predictions, precepts, ideological constructs, future

Innovation and Tradition as Glimpsed through Almanacs

Over the course of the nineteenth century, in Cuba as in Latin America generally, almanacs, or calendars as they were also called, marked the rhythms of social life by specifying all of the festivals, holidays, and special occasions of the civil and religious year—an array of days for rejoicing, fasting and mourning, celebrating saints' days and other anniversaries, observing “patriotic” dates of the mother country, and honoring the members of Spain's royal family.1

Almanacs formed a multifaceted genre. Compendia of the mundane, they were consulted by travelers, merchants, ranchers, planters, and others for their abundance of useful information—interspersed with tables and illustrations—about commerce, agriculture, politics, mining, geography, and other topics. On a less obvious, less self-conscious level, however, these quaint little books, with their mixture of predictions to be borne out (or not) and precepts to be followed on the basis of accepted, long-established practice, articulated and reconciled representations of the past and ideological constructs regarding the future. By listing natural phenomena (such as the spring and winter equinoxes and other changes affecting the seasons), religious festivals, and civic occasions in the same chronological sequence, the almanacs “placed” events in historical time and made recently created political commemorations seem as ineluctable as changes in the phases of the moon, the approach of an eclipse, or the recurring celebration of a popular religious festival.

(p.30) Equally the field of the sacred and the worldly, of popular culture and official convention, the calendars grounded both the consolidation of what society records and remembers and the mediation of its ongoing political demands. Similarly, when calendars registered new commemorative occasions or removed old anniversaries and celebrations, they bore witness to the outcome of struggles over the power to organize social life, whether this power was wielded by ecclesiastical authorities, the state, or institutions of civil society.2 The almanacs which appeared in the aftermath of the war of 1895–98, during the initial years of the U.S. intervention, reflected—with their amalgam of Catholic, U.S., and nationalist anniversaries—the complicated symbolic interactions characteristic of the period. Three intersecting interests, each complemented by its own set of symbols and associations, competed for ascendancy: the traditions inherited from the colonial past, the problematic representations of an unsettled present marked by a foreign military occupation, and the assertions of a simmering nationalist will, expressed in the desire of Cubans to take their place as an independent nation in the near future.

Some chance observations written on the blank pages of a copy of an 1899 almanac evoke the heady, turbulent atmosphere of the last days of Spain's four hundred years of rule over its island colony. As the almanac's unknown owner traveled by train from Santa Clara to Cienfuegos on 1 January 1899, passing through various communities, he or she recorded the extraordinary events then unfolding:

1 January. I've gone on to Cienfuegos, the train carried very few passengers, and of these, fifty were revolutionary soldiers sent as detachments to Esperanza and Ranchuelo, both of which had been evacuated the day before. The train flew several U.S. and Cuban flags, in La Esperanza a huge crowd, holding flags, met us at the station, raising cheers to a free Cuba, independence, and the soldiers of the insurrection. In Ranchuelo the same demonstration … ; Cruces y Camarones the same thing, these pueblos are all decked out.3

A short distance from its destination, the train stopped to pick up a company of U.S. soldiers marching from their encampment on the outskirts of Cienfuegos into the heart of the city “in order to preside over the raising of the American flag and take possession of the main square for the United States.” Even before this event, however, in the cafés and corner groceries of the sea-side town, groups of Spanish soldiers shared drinks and traded toasts with their U.S. counterparts, and also exchanged souvenirs, in the form of badges and other items of military issue, while they waited for their ships to embark. (p.31) “Lots of houses were decorated with flags and with curtains in the colors of Cuba and the United States and across the city's neighborhoods many little Cuban flags, not being posted very high up, had been torn down by the American soldiers, who used some of them to wipe the dust off their boots and gaiters.”4 “All of these details,” the anonymous diarist notes insightfully, “have not gone by unnoticed by Cubans, and while they may not show it, I believe they understand perfectly well that the U.S.'s military occupation is a long-term affair and in the end could, without too much difficulty, turn into something permanent, justified on the grounds of the Monroe Doctrine—‘America for Americans.’”5

Thus, in addition to the radical social consequences of the revolutionary struggle for independence and the sense of disorientation produced by the abrupt disengagement from the institutional apparatus of colonial rule, Cubans were forced to contend with the U.S. presence on their island, imposed on them in the form of a government of military occupation. This multilayered process of change left a deep mark on Cuban society, altering its familiar rhythms and representations.

The War of Independence that started in 1895 imprinted itself in two powerful ways. On the one hand, it carved a painful course through Cuban life for nearly four years, leaving many lives turned upside down. On the other, it promised the imminent realization of a new order of freedom and justice. The intervention and then victory of the United States in the war, the evacuation of the Spanish army, and the radical break with the past contributed to the dual sensation experienced by many Cubans of witnessing one era die as another was born. They stood on the verge of a new historical era, and the perception of having broken with the colonial past was intensified by the theatrical symbolism of the ceremonies which accompanied the transference of sovereignty from Spain to the United States.

The colonial heritage of more than four centuries of Spanish control and domination was declared a dead letter; in its place a future of vast new hori-zons—uncharted as yet in any detail—would open for Cubans. This sense of rupture and discontinuity, heightened by the simultaneous end of Spain's rule and final years of the century (a concurrence invested with great symbolic significance by Cubans), is present in the almanacs and calendars. No other source, in fact, reveals as directly the changes in cycles of festivals and celebrations that for decades had defined and governed the social life of the colony.

More particularly, it would be difficult to find a clearer expression of Cubans' belief that one was living through the very moment when an old order gave way to a new than the proposal, published in El Fígaro, that the country inaugurate (p.32) a new calendar, taking 24 February 1895—when the War of Independence began—as the first day of Cuba's Year 1. As part of the proposal, which recalled the French Revolution, the months of the “Cuban year” would be named after patriots “dead on the field of battle or on the honorable platform of the political scaffold.”6

The proposal was too radical for all but the most fervent nationalists.7 Nonetheless, even in an almanac as conservative and traditionalist as that published annually by the diocese of Havana, the break with the metropolitan past and the birth of a new order stand out sharply.

For example, in the Calendario del Obispado de La Habana para el año de 1899 (published at the end of the preceding year), while a day like 2 May—a date of high honor in the Spanish political tradition—was still set aside for festivities, the celebration of saints' days and the birthdays of members of the Spanish royal family, which in colonial times were commemorated lavishly throughout the year with receptions and school processions, disappeared permanently.8 Other dates previously set aside, such as those which marked the drawings for the Real Lotería, denigrated now as one of the “blights” of the old regime, were also eliminated.9

In the almanac of the Havana diocese for the following year, 2 May was replaced as a day for celebration by 4 July—the U.S. Independence Day. At the same time, 10 October and 24 February, which mark the beginning of the two wars of liberation against Spain, appear for the first time as Cuban holidays. This 1900 calendar has a distinctly hybrid character, granting space to justdebuted nationalist commemorations, various U.S. celebrations, and festivities and anniversaries marking the traditional Catholic calendar.

The Catholic almanac, with its endless processional days and saints' days, and its emphasis on such anniversaries as 25 July, the day of Saint James the Apostle, or 8 December, in honor of the Blessed Virgin—both patrons of Spain—remained faithful to the memory of Spanish rule.10

Yet even the Catholic almanac came to terms, in its own way, with the changed environment. In 1901—the first year of the twentieth century—it utilized a new format to organize its odd assemblage of disparate festivities and contradictory commemorations. In addition to their customary practice of identifying the year's observances chronologically, the editors included a thematic division as part of the almanac's front matter.

From this point on, the civil calendar—regulated by the state according to its official commemorations—was fully differentiated from the festivals and celebrations on the religious calendar, as determined by the Catholic Church. In the future, this distinction would become commonplace in the popular (p.33) mind. The notion that there were holidays and festivities appropriate to two distinct realms—the civil and the ecclesiastic—announced a new secular era and the separation of church and state decreed by the U.S. authorities.

Alongside the days of celebration officially accepted by the U.S. military government were a number of unofficial celebrations. The latter were separated or subdivided into two groups: the fiestas pertaining to the “Spanish colony” (which included the days honoring Saint James the Apostle and the Blessed Virgin as well as 1 November, All Saints' Day) and the holidays celebrated by the “American colony,” specifically, 22 February (George Wash-ington's birthday), 30 May (Decoration Day, known today as Memorial Day, which for uninformed readers the almanac translated as “similar to our Day of the Dead”), the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving.

Since the nationalist “occasions” were neither officially sanctioned nor considered distinctive to either of the two “colonies,” they were omitted from both of the broad categories. Nonetheless, they did appear in the almanac, identified as “Cuban patriotic holidays” on the pages corresponding to the months of February and October.11

With its separate categories of festivals and celebrations coexisting together, the 1901 Almanaque mirrors the plurality of cultural and ideological stand-points characteristic of the period. In this respect, it is a unique document. The almanacs and calendars published during these years also provide subtle indications of the negotiations among the ecclesiastical powers, interventionist authorities dealing with the state, and (especially nationalist) organizations of civil society struggling for symbolic mastery of the norms of Cuban social life.

The Thinly Veiled Acceptance of U.S. Celebrations

That Cuba's understanding of itself in this period was fragmented and governed by discordant representations is confirmed by a study of its newspapers as well as other documentary sources. In 1899, after several months during which nobody was sure which were the dates to celebrate, the U.S. military government approved a decree stipulating that only Sundays as well as 1 January, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and 25 December qualified as officially sanctioned holidays.12 The dates accepted as official were thus limited to certain days of the traditional calendar of festivities, such as Holy Week and Christmas, while any celebration recognizing political interests or anniversaries was excluded.

Several weeks later, however, on 12 November 1899, the Gaceta de La Habana (p.34) printed a proclamation issued to the Cuban people by the U.S. military governor, John R. Brooke:

The custom exists in the United States of designating one day in the year to give thanks to the Supreme Being, for the many benefactions granted in the past. The designation of this day and the exhortation that people observe it comes from the supreme authority of the government, making its implementation a matter of national, patriotic duty. The Military Government of Cuba, taking into account what is sacred and true, in according recognition in this way to all blessings granted, in giving thanks for them and in imploring for the future divine guidance, direction and assistance; and believing further than no people or country has more reason to be grateful or has greater hopes for the future than the inhabitants of Cuba, thinks it only natural to call their attention to their present state. Taking this into account, it sets Thursday, the thirtieth day of November, as the Day to Give Thanks to God and urges that the cares and labors of life be put aside on that day so that all might gather in their different places of worship and extend to the Supreme Arbiter of our destiny the thanks and praises which are justly due Him.13

To judge by the data I have managed to assemble, the majority of Cubans did not lend themselves willingly to the Protestant-inspired exercise urged on them of showing “gratitude.” Whereas in Puerto Rico, according to Silvia Álvarez Curbelo, the populace adapted to U.S. holidays with little conflict shortly after the U.S. occupation, I have uncovered no evidence in Cuba that anything comparable happened there, outside of official circles or certain sectors of the elite, whose members were always disposed to view positively any practice coming “from the North.”14

Despite their inclusion in the almanacs, holiday celebrations originating in the United States do not seem to have gained much traction among the Cuban population as a whole. To the minor degree that they did, this was confined to a range of relatively modest celebrations (organized, in the majority of cases, to curry favor with U.S. officialdom). Tributes appearing in the periodical press may have helped create the false impression of a widespread acceptance of U.S. holidays. With respect to holiday feasts, dressed turkeys never replaced the traditional roast suckling pig eaten on Christmas Eve, and it was not until much later that Santa Claus began to cast a shadow over the Three Kings of Catholic tradition in children's imaginations. In analyzing these questions, moreover, it is important to note that the U.S. military authorities never tried to pressure or coerce Cubans into celebrating U.S. holidays. Rather, (p.35) their approach was to “suggest,” in an amiable, paternalistic way, that Cubans do so.

