Ciudad grande

by Nicholas Laughlin on September 18, 2010

"The Duty of the Hour"

Lithograph from Puck magazine (1898), advocating US intervention in Cuba. Image courtesy the New-York Historical Society

In New York throughout the nineteenth century, new immigrant communities were formed. The numbers were still small — in the early 1860s, we learn, about 1,300 Spaniards and Latin Americans lived in New York — but they grew. Poets, intellectuals and politicians joined the merchants. A Spanish publishing industry developed as well. (An 1872 Spanish guide to New York is shown here.)

The nineteenth century’s Latin American revolutions even seemed to begin in New York, with many people fleeing oppression in Cuba and Puerto Rico. A red, white and blue flag hung here is a reproduction of the one raised by The Sun newspaper in Lower Manhattan in 1850 (the original is said to be in Havana): it was destined to become the flag of an independent Cuba, though in this case it was meant as a call for its conquest.

New York, we see, became a locus for Cuban debates for half a century, with advocates of liberation, Spanish loyalists and proponents of conquest jostling for supremacy, until the Spanish-American War overturned the playing board. Biographical sketches of major figures are imposing: José Martí, a supporter of Cuban independence, came to the city in 1880 and worked as a journalist, while establishing New York’s Spanish-American Literary Society and writing poetry.

Edward Rothstein reviews Nueva York (1613–1945), an exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, in the New York Times. The show, which runs until 9 January, 2011, explores the Hispanic cultural influence on the development of New York City over four centuries, and the roles of visitors and immigrants from South American and the Caribbean.

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