PhD candidate in Spanish Alexander Eastman researches Cuba’s forgotten abolitionist and civil rights journalism.
It’s tough to study a nation’s racial history when that nation denies one exists.
Washington University in St. Louis student Alexander Sotelo Eastman tackled that challenge when he traveled to Cuba to study the black press of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wanted to explore how black publications helped abolish slavery and champion civil rights. But librarians could only shrug when he he asked for their collections of black newspapers.
“Many Cubans are hesitant to talk about things in racialized terms,” said Sotelo Eastman, who graduates Friday with a PhD in Hispanic studies. “Because of this founding myth of racial harmony — there is only one race, the Cuban race — you can’t go to the archives and ask for black press newspapers. It’s quite the ideal but that was not the lived reality. The color line was present then as it is now.”