Other dates linked to the U.S. presence on the island, such as 12 August (commemorating the signing of the armistice between Spain and the United States), Decoration Day, and the birthday of George Washington, were commemorated in Cuba during these years on a sporadic basis and without much conviction.15

An incident which occurred in February 1899, in connection with the first observance in Havana of Washington's birthday, illustrates the ambiguous way in which these anniversaries got incorporated as official public celebrations. The city's municipal council decorated the front of its building with banners on which large intertwined acronyms stood out, in allegorical testimony to the fraternal union existing between the republic of the United States and a Cuban republic as yet unborn. As though in competition with this display, however, curtains had been draped on another part of the building, with the names of prominent separatist leaders, heroes of the wars of liberation against Spain, completely visible on them. Within a few hours, both the acronyms and the patriots' names had disappeared from the banners. The government's explanation for this precipitous action cited “aesthetic reasons.” Virtually no one believed the official story. Rather, popular opinion attributed the action to the displeasure of the U.S. authorities, who presumably looked askance at the attempt to link the central figures of the Cuban independence movement with the celebration of Washington's birthday.16

In some areas, local U.S. administrators, without obtaining the approval of their superiors in Havana, declared U.S. anniversaries as official Cuban holidays. For example, in the city and district of Trinidad, 22 February was declared a day of public celebration: “Wednesday, the 22nd of February 1899, is proclaimed a public holiday in the City and district of Trinidad. Out of all days in the year, this day is dedicated throughout the United States of America to commemorating the birth and life of george washington, who in America was statesman, soldier, patriot, wise soul, reformer, fount of truth and justice, pioneer, guardian of freedom, first founding father of his country and protector of its inhabitants.”17 Through the proclamation, Colonel George Le Roy Brown, the U.S. military governor of the Trinidad district, invited Cubans not only to celebrate Washington's birthday but “to study and discuss the fundamental principles of the government he inaugurated, which today stands as a monument from which his superhuman wisdom shines forth.”18

Some months later, a Trinidad newspaper, El Telégrafo, published a story describing a dance held by the La Tertulia social club in honor of U.S. Independence (p.36) Day. The festivities were attended by U.S. officials and their wives, together with “the most select element of Trinidadian society.” According to the newspaper's account, the walls of La Tertulia's hall were lined with Cuban and U.S. flags, which “randomly tied together symbolized the feelings of warmth and brotherhood that have come to unite these two peoples.” At the edge of the street, between garlands of roses and laurels, a likeness of Washington had been planted, with a border “on which shone both the forty-five stars of the United States and the bright lone star that lit up the lovely sky of Cuba.”19 To the left of Washington, however, enveloped among flowers, one could also see portraits depicting Cuba's revolutionary heroes: Céspedes, Martí, Gómez, and Maceo. Here again the central symbols and personalities defining Cuban and U.S. nationality—the countries' flags and political heroes—were linked together, at least superficially.

Subsequently, on 12 August 1899, Trinidad's municipal council decided to commemorate the first anniversary of the signing of the armistice which brought an end to the war. Yet, far from paying tribute to the army of occupation, the “peace festivities” of 1899 in Trinidad turned the ostensible celebration of the U.S. victory into a very visible celebration of Cuban nationalist aspirations.

With hours to spare, the public began to gather in front of the municipal council building to witness, at noon sharp, the central event of the celebration: “The act of running up, for the first time at Trinidad's town hall, the glorious flag of Cuba which, once hoisted, would give proof that the island does not depend on Spain, that it is already free, with solemn commitments to be independent.”20 Lino Pérez, a general in the Liberation Army and the mayor of Trinidad, together with other Cuban leaders and officials as well as representatives of the U.S. army, presided over the activities at a table covered with a large Cuban flag. The city's schoolchildren recited poems and sang patriotic songs. At the conclusion of this part of the celebration, the mayor, accompanied by members of the municipal council, the commander of the U.S. forces, and other authorities, climbed up to the building's roof terrace with the flag, which was hoisted by Brigadier Bravo and Lieutenant Colonel García, joined by two other officials, all of whom wore special dress. The flag could barely be glimpsed at the top of the roof terrace wall, over the council's main hall, when—so the newspaper story reported—“the crowd let forth with a spontaneous roar, which thundered over the space. The anthem of Bayamo [the “Bayamesa”] was played, and cheers were followed by still more cheers, until all [of the Cuban flag] hung free, facing the flag of the stars and stripes, which had flown there since 3 December.”21

(p.37) Traditional Celebrations and Nationalist Innovations

At a different remove, and despite the reiteration—in written, oral, and other modes of communication—of a policy of “wiping the slate clean” with respect to the past, not all colonial practices linked to the Hispanic cultural inheritance were rejected or abandoned. Notwithstanding the recently proclaimed separation of church and state, announced with great fanfare as one of the landmark achievements distinguishing the “new era” at hand, the dates “to observe” from the colonial era, as decreed by the Catholic religion—saints' days, fasting days, processional days, and days for Easter and Christmas services and celebrations—continued to order the passage of time, regulate social convention, and fill most of the space in the almanacs.22

Religious processions, some the object of celebration reaching back centuries, formed a key component of the “ecclesiastical year” laid out for the faithful in different almanacs. These processions continued to take place, although they were considerably scaled down and had to share public space with “patriotic parades” and other civic commemorations. Inevitably, however, once the U.S. military authorities decreed the end of the historic union of church and state, the right of the Catholic Church to celebrate religious rites and events publicly was called into question. In September 1899 a resident of Santiago de Cuba made a request to Cuba's secretary of state, demanding that the government intervene swiftly and forcefully to prohibit religious processions and protect the right to religious freedom, which had been won “with the American cannon and the Cuban machete.” The protester argued: “With Church and State having been separated by virtue of the American Occupation, there is no longer any official religion, the only thing which should be proclaimed is the absolute freedom of religion, and the Government should not allow Catholic priests to organize processions in the streets nor permit the Municipal Police and the Rural Guard to protect these processions and require that passersby remove their hats in reverence to the idol being carried.”23 The celebration of a community's patron saint, likewise tied closely to the Catholic calendar of feast days, maintained its preponderance as a festival, though it was increasingly stripped of its original religious content. For example, in the middle of 1899, a year after the U.S. military occupation began in Santiago de Cuba, and despite the strong U.S. presence in the city, Demetrio Castillo Duany, the prov-ince's civil governor, referred in his correspondence with officials in the Cuban department of state and interior to the popular demand to celebrate the feasts of Saint John, Saint Peter, Saint Cristina, Saint James the Apostle (the city's patron saint), and Saint Anne, “when people don masks.”24 Whether it was still (p.38) appropriate in the new political circumstances created by the separation of church and state to hold public, community celebrations tied to observances of the Catholic calendar was illustrated in a debate that broke out in Cienfuegos over the celebration of the festival of Saint John in June 1899. Although some months earlier, the city's municipal councilors had on their own account (that is, without bothering to consult the U.S. military authorities) unanimously approved the celebration of the 24 February anniversary of the Grito de Baire (Declaration of Baire), which launched the War of Independence (1895–98), the proposal to commemorate the festival of the saint, “supported as a traditional custom which the people have always observed,” sparked a heated discussion that brought to light the tension between the loyalty to time-honored festivals and the anticlerical sentiments stirred up by the U.S. occupation. Ultimately, those in favor of respecting longstanding popular tradition prevailed, and the council approved the celebration of the festival—only to regret its decision a few days later. The public disorder that resulted from the excessive partying led to a violent clash between some U.S. troops encamped in the area and several Cuban policemen, almost all former members of the Liberation Army. The incident threatened to undermine the cordial relationship between the Cuban and U.S. authorities in the city.25

In 1900, in the coastal community of Mariel, the program of festivities held in honor of Saint Teresa de Jesús, the pueblo's patron saint, reflected a unique symbiosis combining elements of traditional Catholic ceremonial practice, secular entertainments, modern innovations, and nationalism. As the local newspaper reported, the festival began with the usual procession, in which the image of the saint was carried from the church through the streets of the pueblo, a traditional Hail Mary was said, and a mass was celebrated “with a full musical accompaniment.” Cuban flags fluttered from houses and a Cuban banner, belonging to the local committee of the National Party, was solemnly blessed by the pueblo's parish priest. The formal events of the occasion were followed by a variety of informal entertainments. The high-pitched whistle of exploding rockets mixed with the music of the zapateo, a traditional campesino dance with rhythmic foot stamping. There were sailboat regattas at sea, and on land, in place of the usual horse races, people raced each other on bicycles around a ringed course, while others competed at various games of skill. In the afternoon, the city's residents gathered to watch a balloon launching. At sunset, they were treated to a show of fireworks. The day's festivities were livened up with still more games, “wholesome” in nature, and with dances accompanied by popular music performed by the “renowned orchestra of Felipe Valdés.”26

(p.39) Concurrent with the celebration in Mariel, the residents of the nearby pueblo of Guanajay experienced firsthand an innovation, of “Catholicnationalist” tint, in their local festival calendar. On 4 October, Saint Francis of Assisi was honored. That year—1900—the anniversary was accorded particular importance in Guanajay. However, the celebration in honor of Saint Francis [San Francisco] was not organized, as one might expect, by his devotees but instead by the supporters of the pueblo's mayor, Pancho Oberto y Zaldivar, a lieutenant colonel in the Liberation Army, for the simple reason that the colonel's Christian name was also Francisco. Guanajay's municipal council declared the day a “public holiday.” On the morning of 4 October, a special entourage, led by the pueblo's police force mounted on horseback, opened the procession. Schoolchildren and the female workforce from the local cigar factories marched behind it through the streets of the town, cheering loudly for the National Party. They were followed by a car bearing the Cuban flag and an open carriage with “indias” and “criollas” sitting on its single row of seats. A musical band and the pueblo's firefighters on their fire truck, which had been decorated with banners and with the name of the mayor affixed in gold letters, brought up the rear of this outré procession.27

The celebration of Christmas in 1899 in San Juan de los Remedios, an old town steeped in conventional religiosity but also known for its high-spirited fiestas, provides another instance of the strength behind the “invention of [nationalist] tradition.” The town's celebration of these fiestas dates to 1820, when a priest, upset that parishioners were not attending the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the so-called misa del gallo (rooster's mass), had the boys and young men of the town come into the streets and wake up its residents by creating a din with whistles, cans, and fotutos (a type of wind instrument), obliging them to turn up at church. On Christmas Eve in 1899, the towns-folk assembled, as was customary, in the former “Isabel II” square, recently renamed the Plaza José Martí. They uncovered their acetylene lights and launched the festivities with the traditional procession of floats. In keeping with the changed circumstances of the time, however, the floats on this occasion displayed Cuban flags and other patriotic-allegorical ornamentation. The lumping together of religious, secular, and nationalist motifs offended María Escobar, a person from the area sympathetic to the patriot cause, who expressed her dismay in a letter to General Máximo Gómez:

It seems to me that the people around here have gone crazy by confusing what is serious with what is playful. On Christmas Eve, amid pieces of colored paper, tins, and [scampering] children, they take a bust of Martí, (p.40) set it down in the square and later pass it around through the town to the accompaniment of whistling, vivas, and other such doings particular to that night. Very serious, solemn things to be taken so lightly and in times when the ceremony has been drained of its majesty. You didn't escape the hullabaloo: on the day of the 25th they put a bust of you (in your case it had only your name on it) in a carriage with those of Maceo and Martí and drove them through the streets, guarded by girls dressed as mermaids, fairies, and sailors. I am outraged by the desecration and ridiculousness into which we are falling.28

Thus, instead of being treated as objects of dignified, reverent homage, the busts of the national heroes were swept into the festive tumult of the Christmas celebration, crassly intermixed with vivas and whistling, colored paper and tins, mermaids and sailors. The lines between the Cuba of the heroic tradition of the wars of liberation, of the martyrology of Martí and Maceo, and the light-hearted, free-spirited Cuba of irreverent partying and mockery were blurred in the course of the popular celebration. Far from being a “desecration,” however, the spontaneous homage paid to the “Fathers of the Nation” demonstrated just how widely and deeply popular they were, well before the republican state officially incorporated them into the national pantheon.

As can be seen, then, one of the most notable features of Mariel's celebration of its patron saint, Guanajay's celebration—converted into a public holiday—of its mambí mayor's “saint,” and the Christmas festivities celebrated in 1899 in San Juan de los Remedios was the interweaving of elements of traditional religious ceremony with elements of an evolving Cuban nationalism. Although relations between the Catholic Church and the secular authorities were characterized by recurrent tension and conflict during this period, so far as the observance of festivals and anniversaries was concerned, there was no radical break with long-established religious traditions. Instead, the pattern was one of accommodation and adjustment between the symbolic codes of a recently created nationalist sentiment and the far older model of Catholic ritual and practice.

