Holy sacraments and illicit encounters: Marriage, race, religion, and the transformation of status hierarchies in Cuba, 1899–1940
In the first decades after colonialism, a radical and far-reaching process of social change took place in Cuban society. In the space of four decades, deeply entrenched status hierarchies with regard to race, nation, gender, and religion underwent major transformations. In the present study, I examine this process through a focus on the practice of Catholic marriage, and the changing institutional relationships of the Cuban Catholic church.
As one of the most important institutions in colonial society, and a pillar of the old regime, the Catholic Church was deeply implicated in struggles over state and nation, the dynamics of gender and sex, and the construction of race and rank in Cuban society. While the Spanish monarchy was thrown out in 1898, the Church remained. Thus in seeking to break with the past and define a new society, Cubans at all levels were directly or indirectly forced into a series of confrontations and renegotiations with the Catholic Church. What would be the significance of the Church's mandates, institutions and practices in a modern, independent Cuba? What were the legitimate bounds of its influence?
In the first section of the dissertation, "The 1899 Marriage Law Controversy," I examine a battle over the regulation of marriage that took place during the first U.S. occupation of Cuba. Studying the motivations and ideologies of Catholic Church officials, Cuban statesmen, and U.S. military administrators who were the central protagonists in the controversy, I find that issues of nation, sovereignty, and empire lay at its very core.
In the second section of the thesis, the construction of sexual norms and values amongst the rural poor is at the center of focus. I analyze a series of petitions filed on the behalf of couples seeking dispensation of the impediments of consanguinity and affinity in order to marry. These petitions were generated as part of the missionary work of the diocese of Havana, which sought to curb the practice of concubinage in the Cuban countryside, and to retain its waning influence among the local population.
In the last section of the study, "Sorting God's Children," I conduct quantitative analyses of 14,500 marriage records collected from three historic parishes in the city of Havana between 1902 and 1940. I seek to contribute to the demography of the family in republican Cuba, and to use marriage as a lens through which to elucidate the structure and dynamics of the social construct of race. Particular attention is given to the ways that race was marked and "unmarked" in parish marital records over time.
The study is based on archival research in Cuba and in the U.S.
Latin American history;
Minority & ethnic groups
0628: Personal relationships
0336: Latin American history
0631: Minority & ethnic groups