Sugar, Cigars and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York

Lisandro Pérez. New York Univ, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8147-6727-6
In this colorful and scrupulously researched history, Pérez, a professor of Latin American studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, traces the 19th-century origins of Cuban New York, a vibrant community that developed long before the 1959 Cuban revolution. He vividly narrates the rise of the Cuban sugar trade with the U.S. and the formation of the 19th-century “sugarocracy”—the Cuban-born descendants of the Spanish who became Cuba’s elite. They went to New York not only for business but to plot their independence from Spain, invest in real estate, gain a valuable network of social contacts, and send their boys to boarding school. Perez discusses New York Cubans’ thwarted hopes for annexation by the U.S., the failed war of independence (1868–1878) that spurred a massive exodus of intellectuals and aristocracy, and the New York Cuban community’s changing demographics as craftsmen, cigar makers, and laborers gradually outnumbered the moneyed class. Pérez introduces readers to generals, writers, cigar workers, Freemasons, and many other 19th-century Cubans, including Father Varela, who founded two downtown Catholic parishes that still exist today, and Emilia Casanova, who used the vaults under her father’s house in the Bronx to store arms before smuggling them to Cuba. Perez’s engrossing work showcases a little-discussed facet of New York City’s rich history. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/28/2018
Release date: 07/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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