The Cuban Fiesta of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre

An undeniable early manifestation of this symbiotic relationship between the sacred and the political or, specifically in the Cuban case, between a Catholic-based worldview and a belief system organized in part around the core value of nationalism is the ardent devotion to the “mulatta” Virgin of Charity of El Cobre. During the Guerra de los Diez Años (Ten Year's War), an image of Our (p.41) Lady of Charity presided over the saying of masses and other religious ceremonies that were performed, in improvised fashion, in the fields and jungles, invoked for her powers to come to the aid of the independentistas and their cause. A couplet sung in the camps of the insurrectionist forces during the Ten Years' War evokes the intertwining of this mystical saving presence with the political rebellion, the divinely miraculous with the completely worldly:

  • Our Lady of Charity
  • The patron saint of Cubans
  • With machete in hand
  • We appeal for freedom

In some notes that he had compiled to buttress his study of the El Cobre Virgin of Charity, which he left unpublished, Fernando Ortiz refers to a curious popular legend passed from one person to another during the Ten Years' War. In the legend, the Virgin is described as an “insurrectionist.” According to popular tradition, she disappeared now and then, going into the swamps and “appearing afterward, in her sanctuary of El Cobre, stained with mud, her clothes covered with brambles.”29

Three decades later, during the War of Independence, the soldiers of the Liberation Army continued this tradition by carrying with them medallions engraved with the likeness of the “mambisa” virgin. Supposedly, even Antonio Maceo, known for his affiliation with freemasonry and for military bravery and daring that bordered on the reckless, invariably carried—“just in case,” as a special protection—a small medallion of the Virgin of El Cobre fastened to his underwear.30

Juxtaposed to the official body of worship sanctioned and promoted by the Catholic Church, an institution characterized by its class-based, racist, and pro-Spanish positions, the veneration of a criolla virgin of color by a group of devotees of like color was rooted among the popular sectors of society, part and parcel of the idea of an authentic Cuba found in the country's heartland, a Cuba linked to the image of Martí and the flag, to the full panoply of symbolic representations constituting cubanía. Little by little, the Cuban festival of Our Lady of Charity, celebrated on 8 September, gained ground against other Marian celebrations, such as those devoted to the Immaculate Conception (celebrated on 8 December), the Virgin of Covadonga, and Our Lady of Montserrat. These latter cults began to be seen as foreign inasmuch as they symbolized the Spanish presence on the island.31

As recorded in the sanctuary's archive, not long after the war was over—on 8 September 1898—the mambí army general Agustín Cebreco visited the (p.42) temple of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, accompanied by his general staff, to pay tribute to the patron saint. Some days later, on 24 September, a large number of liberation troops from different detachments again made their way to El Cobre. Their purpose on this occasion was to have a Cuban flag “baptized.” The flag had been presented to Cebreco's regiment by the residents of the coastal town of Cayo Smith. According to a Santiago newspaper that reported on the celebrations accompanying the blessing of the national colors in the sanctuary, “It was a day of rejoicing for the people of El Cobre. The joyous crowd cheered the flag of our sorrows and our glory.”32 The site continued to maintain its central place as a sacred symbol of the independence movement. More than fifteen years hence, with the island now a separate republic, a procession of approximately two thousand former mambise soldiers, led by General Jesús Rabí and Cebreco himself, set off on a pilgrimage from Santiago de Cuba to the sanctuary of El Cobre to request that Our Lady of Charity be officially consecrated as the patron saint of Cuba.33

The identification of the image of the Virgin of El Cobre with a tradition of popular patriotism could also be observed through the incorporation of tributes to her in the program of festivities celebrated on the national holiday, 24 February, which commemorated the Grito de Baire.34 In Marianao, a short distance from Havana and far from the eastern part of the country where the cult originated, the celebrations in 1900 began with a “patriotic” mass in memory of the martyrs of the war; the mass was followed by a fiesta dedicated to the Virgin of Charity.35 It is thus not surprising that the ecclesiastical authorities, in an effort to win adherents and recover a primacy lost with the end of Spanish rule, the separation of church and state, and the spread of Protestant denominations sponsored by the U.S. authorities, took the initial steps toward recognizing the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre as the island's patron saint. In 1901 the prelates of Santiago de Cuba and Havana asked the Vatican to proclaim its official support for this proposal. Nothing was heard from Rome for fifteen years, but Cuba's patience was finally rewarded. In May 1916 Pope Benedict XV consecrated the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre as the patron saint of the Republic of Cuba.36

The Almanacs' Calendar of Saints' Days and Baptismal Congratulations

Although the years of the U.S. intervention saw the introduction of a civil registry, the majority of Cubans still chose, in this period, to have their marriage ceremonies performed “by the Church” and to have their children baptized (p.43) according to traditional Catholic ritual. Furthermore, the time-honored custom of selecting names for the newly born on the basis of the published lists of saints' days persisted in Cuba, particularly in rural areas, right up to the victory of the Revolution in 1959. Nonetheless, while the overall practice continued, there was an interesting change of emphasis. Consider, for example, the congratulations offered two new parents in 1899, in the social section of a newspaper published in Güines, a town not far from the capital. The couple was congratulated, not for having brought a new Christian into the world (as was traditional) but for having given the homeland a new “citizen,” for whom it was wished, in place of the traditional blessings, that he might “occupy one of the best positions in the future Cuban Republic.”37

The baptism of the child José Belén López Martínez, born in the community of Guanajay on 7 April 1900, engendered a similar reaction. A notice of congratulations printed in a Guanajay newspaper is a classic illustration of the politicization, with clear nationalist overtones, of ancient Catholic practice. In the words of the newspaper: “This little Cuban enters the world during a period of intervention and is baptized during a time of elections. May God make him the citizen of a free, independent, and honored country!”38

The leaders and officers of the Liberation Army, who had a high public profile during these years, often were chosen as godparents of these “little citi-zens” born at the dawn of the twentieth century.39 In keeping with the patriotic theme injected into these ceremonial customs, many parents chose to send out baptismal cards printed with flags, insignias, or some other allegorical Cuban emblem.40

Another congratulatory note, in this case for someone's saint's day, published in the social events section of a Trinidad newspaper on 21 June 1899, illustrates another remarkable feature of daily life in these years—the confluence of dissonant and contradictory images.


The Almanac says that tomorrow the Church commemorates St. Ciriaco. Our dear friend, the distinguished and esteemed Sr. Ciriaco García, Lieutenant Colonel in the Cuban Army,

will mark that occasion on his own day.

I wish you many happy returns of the day!41

The note's final sentence appeared in English.

It would be difficult to find an example more suggestive of the hybrid atmosphere of these years than this simple vignette, which interweaves the survival of religious traditions of earlier times (the celebration of the “saint”), allusions (p.44) to Cuban patriotism (in the reference to García's participation in the Liberation Army), and the imprint of the U.S. presence, which left contemporary writing and publications littered with American English terms and expressions, as exemplified in the English-language message contained in the congratulatory note.

The Struggle to Have Days Honoring the Fatherland Sanctioned as National Holidays

In addition to the persistence, albeit in modified form, of celebrations marking the ecclesiastical calendar and the outward adoption of anniversaries of significance for the United States, the most salient feature of these years was the swift consolidation—in the very midst of the U.S. intervention—of a nationalist calendar, on which the dates that marked the start of the Ten Years' War and the War of Independence (10 October and 24 February, respectively) were consecrated, unofficially, as días de la Patria (national days, or days commemorating the fatherland), incorporated as such in the almanacs, and—we have seen—celebrated throughout the island.

The celebration of these foundational holidays, not by small groups, as was the case during the wars or as happened for other holidays within immigrant communities, but throughout the country, marked an important milestone in the symbolic construction of a separate national identity. National days, commemorated in massive public ceremonies replete with ritual, held at the same time across the island, and covered in both the local and national press, were a core component in the formation of what Benedict Anderson has called the “imagined community of the nation,” an essential construct or building block of the future national republic.42 On the occasion of these celebrations, thousands of Cubans—as they sang the “Bayamesa” in person and in unison, carried portraits and banners in civic processions, recited patriotic décimas, waved flags, and dressed in the national colors—manifested in a visible, public way, for the first time since the conclusion of the war, their feelings of belonging to the nation, while also projecting an image of themselves as citizens, albeit of a “virtual,” still nonexistent republic. The open, large-scale demonstration of these feelings of cubanía, tolerated by the U.S. authorities, was perceived at the time as a key indicator of the broad popular support enjoyed by those who wanted to make Cuba an independent nation.

Such support notwithstanding, the two days of national celebration did not get inscribed into the almanacs without considerable effort. The history of the official sanctioning of both dates as national holidays, resulting both from (p.45) popular pressure and discussion and from complicated negotiations with the U.S. military government, can be reconstructed—at least in part—from documents which have survived down to the present.

In October 1898 there were efforts made in Santiago de Cuba, then occupied militarily by detachments of the U.S. Army, to organize the first large-scale festivities to commemorate the uprising of La Demajagua (the plantation, outside of Bayamo, where the Ten Years' War erupted). The effort failed because the U.S. military authorities prohibited the celebrations. Despite the prohibition, ten thousand residents of the city gathered on the anniversary day and marched in pilgrimage to the gravesite, in Santa Ifigenia, of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, to pay tribute to “the Father of the Nation,” in what was probably the first instance of a massive public tribute to a martyr of the independence movement.43

In similar fashion, the date of 24 February was commemorated for the first time throughout the island in 1899, barely two months after sovereignty had been officially transferred from Spain to the United States. The anniversary of the uprising that sparked the recently concluded war was also chosen as the day on which General Máximo Gómez, the most popular nationalist military leader, would enter the capital. To mark the occasion, celebrations and tributes were organized in almost all of the city's neighborhoods. Streets were garlanded with triumphal arches and houses decorated with Cuban flags, while the sound of patriotic music was heard across the city.

The festivities commemorating the fourth anniversary of the Grito de Baire closed with an open-air concert in the Parque Central, accompanied by popular dancing and music for the mass of city dwellers, along with an exclusive formal ball held in the Tacón Theater. A mambí soldier who attended the celebrations paints a picture in his memoirs of an enormous throng which, as it wound its way through the streets adjacent to the Parque Central and the Paseo del Prado, vented its happy patriotic mood to the rhythm of the conga, cracking off-color jokes, singing earthy songs, “dancing to the lively beat of the drums and whirling about.” Cuban offices remained closed on this day, and even the customhouse and the stock exchange halted their operations in observance of the holiday.44

Paralleling events in Havana, the celebration of 24 February in Cienfuegos was accompanied by the entrance into the city of the forces of the Cienfuegos Brigade, under the command of Major General Higinio Esquerra. The festivities on the program included mambise reveilles played by the Cuban army band, an open-air mass held in the Plaza de Armas, a military procession, a parade which included cyclists carrying flags, “young ladies wearing dresses (p.46) with symbolic and allegorical meanings,” and evening activities and patriotic functions in theaters and social clubs. The large working-class population of the city also made the celebration its own. Stevedores, railway workers, cobblers, carpenters, coopers, bakers, barbers, tobacco workers, and typographers took part in the festive patriotic parade, each marching group representing its own union. The members of the Lucumí Council, proudly carrying “banners with allegorical depictions,” likewise marched in the parade, along with representatives of other associations of color.45

In nearby Trinidad, the day was celebrated with carriage races, fireworks, and people promenading on horseback. In Trinidad, however, the U.S. military forces stationed in the area interjected a new element. The military chief of the district, Colonel Brown, joined the town's mayor in declaring 24 February a holiday. “By this measure, [the local newspaper wrote] both authorities have earned the gratitude of Cubans…. they have … solemnized a day which henceforth will be immortal in our hearts and whose memory will last forever in our souls.” On the day before the anniversary, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary, it was the Tennessee Regiment's military band that entertained the crowd with an outdoor concert in the recently christened Plaza Carrillo.46

In Guantánamo, in contrast, the city's mayor, Major General Pedro (“Peri-quito”) Pérez did not bother to request authorization from Leonard Wood (at that time the U.S. military governor of Oriente province) to celebrate the anniversary. In a letter still preserved in the Archivo Histórico Provincial in Santiago de Cuba, the mambí official notes curtly that he is “observing a cour-tesy” by informing Wood that “on the day of the 24th and the two days following there will be celebrations in this town in honor of that glorious day of the Cuban nation, soon to see fulfilled its enduring and legitimate and most noble aspiration: that of absolute independence.” Only then did Pérez add, more diplomatically, that this would be achieved “with the efficacious assistance of the great nation of liberty and justice.”47

Months later, toward the end of 1899, the general headquarters of the U.S. Army as well as the offices of the secretary of state and interior began to receive dozens of telegrams and letters from municipal councils across Cuba requesting that 10 October and 24 February, the “most noteworthy dates of a redeemed Cuba,” be officially proclaimed and sanctioned as public holidays.48

Precisely how and under whose leadership this massive campaign to make both dates days of national celebration got started remains a mystery. The most probable explanation is that it began inside the network of a nationalist organization, the Centers for Veterans of Independence. The organization had branches throughout the country and maintained close ties to the municipal (p.47) authorities in virtually every community. Whatever the ultimate source, what is certain is that over these months there was scarcely a municipality in the country, no matter how small, that did not put into writing the determination of its inhabitants to see both days consecrated as “national days.”

The wave of requests did not abate until the first days of January 1900, when the U.S. military governor announced publicly that no decision on the matter would be reached until municipal elections had taken place.49 Nevertheless, despite this unwillingness to recognize the Días de la Patria as official holidays, on 24 February 1900 the military government did make a partial accommodation, authorizing the suspension of work in the customhouse, the stock exchange, and state offices. “The look of the city could not be more charming or festive,” reported La Lucha, one of Havana's more widely read dailies, “every street has its banners with the colors of the Cuban flag. The flag has been run up on all of the houses and public buildings.” Amazingly, even the governor's palace, headquarters for U.S. military authorities, was decorated for the occasion, with red streamers hanging from its balconies and four Cuban flags placed on the facade of each corner of the building. A massive “meeting” was celebrated in the Albizu Theater, located in the capital's downtown district, where the Cuban National Party's most eloquent orators pleaded publicly for Cuba's rapid attainment of independence. According to a newspaper account, the display of a huge banner with the picture of José Martí on it was “met with an ovation bordering on the delirious.” And while the Albizu Theater hosted its political meeting, in the nearby Havana neighborhood of Matadero, like-wise decorated with “palm fronds and Cuban flags,” two orchestras—which had been playing since the night before—took turns “livening up” the celebration with “guarachas, rumbas, puntos guayaberos, and tanguitos criollos.”50

All of these manifestations of support for making the two anniversaries official holidays were noteworthy, but the participation that year of the island's schools provided perhaps the most interesting gloss of all on this “invention of [a revolutionary] tradition” under the direct gaze of the U.S. military occupation. In a public school system reorganized on the basis of the U.S. educational model and overseen by a U.S. superintendent, Cuban patriotic anniversaries were not officially recognized as public holidays. Nonetheless, the Havana Board of Education directed that teachers in the city's schools dedicate 24 February to explaining to their students “the meaning of the grand patriotic occasion and to awakening in them a heartfelt devotion to the cause of our independence.” “In the event,” a journalist for the newspaper Patria wrote, “there was not a single school in Havana that did not decorate the facade of its building with the national colors and hold a rally to celebrate the meaning and (p.48) triumph of the Cuban Revolution.”51 A custom was started in the classrooms that would be institutionalized some years later, with the advent of the Republic: the students sang patriotic anthems, “above all, the anthems of Bayamo and of the Invasion”; and they listened to explanations about the origin of the Cuban flag and coat of arms, as well as to “brief but substantial evocations in praise of the most stellar figures and heroes of our Revolution.” At the conclusion of these scholastic ceremonies, the children received Cuban insignias and pictures of the heroes of the independence struggles.52

Tensions between the advocates of a patriotic calendar of nationalist anniversaries and partisans of the traditional calendar of religious celebrations closely linked to memories of the colonial past flared into the open in 1900, when the recently named bishop of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the Italian Monsignor Donato Sbarretti, chose 24 February as the date for his arrival in Havana. The offensiveness of this decision is readily apparent if one considers, first, that a year earlier, Máximo Gómez had made his entrance into the capital on the same day and, second, that among the most nationalist elements, the Vatican's naming of the new bishop was tainted. In their eyes, with the end of Spanish domination, it was Cubans themselves who should fill the highest ecclesiastical offices, not foreign dignitaries.53

In a flyer, signed by several leaders of the revolution, that was circulated in the city, the bishop's intended course of action was branded an act of profanation and an “outand-out mocking of our ideals,” influenced by all “those who, in their inexhaustible hatred for this land, want, by striking this black note, to efface the jubilation with which our people are going to commemorate the anniversary of the glorious day on which the Revolution began, and whose end has been the triumph of our freedoms.” The manifesto ends by calling on Governor-General Leonard Wood to “block the consummation of this out-rage” and on the people to gather in front of the pier at El Templete to repudiate the foreign bishop.54 Thus, the reception to be accorded a new bishop, an event which in colonial times would have been the occasion for public festivities and an outpouring of respect, became a source of friction between the ecclesiastical authorities and the revolutionary vanguard. It also furnished an opportunity for the open expression of nationalist sentiments.

Later in the year, in October 1900, the Cuban Department of State and Interior, which functioned as a mediator among the U.S. military authorities, the nationalist organizations, and the country's body of municipal officials, sent a telegram to the civil governors of the different provinces authorizing the extraofficial celebration of the anniversary of the Revolution of Yara.55

As a consequence, toward the end of year, and in violation of military order (p.49) 176, even the University of Havana, an official institution little inclined to infringe the order, saw fit to adopt the new patriotic calendar as its own. The university suspended classes and other activities not just on 24 February and 10 October but on 27 November as well, to honor the anniversary of the execution by firing squad, in 1871, of a group of medical students who became the first student martyrs of the independence struggle.56

In January 1901, the mayors of Sagua, Abreus, Bahía Honda, Santa Isabel de las Lajas, Mariel, Sabanilla, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Cruces, Manzanillo, San Juan de las Yeras, Colón, San Diego de los Baños, Bejucal, Bolondrón, Managua, Cárdenas, Cabezas, Guanabacoa, Puerto Príncipe, and many other communities reengaged the issue, repeating their earlier tactic of petitioning to have both anniversaries officially sanctioned as national public holidays. Once the municipal elections had taken place and local power was in the hands of officials elected by popular vote, the time had come—as the mayor of Los Palacios pointed out and as the letters to the U.S. military governor sent by all the other mayors insisted—“to fulfill the clear wishes of the Cuban people that the memory of the heroic and glorious sacrifices made for our independence be honored on these days.”57

Diego Tamayo, then serving as secretary of state and interior, inserted himself into the matter by writing a letter in January 1902 to Leonard Wood, in which he summarized the popular demand: “Over the course of the last two years since Spanish sovereignty came to an end on this island, the country has celebrated these days, even though they are not considered holidays in official circles, and they will surely continue to be celebrated with the same enthusiasm with which the sons of America commemorate the anniversaries of their respective declarations of independence. The decision to break from Spain cost Cuba too many sacrifices for her to face the prospect that the two days on which she proved her intentions to the world are not, today, occasions for official celebration.”58

Thus, in a new effort to obtain legal sanction from the military government for the celebration of Cuba's “national days,” the department proposed that a fresh order be issued, through which the dates in question would be given the same legal effect as those noted in military order 176, which dealt with the regulation of public holidays and, as we have seen, embraced only a subset of the older, traditional holidays, while excluding any commemoration with political implications.

Once again, however, the U.S. military authorities managed to deflect the issue, this time by using the excuse of the impending adoption of a constitution for the Cuban Republic. In a terse though courteous note sent to the (p.50) Cuban Department of State, the U.S. military governor explained that, while he appreciated the popular desire to have the two anniversaries made into public holidays, he did not feel at liberty to declare them as such given that a constitution for the government of Cuba was still being drafted. Only the Cuban state itself, he believed, would have the legal authority—in the near future—to designate permanent official celebrations. Nevertheless, in a concession to the two years of insistent pressures and demands, the military government yielded temporarily, announcing that the national celebrations would have legal status in 1900 and authorizing the suspension of all public business on the two days.59

Consequently, in towns and rural communities across the country, the municipal councils declared the national days as days of celebration. Various commemorative activities were organized. The streets were decorated, and schools, offices, and businesses closed their doors. In the pueblo of Batabanó, for example, it was announced that a grand patriotic dance would be held in the Liceo Martí to celebrate 10 October. The board of the Liceo dramatized the occasion by debuting the club's new electric lighting, which with its gleaming “chandelier of fine cut glass” cast light over a wide area “to startling and dazzling effect.”60 On the next holiday, 24 February 1901, the residents of Batabanó awakened to the sound of “spirited reveilles and to the burst of rockets and firecrackers shattering the air.” According to the local newspaper, when the fog lifted that morning, “the Cuban flag could be seen on all of the pueblo's towers and flagpoles.” The streets, which had been decorated for the celebration, were filled from early in the day with crowds of schoolchildren who marched along happily, “holding their little tricolor flags and singing the national anthem.” The day ended with a dance in the Liceo, where, to everyone's satisfaction, the local orchestra played a great many “delightful” Cuban popular dance pieces.61

Batabanó's festive spirit of celebration was repeated in communities across the island. The program of festivities organized by the municipal authorities in Consolación del Sur for 24 February 1901 included a public rally, schoolchildren parading with banners, a reception and banquet in the municipal building, bicycle races, an open-air concert in the main plaza, fireworks, and—as the closing event—the launching of a large balloon. “All of these entertainments,” the local newspaper announced, “will be enlivened by a band which will play the Anthem of Bayamo.”62

Cockfighting and Patriotism

Patriotic anniversaries were celebrated by the populace in a variety of ways, some of which were belittled and condemned by the authorities and the educated (p.51) classes. In contrast to the newer celebrations, with their bicycle races, hot-air balloons, and electric lighting, the custom in many towns and commu-nities—dating back to the colonial period—was to celebrate holidays and feast days with cockfights, a practice which now came to be criticized as “uncivilized.” Indeed, it was declared illegal in military order 165, issued in 1899 by the general headquarters of the military government.63

Traditionally, in the western and central parts of the country, cockfights, accompanied by gambling, took place during the month of February—the time of both the sugar harvest, when money flowed freely in the countryside, and carnival. The pastime of cockfighting was extremely popular. Because the 24 February festivities coincided with the celebration of carnival, the “time for cockfighting” on the calendar of popular celebrations now overlapped with the newly inaugurated “time of national patriotic celebration.” This coincidence gave rise to friction between the numerous aficionados of cockfighting and the local authorities, who had to decide between allowing cockfights to go on in the midst of the new festivities and suppressing them by enforcing the occupation government's unpopular decree.

A case in point arose on 24 February 1901 in the community of San Juan y Martínez, located in the province of Pinar del Río, when a person acting on behalf of a large contingent of residents requested permission to celebrate the occasion with a cockfight. After the rejection of its request by the local municipal official, the disaffected group went off into the woods on the outskirts of the pueblo in defiance of the prohibition. On their return from their escapade, “with the roosters in their hands and their clothes stained with blood,” as the charge against them read, the violators were arrested by the Rural Guard and put on trial.64

The incident clearly demonstrates just how differently one group of Cubans, in contrast to another, viewed (and celebrated) the idea that it belonged to an entity called the nation. Although considered a mark of identity by broad sectors of the popular classes, cockfights had nonetheless been declared illegal. As a result, they were excluded from a national program of festivities designed, purportedly, to commemorate the nation's patriotic origins and give public expression to feelings of cubanía in the face of the U.S. presence on the island.

Contrary to the commonly held view, the most fervent champions of the prohibition against cockfighting were not the U.S. authorities but representatives of a sector of the Cuban nationalist elite, who—even as they ardently opposed the tradition of cockfighting—strove to make the two anniversary days into national public holidays.65

José Miguel Gómez, the civil governor of Santa Clara (one of the areas of (p.52) the island most disposed to cockfighting) personified these contradictory impulses. An enthusiastic supporter of the campaign to win official status for the national holidays, Gómez also headed up the list of signatories of a petition sent to John Brooke, asking that the U.S. authorities ban cockfights. In a letter submitted in April 1899, signed “in the name of the majority of the honorable population,” the Santa Clara political leader requested the proscription of cockfights “as forms of entertainment contrary to the more cultivated ways of the people.”66 Diego Tamayo, then serving as secretary of state and interior—and, during the drive to win approval for the new national holidays, the fore-most mediator between the interests of Cubans at large and the U.S. military government—was also one of the staunchest advocates of a total prohibition of cockfights.67 In his opinion, all “barbarous” or “uncivilized” traits, however deeply rooted they might be, had to be totally purged from national life or, failing that, carefully “wiped away” or concealed, in order to show the occupying power that Cubans were not roughneck “natives” with ignorant and backward habits but cultured “citizens” with a modern outlook, and therefore deserving of their own government.

The general perception of cockfighting was that of a custom closely linked to a tradition of cubanía with deep popular roots. A very different image of cockfighting, however, emerges quite clearly in various documents dealing with this topic which are preserved in the archives of the U.S. military government. In January 1901, just as the campaign waged by the municipal councils to gain official recognition for the anniversaries of the declarations of Yara and Baire reached its apogee, an anonymous circular was distributed in the rural areas of the country. The circular not only exhorted campesinos to participate in a demonstration organized to demand the abrogation of military order 165 but also made clear that those unwilling to participate would be seen as “bad Cubans.” Emilio Acosta, the self-proclaimed “president of Cuba's campesinos,” together with two officers of the Liberation Army, Florentino Navarrete and Pedro Delgado, tried to convince the military authorities of the need to revoke the prohibition on cockfighting. In a letter of 30 January 1901 sent to the military government, the three leaders asserted that “80 percent of Cuba's campesinos can't do without cockfights.” The U.S. government, they continued, came to Cuba “to grant us liberty, not to deprive us of legal entertainments, grounded in the customs and traditions of this country.” Thus, the letter went on to state, “out of respect for the opinion of the majority,” the law should be abrogated and the celebration of cockfighting authorized once again.68

From this perspective, the alliance formed between the most nationalist sectors (p.53) of the Cuban elite and the popular classes against the interests of the U.S. occupation, an alliance which flowered most noticeably in the campaign to win legal recognition for celebrating the two revolutionary anniversaries, was not as monolithic as it might have seemed. The cultural and class-based differences among the nationalist groups become fully apparent when one moves from the consensus over the validity of celebrating these “national days” to the debate over the preferred ways—“modern” or “traditional,” “refined” or “popular,” “civilized” or “atavistic”—to celebrate them. In this sense, the patriotic celebrations held in these years should be examined as more than just strategic vehicles for strengthening and solidifying a broad social consensus underlying Cuban aspirations for independence, conceived both as a break with the colonial past and as opposition to the U.S. imperial presence. Just as the backdrop to the festivities served as a kind of tapestry in which nationalist feelings were woven together and expressed “as coming from one community,” so it also served as the complex ground of confrontation and negotiation, where the differences between the celebratory practices of popular culture and an elitist understanding of the “appropriate” way to celebrate holidays were clearly exposed.

Behind the debates over the suitability of marching, according to modern fashion, in the style of U.S. civic parades, over whether to prefer the traditional form of the classic religious procession or the irreverent, high-spirited procession which followed the rhythm of “carnival conga drumming,” whether to celebrate the typical horse races or replace these with bicycle competitions, whether or not to include such yanquí games as baseball in a program devoted to a nationalist celebration, and whether to tolerate or suppress activities (such as cockfights) considered “atavistic” and declared illegal—behind all these and other such tensions lay important political and cultural differences.

Patriotic Celebrations as the Polemical Expression of Internal Social Cleavages

Thus, under the surface harmony of popular patriotic celebrations, the deliberations and the give-and-take over seemingly trivial issues—who ought to march in a parade and in what order, who should preside over a committee, what type of music should be played, what style of dance was appropriate and with whom should one dance, through what symbolic and allegorical lens a program of festivities should be seen—revealed distinctions grounded in social class, ideology, and gender as well as in ethnic and racial tensions.

The festivities held in the pueblo of Guanajay in 1900 to commemorate the (p.54) 10 October anniversary offer a telling example of this dynamic. The pueblo's celebration, organized by the veterans' center and characterized by the local newspaper as “magnificent,” followed a familiar script: in the morning, the celebration of a mass, a procession through the streets, complete with banners and a priest walking “with the cross and candlesticks,” and the blessing by the parish priest of the cornerstone of a clubhouse for local workers; in the afternoon, a baseball game and a bicycle race; and in the evening, in the pueblo's cultural center, a program of patriotic anthems and poems, followed by the customary dance, featuring an orchestra playing popular Cuban music.69

Despite the “magnificent” atmosphere surrounding the celebration, a closer reading of the reports appearing in Guanajay's newspaper in the days after the event reveals compromises and disagreements. The pueblo's mayor, who held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Liberation Army and, according to the paper, had personally fought in both wars of liberation, bypassed the evening program because he felt slighted by the members of the local veterans' association.

Tension existed between some members of the “educated” civil elite of Guanajay, led by the president of the “Progressive Center” (a recreational and educational club) and veterans of the Liberation Army, who congregated in the veterans' center and were led by their president, a black colonel, José Gálvez. The two men and their respective coteries were fighting for local political control. The antagonism between the two camps resulted in a heated dispute between the two presidents over who should have the right to preside at the main table during the evening festivities.

Other reported complaints broadened the picture of socioeconomic tension and resentments within the community. In the newspaper's original coverage, the female workers from the tobacco factory who had been selected to march in the procession were represented as happy and eager to do so. Later, however, these workers vented their displeasure, because the closing of business for the celebration had caused them to lose their daily wage. On a similar note, spokesmen for the pueblo's commercial interests, largely in the hands of Spaniards, complained about the arbitrary way in which they were obliged to close their businesses for the day, an obligation all the more galling for those who (for obvious reasons) did not entertain the same patriotic emotions about the occasion. Finally, the pueblo's newspaper lamented the fact that another paper, with national distribution, had wrongly reported that Guanajay's celebration had taken place entirely on the initiative of its mayor, when in fact the funds supporting the festivities had been collected, penny by penny, in homes and (p.55) work places by members of the veterans' center, which organized the popular financing of the event.

What is more, some days prior to 10 October, racial and gender divisions among Guanajay's “patriots” had flared into the open when, during another commemoration (honoring the mayor and nationalist “saint” Pancho Oberto) taking place in the town hall, only the white women in attendance were invited to sit down; the black women present were obliged to remain standing, despite their obertista loyalties, which they displayed through enthusiastic participation in the celebration.70

This small “sampling,” taken from a local source but reflective of a wider phenomenon, confirms the existence of a dual reality (the display of a nationalist consensus in the face of the foreign imperial presence alongside the multifaceted expression of social distinctions internal to the country) to the celebration of patriotic festivities. Despite the inclusiveness of popular celebrations, in many pueblos—above all in western Cuba, where racial prejudice was more pronounced—blacks and whites who had shared “as one community” the political side of the celebration, were called on, once the dance began, to stay at a “proper distance” from each other. Close physical proximity at a community event like a dance showed a lack of “respect” for the maintenance of social distinctions. Once the parades and rallies were over, it was incumbent on each “race” to demonstrate its “patriotic feelings” apart from the other, in accordance with practices rooted in the colonial past.

Anthems, Danzones, and Drum Beating

The music played to enliven celebrations was also the subject of disagreement and debate during this period. Although the inclusion of anthems (especially the “Bayamesa,” by now the unofficial national anthem) was universally endorsed, because it demonstrated that the country had adapted to modern practice and because it showed a desire for independence and the fruits of citizenship, no such agreement existed regarding other ways of expressing the culture of popular music. The differences between an elite culture that defended and celebrated the virtues of a “civilized” Cuba (formed in the image of the nations of the West) and the idea of cultural identity, and of how it manifested itself, held by the masses, were abundantly clear during these years. This was a time in which Cubans found themselves compelled to try to “pass” a kind of civility “test” before the “tribunal” set up by the U.S. interventionists.

As I noted in discussing cockfighting, a segment of the nationalist group (p.56) believed it imperative to eradicate, or—if that proved impossible—to at least conceal from the eyes of the North Americans popular forms of cultural expression (such as certain types of African-influenced music and dance) which it considered “barbaric,” “backward,” and “unworthy of modern times.”

Even in earlier times, during the colonial period, the more fanatical “mod-ernizers” and “moralizers” had done battle, through the periodical press and by influencing legislation, to control the apparent creole desire to dance everywhere and at all hours. Dancing and idleness, cockfights and the lottery, were key ingredients in the discourse about a set of resolutely orientalist qualities which the elite proposed as the nub of the “deeply rooted” characteristics of the “masses,” or of the racially mixed person “found in the population of the tropics.” This discourse also had a blatantly racist aspect and was laden with sexist stereotypes, the aim of which was to trace a line separating the “correct” and “hygienic” practices and social etiquette of those “above” from the “bar-baric” and “uncontrolled” ways in which the masses comported themselves. Such a line between the upper and lower classes would block or at least regulate excessive contact and mixing which encounters like those on the dance floor or in the cockfighting pit furnished. The distinguished Puerto Rican sociologist Ángel Quintero has described “the threshold between the public and the private [that] constituted the field of interpersonal relations.”

To avoid the democratization which this threshold threatened to bring, the modalities had to be made somatic, their codification—or etiquette—needed to be constructed with constant reference to the body and to physical movements…. Confronted by the rhythmic vitality of the threatening otherness of the “subaltern” Afro-popular world, it is not surprising that the principal concern of the landowning plantocracy, with regard to pleasures, morals, and etiquette … focused on the public act par excellence of physical movement and proximity: couples dancing. In the Caribbean, it would be at dances, more than at the table, that refinement, cultivated ways, and civilization would be put to the test.71

The danzón, which had achieved remarkable popularity by the 1880s even among people considered to be part of the “better classes,” thus became the focus of a heated argument in these years between those who stigmatized it as “degenerate” and “base,” a clear expression of the lasciviousness and sexual promiscuity “characteristic” of African culture, and those who saw in it a sign or mark of cubanía.72

In the words of a fashion reporter for one of the country's elite magazines, “the danzón, very nice, very amenable to our climate and all of that, is not (p.57) however an acceptable or proper dance for a modern soirée. The [U.S.] intervention will bring us a free and stable government and will give us new dances and customs.”73

The effort by the elite press to dictate and control styles of dancing as part of its larger campaign to gentrify and “whiten” social customs was perceived as a threat to national identity by a majority of popular opinion. Far from aping a North American style of fashionable dance, the Cuban lower class redoubled its affection for its own way of dancing, even inventing a new kind of dance—the “patriotic dance”—in which the danzón became a symbol of protest against the “civilizing” pretensions of a forced acculturation.

As a result, every popular celebration held in these years had its corresponding orchestra complete with a full repertoire of Cuban danzones. Dancing the danzón on the occasion of national celebrations, rather than the two-step, the North American dance then in vogue among high society, was thus seen as a way to reaffirm cubanía. It was a premeditated way of resisting the foreign penetration and subversion of authentic Cuban culture. Outside the milieu of official political life, at social gatherings, and in cockfighting pits and gambling dens, in dance halls and cafés, the “masses” resisted the prompting to remake themselves; they were determined to live by their own lights, persistently denying the call to reform their customs and habits according to the puritanical blueprint shared by the Cuban elite and the U.S. interventionist authorities.74

Both the era's poetry and its popular theater (which has survived to the present day) illustrate how authorities' attempts to regulate “undulations of the waist” were mocked by the populace. People danced not only at patriotic celebrations. Weddings, baptisms, birthdays, “saints' days,” and bailes de pensión (private or home parties) provided an excuse to “let down one's hair” by enjoying in a small space the slow, loose embrace of a gratifying danzón. Although the courts imposed fines on people for “infringing on morality” when they danced the danzón “up against each other,” nonetheless, “as native to the soil, by its own measure … it kept its standing as the national dance.”75

The association in the popular mind of the danzón with an authentic Cuban identity, and the recognized threat to the integrity of native culture underlying the seemingly innocuous campaign to “civilize” customs, were readily apparent in the rejection of the two-step, a rejection found in such expressions of popular culture as reveilles, guarachas (another type of popular Cuban music and dance), and the comic theater. In Ignacio Sarachaga's sainete (one-act musical play), ¡Arriba con el Himno!, the duel between the danzón and the two-step is clearly settled in favor of the first:

  • (p.58) That flighty dance,
  • —as everyone knows—
  • is more worthy of a wake
  • than of a worldly hall.
  • Why, it's not just a horror,
  • it offends our patriotism:
  • so dance it, interventionists,
  • if that's what you want!
  • Because the Cuban who manages
  • to see our future,
  • need only choose our Cuban dance!
  • As long as the danzón exists
  • and our orchestras wail
  • Not a sole will saddle us
  • with the weight of annexation!
  • Out with the American dance!
  • And long live our danzón!76

Some lines published in the press, appearing at the end of 1898, offer another instance of the powerful identification between the danzón as a musical expression of cubanía and the mambí political slogan: “Patria y Libertad!—Does it not seem to you, citizens, that these two words sound sweeter than a danzón played by Raimundo Valenzuela's orchestra? We all but want to dance to their beat.”77

In this way, on the strength of its great popularity, the danzón began to be recognized as the country's “typical” dance, which had to be performed on any occasion that called for a demonstration of cubanía. Moreover, its reputation was gained at the expense of the zapateo and against the “moralizing” interests of the most Americanized sectors of the elite. This victory was clearly an important development in a wider sociocultural battle, under way since the last decades of the nineteenth century, over the desirability and acceptability of weaving African-based rhythms into the fabric of Cuban social life.

Despite the efforts exerted against “any and all music that sounded black or mulatto,” a stylized version of the danzón “with pauses, flourishes with a fan on the woman's part, and a modest embrace made at a prudent distance,” had come to seem natural even in the dance halls of “good society.”78 Around 1900, one of the effects of the U.S. presence in Cuba, which had introduced new modes and practices seen as “strange,” was to instill a fuller acceptance (p.59) of the danzón (and, implicitly, its African rhythmic component as well) in the nascent design and formulation of a Cuban national identity.

A still more vivid expression of the undercurrent of African culture running through Cuban society was the custom of “drum beating” maintained by the descendants of slaves as part of ritual holiday celebrations. Under the colony, the public celebrations organized by town councils had been circumscribed by a decree, approved in 1884, legally inscribing a prohibition against the celebration of the Día de Reyes (Three Kings' Day) holiday, which included performances by musical groups and other exuberant street activity.

Once Spanish rule had come to an end, many councils and associations composed of “people of color” assumed that they would be fully free, in the new era, to revive the celebration of their own cultural traditions. As it happened, nothing was further from the truth. In 1900 the Havana municipal council totally prohibited the “use of drums of African origin in every kind of meeting and gathering, whether they take place in a public venue or in the interior of buildings.” The ban also applied to the passage through city streets of “associations or musical groups, known by the name of Tangos, Cabildos, and Claves, and any others which utilize symbols, allegories, and objects that run counter to the culture and sober nature of the inhabitants of this country.”79

Steps taken by the municipal council of the southern coastal city of Cienfuegos mimicked those of its Havana counterpart. The council prohibited “tangos and drum beating” not just outdoors but inside buildings, and it urged members of black and mulatto associations to modify their current practices to conform with the strict letter of the law.80 A year earlier, members of the Lucumí African Cabildo had participated enthusiastically in the program of festivities for the 24 February celebrations. One can easily imagine their feelings as they were denied the right to observe cultural and religious traditions tolerated even during the bleakest periods of Spanish rule.81

To pass a decree was one thing, to change ingrained custom was another. In 1900, for example, at the time of the 10 October celebrations, several Havana residents wrote to a local paper angrily protesting that, despite the explicit prohibition against drum beating, “an immoral, antisocial, and uncivilized form of entertainment, there have been three days of street drumming in different neighborhoods of this capital,” without any attempt by authorities to enforce the law.82

Similarly, music played with percussive instruments of African origin and the public participation of comparsas, the conga-playing musical troupes accompanied by street dancing, were noticeable features of the 1899 and 1900 carnival festivities. A witness to the events described how the black comparsas (p.60) paraded and danced their way through the neighborhoods of the capital, cos-tumed—for parodic effect—in the uniforms of the detested Corps of Volunteers and Public Order Battalions of the colonial period.83 Later, in 1902, when the state restored the official celebration of carnival, the comparsas formed by different religious associations were granted the right to march in public. Inspired by that development, a number of coros de guaguancó demanded the right, in 1902, to participate in the carnival festivities. These were choral societies, composed largely of black men, who accompanied their singing with drum and other percussion music. A phenomenon of the capital's poorest neighborhoods, such as Jesús María, they had an eclectic repertoire of songs that celebrated patriotic devotion, glorified the participation of blacks and mulattos in the War of Independence, and recounted the great deeds of heroes like Antonio Maceo and Quintín Banderas.84

Thus, the partial acceptance of elements of Afro-Cuban culture, implicit in the contagious rhythm of the kettledrum and the swaying (and, for those times, erotic) movements of the hips characteristic of the danzón, contrasts with the draconian prohibition against “the beating of drums,” viewed by its critics as a sign of “backwardness” and “barbarism,” and considered incompatible with the “finer customs” and “modern ways” which the elites hoped to cultivate among those who aspired to become “citizens” of the future Cuban Republic.85 This tension between elitist prejudice against any form of cultural expression of African origin, on the one hand, and the persistent attraction for the force and creativity of Afro-Cuban music, on the other, runs through the subcultures of music and dance through all the years of the Republic. The controversy over whether to accept or reject the danzón was repeated later with the son and the rumba, both of which were initially denigrated as “blacks' music,” only to be embraced later as icons of the “national culture,” albeit in their more insipid and commercial versions.86

The “civilizing” obsession, centered on the attempts to control and reform sociocultural practices and channeled during this period through legislation and the press, did not focus solely on the danzón and the playing of drums. In May 1900, just a month after the publication of the decree prohibiting the beating of drums and the appearance of comparsas in the city's streets and public venues, a third element of the popular cultural mosaic, the “Bayamesa,” also became—for the first time—the object of municipal regulation. As I noted earlier, this anthem, composed by Perucho Figueredo, was a fixture of the celebrations carried out on the two national days. Played at different tempos and containing varying lyrics, the “Bayamesa” had become an extremely popular tune by the first years of the twentieth century, heard not only on occasions (p.61) of official celebration but at all sorts of festivities and affairs that might have nationalist connotations.

Attesting to the anthem's great popularity, in February 1900 a young woman wrote to the Havana publication Patria to promote her campaign, supported by several other “nice young ladies,” “to hear the Anthem of Bayamo played in the Churches, after the sung mass.” Those who allege, she stated, that the pope has prohibited national anthems in churches forget that “not long ago our ears were offended by Weyler's March (or better, the Royal March) following the high mass.” The young woman ended by writing: “How blessed, sir, to hear this tender music, which makes us delirious with joy, under the holy vaults of the temple! … God, it seems to us, will remember the Cubans as that heavenly melody echoes before the altar.”87

Motivated by the desire to put an end to this “anarchy,” the Havana municipal council approved a measure in early 1900 prohibiting the commonplace use of the anthem in “theaters, cafés, processions, demonstrations, etc.,” and reserving its use for “serious functions only.” The mayor of Pinar del Río was even more explicit. He had an order published spelling out in detail the reasons for the prohibition:

In all refined communities, anthems and coats of arms are the most sacred symbols of patriotism, for which reason they are accorded profound veneration and great respect.

Eruptions of patriotic sentiments, for so long bottled up and held in check in Cuba, have given the National Anthem, like other such popular scores, such commonality as to hear it played at every kind of celebration and entertainment, some of them of little moment, with the result that the expression “long live the anthem” has come into use recently, constituting another kind of mocking abuse.

For these reasons the mayor's office of Pinar del Río issues the following order:

  1. 1. From this date, the National Anthem, that is, that of Bayamo, may not be publicly played in any place within the city limits other than at official ceremonies, patriotic functions and events, public open-air concerts, and affairs of a genuine political nature.

  2. 2. Orchestra directors who infringe this order and those prompted to disobey it will incur a fine of ten U.S. dollars, or its equivalent.88

These efforts to regulate the “indiscriminate” playing of the “Bayamesa” were severely criticized in La Nación, a nationalist political daily published by (p.62) General Enrique Collazo. Collazo rose to the defense of the popular appropriation of the anthem. “The bayamés Anthem,” his paper asserted, “resides in the Cuban people and in our judgment, the people have the right to hum it, whistle it, play it, and sing it as the desire comes upon them, where they will and how they will. Because that is to make it popular, not to profane it.”89

La Nación was riding a popular tide, and the various measures adopted by municipal councils to control the use of the anthem were largely unsuccessful. For example, a press account from December 1900 describes how, at a wedding ceremony celebrated in El Mariel, the sound of the “Bayamesa” could be heard inside the church as the bride and groom entered. A few weeks later, the same newspaper printed a story about a meeting of the National Party in the municipality of Caimito. According to the paper's coverage, a large crowd marched to the site of the meeting accompanied by a brass brand joyfully playing the notes of the National Anthem.90 The reality is that the “Bayamesa” continued to be used, willy-nilly, right up to the issuance of decree 154 by the Republic of Cuba on 28 April 1906, which spelled out exactly how and under what circumstances the anthem, coat of arms, flag, and stamps of the nation were to be officially used.91

In ways large and small, then, the thinking and orientation of an elite sector, for whom the “proper” form in which to express one's nationality was to sing anthems resonant of Europe in civic parades that were disciplined and orderly, clashed with a mass culture which found a pretext on every festive occasion to abandon itself to the wild and undulating sensuality of popular dance.

Represented as antithetical opposites in the elite discourse of the period, these images of “citizens” who paraded with restraint and composure versus an unruly mass of bodies gyrating to the pounding of a drum are clearly stereotypes taken to the extreme. The true picture of nationalist celebrations during these years is more nuanced. As we have seen, in many cities and smaller communities, patriotic marches and popular dances, solemn revolutionary anthems and lighted-hearted danzones, perhaps even in some cases, despite the prohibitions, cockfights and conga drumming, were successfully woven into the full program of “national day” celebrations.

The dates of 10 February and 10 October were finally approved as official national holidays in 1902, when the United States ended the military occupation and the Cuban Republic was formally inaugurated. Nevertheless, when Tomás Estrada Palma, Cuba's first president, signed the decrees which made the two anniversaries days of national celebration, he was merely putting the stamp of formal state approval on the observance of celebrations which had already been fully integrated into a traditional popular calendar of festivities. (p.63) During the years of the U.S. military occupation, the anniversaries commemorating the start of the wars of liberation were the subject of inspiring speeches and newspaper articles and were celebrated in cities and communities across the country with flags, rallies, parades, and a tide of patriotic song and dance. In their totality, these festivities represented the upwelling of a nationalist sentiment that ran through and, on one level, unified all sectors of society.

As Eric Hobsbawm's work has shown, political elites since the mid-nineteenth century have been very successful in elaborating and instituting a schema of symbols and rituals, in which anthems, flags, coats of arms, and—not least—commemorative celebrations dictated by an annual calendar of patriotic festivities assumed a privileged place. The importance of such “invented traditions” in the “production” of citizens and the exercise of social control is incontestable. However, as Hobsbawm himself recognizes, popular participation plays a vital role in the adoption or, better put, the appropriation of these symbolic elements.92

Cuba's consecration of a patriotic calendar, during the years of the first U.S. intervention, grew out of a web of factors. First, the commemoration of the country's revolutionary beginnings had a dual cast or character; it both signified and solemnized the break with the colonial past and represented a clear challenge to the imposition of U.S. imperial authority. Second, the sanctioning of the official national holidays resulted from initiatives taken by popular elements combined with the active but controversial mediation of a nationalist-minded elite committed to the creation of an independent state. This latter group, through its involved dealings with U.S. military government authorities, helped to clear the way for the large-scale, public expression of Cubans' collective sense that they were members of a single nation.

The role played by local-level institutions, such as municipal councils, party committees, patriotic clubs, and veterans' associations in this process of constructing a Cuban national identity and its complement of symbols and representations merits deeper study. The images furnished by histories written on the basis of “official” documents generated in the capital, where the U.S. presence was overwhelming, reflect a side of Cuban society which had been thoroughly Americanized or humiliated under the boot of the military occupation. This history and its imagery can and should be contrasted with the picture obtained through other sources, including those generated by local and provincial bodies.

In Cuba's smallest communities, where often not a single North American was to be found for miles around, municipal power was frequently wielded by former members of the Liberation Army or their civilian allies. This situation (p.64) created the setting for vivid public displays of cubanía, as expressed in parades, banquets, dances, and functions for celebrating the placing of plaques and monuments. In turn, all of these events and ceremonies revealed the exceptional dynamism and creativity of popular political culture. Underlying them as well, however, were complex negotiations between the local elite and the lower classes, between a popular tradition of celebration and an elitist mentality, over the “proper” way to commemorate patriotic occasions. These ritualized, nationalist-inspired activities, freighted with symbolism, were crucial antecedents to the future consolidation, under the Republic, of the “imagined community” of the Cuban nation.


(1) . See Calendario del Obispado de La Habana for the years 1861, 1867, and 1893; and Almanaque del maestro for 1883.

(2) . Regarding the calendar as “locus of memory,” see Backzo, “Calendrier.” On the value of almanacs as a source for the study of patriotic celebrations and the relationship between them and the rise of nationalism (in the United States), see Waldstreicher, “Rites of Rebellion.”

(3) . Anonymous handwritten notes in Almanaque Baillo-Bailliere.

(4) . Ibid.

(5) . Ibid.

(6) .Andrés Clemente Vázquez, “El año cubano,” El Fígaro, [special album devoted to the Cuban Revolution, 1895–98], Havana, nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8, February 1899, 30.

(7) . Decades later, in contrast, the Cuban Revolution would assign allegorical names to years in order to emphasize the break between the period of the Republic, “subject to the interference” of U.S. interventionism, and the advent of the new revolutionary era that began with its “Year 1”: 1959.

(8) . Compare the Almanaque del maestro for 1883 with the Calendario del Obispado de La Habana for 1899, as well as with the Almanaque del maestro for 1901.

(9) . Calendario del Obispado de La Habana for 1899.

(10) . Calendario del Obispado de La Habana for 1900.

(11) .Calendario del Obispado de La Habana for 1901.

(12) . Order 176, issued by military headquarters, 21 September 1899, signed by Adna R. Chafee, printed in the Gaceta de La Habana, 22 September 1899.

(13) . Gaceta de La Habana, 12 November 1899. In an article appearing during 1900 and tellingly titled “Things That Fade Away,” the author referred sarcastically to the replacement of celebrations dating from colonial times with the “more democratic” commemorations linked to the U.S. presence: “Festival days that include the practice of kissing the hand have disappeared, because in democratic societies such as ours, one does not take delight in kissing anyone's hand, though this doesn't preclude kissing the feet of someone who might grant you a favor. We, on the other hand, have the Day of Giving Thanks to God for blessings received during the year, even though such blessings haven't been received: but in any case it's a day of jubilation and of democratic practice.” Wen Gálvez, “Cosas que se van,” El Fígaro, Havana, no. 14, April 1900, 177.

(14) . Álvarez Curbelo, “Fiestas,” 216–17.

(15) . On 21 February 1899, General Máximo Gómez, passing through Matanzas on his way to Havana, where he would make his entrance three days later, was feted with a great banquet in his honor. On the following day, Gómez, accompanied by James Wilson, the military governor of Matanzas, presided over a reception and a dance organized in celebration of George Washington's birthday. See James H. Wilson to William Potler, 22 February 1899, Wilson Papers, box 43, LC. (I am indebted to Ada Ferrer for generously sharing this information with me.) Concerning the celebration of the 12 August (p.157) holiday in Matanzas during 1901, see a telegram from the civil governor of Matanzas to the secretary of state and interior, sent on 9 August 1901, in ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gobernación, Expediente sobre la declaración de días festivos en la Isla de Cuba, legajo 94, expediente 518.

(16) .Diario de la Marina, Havana, no. 47, 24 February 1899, 1.

(17) . El Telégrafo, Trinidad, year 23, no. 40, 22 February 1899, in AHMT.

(18) . Ibid.

(19) . “El baile de la Tertulia,” El Telégrafo, Trinidad, year 23, no. 140, 7 July 1899, 2–3, in AHMT.

(20) . “Las fiestas de la paz,” El Telégrafo, Trinidad, year 23, no. 171, 15 August 1899, 2, in AHMT.

(21) . Ibid.

(22) . Calendario 1900, obsequio; Calendario Obispado de La Habana for 1899 [similarly for 1900, 1901, and 1902].

(23) . Quoted in Williams Brooks to the secretary of state and interior, Santiago de Cuba, 30 September 1899, ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Estado y Gobernación, legajo 94, expediente 512.

(24) . Telegram dated 22 July 1899 from Demetrio Castillo, civil governor of Santiago de Cuba to D. Méndez Capote, secretary of state and interior, ANC, Fondo de Secretaría de Estado y Gobernación, “Expediente sobre la declaración de días festivos en la Isla de Cuba,” legajo 94, no. 518. In Santiago, as in other areas of the province of Oriente, the days of Saint John, Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint Anne coincided with carnival celebrations. Even a century earlier, in 1800, Santiago's carnivals were mistrusted by authorities, who considered them disruptive of the public order. An official edict indicated that during carnival time not only did people celebrate horse races in a “wild” way, but in addition “some entertained themselves by getting drunk, with the result that lots of them sustained falls and committed abuses, and with the confused intermixing of social classes, they took license to insult anyone and everyone with indecent songs and risqué quips, starting brawls.” Bacardí y Moreno, Crónicas, 2:77. See also, on pages 98 and 181 of this same volume, reference to the prohibitions placed on the “fiestas de mamarra-chos” (Santiago's summer carnival celebrations). The conditions which led to disruptive behavior in the carnival celebrations made them propitious dates for uprisings against the established powers. For example, 24 February 1895 was designated as the date of an uprising because it coincided with carnival celebrations in western Cuba. Half a century later, in 1953, in Oriente province, one of the dates of carnival, 26 July, Saint Anne's Day, was chosen as the day for the assault on the Moncada Barracks, turning it into the most important civic celebration on the official revolutionary calendar, the Day of National Rebellion.

(25) . Actas Capitulares, Ayuntamiento de Cienfuegos, AHPC, vol. 42, fols. 18 and 93–94. The U.S. soldiers and civil officials involved in the incident were subject to a military trial, the record of which is contained in RG153, Office of the Judge Advocate General. I am indebted to Rebecca Scott for providing me with a photostatic copy of the documents.

(26) . El Vigilante, Guanajay, no. 70, 7 October 1900.

(27) . Ibid. According to the 1899 census, Mariel, located in the province of Pinar del (p.158) Río, had a population of 3,631, and the municipal area of Guanajay, in the same province, had 8,796 inhabitants. Informe sobre el censo de Cuba, 1899, 206.

(28) . María Escobar to Máximo Gómez, Remedios, 29 December 1899, ANC, Fondo Máximo Gómez, legajo 30, no. 4167; Martínez-Fortún y Foyo, Anales y efemérides, 12–13, 25.

(29) . Ortiz, Virgen, 251. The legend of the “mambisa” disappearances of the Virgin of El Cobre during the Ten Years' War was probably a nationalist rereading of the original myth. From the seventeenth century on, these legends alluded to the “peripatetic” character of the Virgin, who on occasion would miraculously disappear from the sanctuary that sheltered her. See ibid., 64–69.

(30) . Portuondo Zúñiga, Virgen, 226–32. I am indebted to Olga Portuondo Zúñiga for these anecdotes regarding the Liberation Army.

(31) . “La Virgen de septiembre,” El Güireño, Güira de Melena, no. 58, 9 September 1900. Among the popular classes, the propagation of the cult of Our Lady of Charity was also connected—at least in the western part of the country—to the veneration of the Yoruba deity Ochún. In light of the new freedom of religion, and as a clear expression of the syncretism discussed above, an Afro-Cuban society or council, which in 1901 petitioned the military government to allow it to celebrate its rituals and drum beating on Sundays and other festival days, gave itself the name “Mutual Aid Society of African Lucumís of Our Lady of El Cobre and Saint Lazarus.” Portuondo, Virgen, 257–58; RG140, entry 3, no. 640.

(32) . Ibid., 231 ; “En el Cobre,” El Porvenir, Santiago de Cuba, 1 October 1898.

(33) . Portuondo, Virgen, 245.

(34) . In a conversation we had about the close connection between the image of Our Lady of Charity and Cuban revolutionary iconography, Jorge Lozano, a specialist in the historiography of Martí, described having seen an almanac, presumably dating from the early years of the twentieth century, whose cover was illustrated with a picture of the Virgin of Charity. The curious thing in this case is that the boat appearing at the foot of the Virgin was being sailed not by the three Johns, as is customary, but by the three leading heroes of Cuba's revolutionary campaigns: José Martí, Máximo Gómez, and Antonio Maceo. More than half a century later, the photographs and televised images of the youthful rebels who descended triumphantly in 1959 from the Sierra Maestra confirmed this association which, as we have seen, goes back to the period of the wars of independence. Many of the rebels, among them Fidel Castro, wore medallions and reliquaries of the Virgin of El Cobre around their neck.

(35) . “Las fiestas en Marianao,” Patria, Havana, no. 51, 27 February 1900.

(36) . Portuondo, Virgen, 241, 245; Ortiz, Virgen, 267–71.

(37) . La Luz del Hogar, Güines, no. 20, 22 September 1899, 7.

(38) . El Vigilante, Guanajay, no. 27, 6 May 1900.

(39) . El Occidente, Guanajay, no. 8, 26 January 1901.

(40) . El Nuevo País, 7 February 1900.

(41) . El Telégrafo, Trinidad, 23, no. 127, 21 June 1899, 3, in AHMT.

(42) . Benedict Anderson emphasizes the importance of alterations in the perception of time for the creation of an imagined nationhood in his Imagined Communities. The representation of the nation as an organism that moves through homogeneous empty (p.159) time, measured by clock and calendar, in which—analogous to the narrative thread of a novel—the principal events in the life of the community are rationalized and accommodated, is, according to Anderson, one of the images of modernity that has most influenced the formation of a sense of belonging to a national collectivity. The role of ceremonies and other highly ritualized events in expressing collective cohesion and identity and in structuring social relations is examined in Hobsbawm and Ranger, Invention of Tradition.

(43) . Martínez Arango, Cronología crítica, 87.

(44) . See the imprint titled “Ciudadanos,” signed by the neighborhood committee of Guadalupe, for the reception given General Máximo Gómez, dated 23 February 1899, Havana, in ANC, Fondo Academia de la Historia, box 106, sig. 243. For a description of Gómez's entrance into Havana on 24 February 1899, see Diario de la Marina, Havana, nos. 47 and 48, 24 and 25 February 1899 respectively; and Souza, Generalísimo, 291–92. On the songs as well as other manifestations of the popular mood, see Piedra Martel, Memorias, 143–45.

(45) . Rousseau and Díaz de Villegas, Memoria descriptiva, 267. An undated letter sent to Máximo Gómez by Vicente Goytisolo, a black descendant of slaves who identifies himself as “lucumí king,” appears to allude to this episode. Goytisolo, whose prose and handwriting mark him as barely literate, mentions having fulfilled a promise that he made to Santa Bárbara Bendita (the deity, or orisha, Changó in the pantheon of Afro-Cuban Santería) to remove her from his head and display her as he walked through the streets of the city on the day on which his mambise brothers should enter it. It is thus very likely that one of the “allegorical banners” to which these local Cienfuegos historians refer in their memoir was precisely this image of Santa Bárbara that was venerated in the city's lucumí meeting hall. Vicente Goytisolo to Máximo Gómez, ANC, Fondo Máximo Gómez, legajo 36, no. 5012.

(46) . “Las fiestas del aniversario,” El Telégrafo, Trinidad, year 23, no. 42, 26 February 1899.

(47) . Pedro P. Pérez to Leonard Wood, Guantánamo, 14 February 1899. AHPS, Fondo Gobierno Provincial, legajo 875, expediente 29.

(48) . RG140, Military Government of Cuba, letters received 1899–1902, file 420; and ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gobernación, “expediente relativo a que se declaren días de fiesta el 10 de octubre y el 24 de febrero,” legajo 94, expediente 521.

(49) . In a communiqué of 10 January 1900, J. N. N. Richards, assistant to the military governor, informed Diego Tamayo, the secretary of state and interior, of Leonard Wood's ruling: “No action will be taken on the subject of holidays until after the municipal elections, when the people will have an opportunity to express their wishes.” ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gobernación, legajo 94, expediente 521.

(50) . “El día de hoy,” “En el matadero,” La Lucha, Havana, no. 48, 24 February 1900; “El gran meeting,” Patria, Havana, no. 49, 25 February 1900.

(51) . “El 24 de febrero en las escuelas,” Patria, Havana, no. 51, 27 February 1900.

(52) . Ibid.

(53) . On the opposition to the naming of the new bishop, see Martínez Ortiz, Cuba, 1:108; and “Manifiesto al pueblo de Cuba del Comité Popular de Propaganda y Acción,” 1 January 1900, ANC, Fondo Adquisiciones, legajo 86, 4390.

(54) . Printed flyer titled “Conmemoración del 24 de febrero: Al pueblo cubano,” dated 21 February 1900, Havana, ANC, Fondo Academia de la Historia, box 498, sig. 539.

(55) . Telegrams signed by Fernando Figueredo, assistant secretary of state and interior, to the civil governors of Santa Clara, Havana, Pinar del Río, and Matanzas, dated 9 October 1900, ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gobernación, legajo 94, expediente 521.

(56) . Universidad de La Habana, Memoria anuario, 32.

(57) . Letters from the mayors of Abreus, Bahía Honda, Sagua, Santa Isabel de las Lajas, Sabanilla, Los Palacios, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, etc. to Leonard Wood, January–February 1901, RG140, Military Government of Cuba, Letters Received, 1899–1902, file 420.

(58) . Diego Tamayo to Leonard Wood, 31 May 1901, RG140, Military Government of Cuba, Letters Received, 1899–1901, file 420; and ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gober-nación, legajo 94, expediente 521.

(59) . J. B. Hickey, official of the general staff, to Diego Tamayo, secretary of state and interior, 9 February 1901, ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gobernación, legajo 94, expediente 521.

(60) . La Solución, Surgidero de Batabanó, no. 8, 10 October 1900. Scott Mc-Quire has described the range of emotions evinced by people witnessing a display of electric lighting for the first time. In Cuba, the recollection of this moment of enrapturement (which Mc-Quire calls “the technological sublime”) when the “wonders” of such modern artifacts as electric lamps, telephones, or moving pictures were revealed to people, is associated with the period of the intervention, when many Cubans had their first exposure to electric light bulbs or to the movie clips invented by the “magician” Edison in his Menlo Park laboratories. Mc-Quire, “Immaterial Architectures,” 128.

(61) . La Solución, Surgidero de Batabanó, 28 February 1901.

(62) .La Aurora, Consolación del Sur, 24 February 1901.

(63) . For a suggestive study of the changes affecting deeply rooted Cuban cultural practices, such as cockfighting, see Riaño San Marful, Gallos y toros.

(64) . ANC, Fondo Secretaría de Gobernación, legajo 96, expediente 702.

(65) . For an indication of the largely negative opinions held by the Cuban elite, see the responses published by El Fígaro to a survey it conducted in 1902 on whether it would be appropriate to reestablish cockfighting: “Qué opina usted de la lidias de gallos?,” El Fígaro, Havana, no. 44, 16 November 1902, 543–45. Several of the respondents, members of the animal protection society—whose activities gained importance during the U.S. occupation—denounced the gratuitous violence committed against animals. Others connected cockfights to the evils of gambling, which had been one of the arguments in favor of prohibiting them. In denying a petition to celebrate a cockfight as part of the festivities commemorating Our Lady of Candlemas, patron saint of the Río de Ay chapel in the community of Condado, the mayor of Trinidad cited the “immorality of the entertainment.” Reporting on the matter, the local newspaper added, “As the country begins to rebuild itself, when workers and day laborers protest the deprivations from which they suffer, neither time nor money should be given over to this vice. Let us save the excellent roosters for what is practical and positive. They turn out very tasty and succulent with rice, butter, and saffron added to them, and what Cuba lacks is food, to restore the energy that is lost living in poverty.” El Télégrafo, Trinidad, year 24, no. 23, 28 January 1900, 3, in AHMT.

(66) . RG140, Military Government of Cuba, Letters Received, 1899–1902, file 153.

(67) . Diego Tamayo to L. Wood, 6 February 1901, ibid.

(68) . Anonymous circular addressed to Cuba's campesinos, 8 January 1901 in RG140, Military Government of Cuba, Letters Received, 1899–1902, file 153; Emilio Acosta to Leonard Wood, 30 January 1901, in ibid.

(69) . El Vigilante, Guanajay, no. 71, 11 October 1900.

(70) . El Vigilante, Guanajay, nos. 72 and 73, 14 and 18 October 1900.

(71) . Quintero Rivera, “Modales,” 65, 68. On the subject of music and social control, see Quintero Rivera, Salsa, sabor y control.

(72) . González Hechevarría, “Literatura, baile y béisbol,” 35; Moore, Nationalizing Blackness, 23–26.

(73) . Cuba y América, Havana, no. 54, March 1899, 26.

(74) . In an article published in Scribner's Magazine, James F. J. Archibald of the United States managed, wittingly or not, to convey the moralistic and racist prejudices shared by many of his countrymen with regard to the danzón, while also attesting to the extraordinary popularity which it enjoyed during this period: “While speaking of dancing, I must not forget the famous ‘danzon,’ the national dance of the Cubans. It is a species of very slow round dance with something of the mechanism of our two-step, but a couple will dance it for any length of time in the space of a square yard, and the steps are not six inches in length. The music for it has no regularly marked time, but is a sort of barbaric rhythm, accentuated by the wild notes of the cornet and drum, which inevitably recall the sounds we heard on the Midway at the World's Fair. Almost nothing else is danced among the lower classes, and they seem passionately fond of this amusement. There are public balls every night many of which are given in the theatres after the performance is over, and which last until early morning … as rendered by these people the ‘danzon’ is exceedingly vulgar, and if tried in a dance hall in New York the police would probably not be needed to put the couple out. It was never popular among the upper classes until the war brought everything distinctly Cuban into prominence, and so in the last two years Havana society has learned the ‘danzon’ just as New York society has lately learned (at least the chorus of) the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’” James F. J. Archibald, “Havana since the Occupation,” from Scribner's Magazine, items extracted from magazines of the Spanish-American period et seq. relating Cuba, Colección Facticia, Fondo de Libros Raros y Valiosos, BCUH.

(75) . Figueras, Cuba, 368. On the mockery directed at attempts to control dancing, in relation to the fines imposed by the courts on those dancing the danzón, see Plana, Recuerdos.

(76) . Sarachaga, ¡Arriba con el himno!, 230. I am indebted to my colleague Pablo Riaño San Marful for suggesting this source to me. The following is another example of popular poetry devoted to the same theme: “The Two Steps” / “Where are you off to, Cubanita, / all drenched in sweat, / in the arms of that Yankee / running down the hall / dragged in a dizzying whirl / like a flower by the wind? Are you dancing? Falsehood! / (and pardon the expression) / to dance is not to be a martyr, / to dance is something better: / it's to move lightly / to the sounds of a danzón … / The two steps! What sort of dance is that? / that's done at such breathless pace / half collision, half thrown elbows / toes stepped on, cries of pain, / with chest thrust out / and nerves all on edge / frenzied, delirious / (p.162) whirling like a cyclone? / Is it a gringo dance? / And isn't there a better one? / Well, the girl who dances it, / if she has such inclination / and muscles of steel / and delights in its madcap movement, / and finds pleasure in leaping about / and thrills in all those blows. / But you so gossamer-like, / like a flower's open petals, / innocent as a daydream / so fragile in body / like the lily that perfumes / the brook around it / Don't you fear getting squeezed / or dying from being stepped upon? / Sweeter was your dance / and better your waltz, / more tender your zapateo, / more pleasant your danzón. / Chica, your feet have settled / our biggest problem / favoring McKinley / in his expansionist plans. / That indulgence of yours / flatters the one pulling the strings; / that isn't a protectorate, / that, chica, is annexation.” El Vigilante, Guanajay, no. 100, 20 January 1901.

(77) . La Independencia, Havana, no. 3, 8 October 1898. Raimundo Valenzuela was the mulatto musical director of one of the most popular orchestras of the day.

(78) . Benítez Rojo, “Música y nación,” 46; González Hechevarría, “Literatura, baile y béisbol,” 35.

(79) . Decision of the Havana municipal council, dated 4 April 1900, in Colección Legislativa, 1:xxi (appendix). Regarding the censuring of “drum beating,” see also the rejection by the U.S. authorities of the request made to them by the Mutual Aid Society of African Lucumís of Our Lady of El Cobre and Saint Lazarus, in RG140, entry 3, no. 640.

(80) . Actas Capitulares, vol. 47, fol. 12, 27 September 1900, AHPC.

(81) . Decision of the Cienfuegos municipal council regarding the petition submitted by the moreno (dark-skinned) Eulogio Abreu “requesting that, as a special favor and for one last time, drum beating be permitted tomorrow night in the area where the cabildo is located, in honor of its ‘patron saint.’” Actas Capitulares, vol. 47, fol. 81, 3 December 1900, AHPC.

(82) . “Cúmplese la ley,” La Lucha, Havana, no. 249, 13 October 1900.

(83) . León, “Fiesta,” 61.

(84) . Moore, Nationalizing Blackness, 67–68, 92.

(85) . Even two decades on, a resolution adopted by the secretary of interior in 1922 instituted an island-wide prohibition against celebrations and ceremonial dancing reflecting Afro-Cuban belief, “in particular that known as ‘Bembé’ and any other ceremonies which, running counter to the culture and civilization of a community, are noted as symbols of barbarism and disruptive of social order.” Quoted by Benítez Rojo, “Música y nación,” 47.

(86) . For an excellent study of this evolution, see Moore, Nationalizing Blackness.

(87) . Piece signed by “una cubanita,” 2 February 1900, Patria, Havana, no. 32, 7 February 1900.

(88) . “El Himno Bayamés,” El Telégrafo, Trinidad, year 24, no. 43, 22 February 1900, 2.

(89) . La Nación, Havana, year 1, no. 67, 31 May 1900.

(90) . El Occidente, Guanajay, nos. 2 and 10, 6 January 1901 and 2 February 1901.

(91) . “Expediente que contiene copias mecanografiadas sobre disposiciones legales sobre el uso de la bandera, el escudo, y el himno nacional,” in ANC, Fondo Donativos y Remisiones, legajo 567, no. 22. Despite the existence of this and other decrees from the late 1950s, Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring deplored the indiscriminate use still made of the national anthem and flag: “Free use of the flag was made by politicians and political types for every conceivable purpose and it turned up at celebrations of every sort as a (p.163) decoration for tables, meeting sites, buildings, etc. The same adornment served to grace a family dance that ended with thrown bottles or a cockfight no less than a genuine political function…. At every affair that sought to have a certain importance or tried to dress itself up as patriotic, the National Anthem became required music. The anthem was worked into all kinds of dance pieces and music advertising commercial and industrial products.” Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, “Por el respeto y justo uso de la bandera, el escudo y el himno nacionales,” in ANC, Fondo Donativos y Remisiones, legajo 567, no. 22.

(92) . Hobsbawm and Ranger, Invention of Tradition, 263–307.