Martínez-Fernández, Luis 1960-
MARTÍNEZ-FERNÁNDEZ, Luis 1960-
PERSONAL: Born January 14, 1960, in Havana, Cuba; son of Celestino Martínez (a photographer and retired executive) and Luisa Fernández; married, 1984; wife's name Margaret A. (a professor); children: Luis, Alberto, Andres. Ethnicity: "Hispanic." Education: University of Puerto Rico, B.A. (with high honors), 1982, M.A., 1985; Duke University, Ph.D., 1990. Politics: Independent. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, reading.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Hispanic, Caribbean, and Latin American History, Rutgers University, 235 Tillett Hall, 53 Avenue E, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8040. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Augusta State University, Augusta, GA, assistant professor of Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. history, 1990-92; Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history, 1992-94; Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, associate professor of history and Caribbean studies, beginning 1997, chair of Department of Hispanic, Caribbean, and Latin American History, beginning 1998.
MEMBER: American Historical Association, Association of Caribbean Historians, Conference on Latin American History, Caribbean Studies Association, Historical Society, Latin American Studies Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: J. B. Duke fellowship, 1986-1988; international travel grant, Tinker Foundation, 1987; Beveridge travel grant, American Historical Association, 1988; National Hispanic Scholar, 1987, 1988; grant from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1993; fellow of Pew Evangelical Scholars Program, 1994-95; fellowship for scholarly excellence, Rutgers University Board of Trustees, 1997-98; has also received other awards, grants, and fellowships.
Torn between Empires: Economy, Society, and Patterns of Political Thought in the Hispanic Caribbean, 1840-1878, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1994.
Fighting Slavery in the Caribbean: The Life and Times of a British Family in Nineteenth-Century Havana, M. E. Sharpe (Armonk, NY), 1998.
(Coeditor) Encyclopedia of Cuba: People, History, Culture, two volumes, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2003.
Work represented in anthologies. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Magazine of History, Latin American Research Review, Caribbean Studies, Diplomatic History, New West Indian Guide, Americas, Revista/Review Interamericana, Cuban Studies, and Slavery and Abolition.
SIDELIGHTS: Luis Martínez-Fernández has had a lifelong interest in the Hispanic countries of the Caribbean. He has researched and written extensively on the histories of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, with emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has also lived throughout Latin America; when he was two years old, he and his family left Havana, Cuba, as refugees fleeing from the communist regime of Fidel Castro, and came to the United States. They did not stay long; when Martínez-Fernández's father accepted a management job with International Harvester in Peru, the family moved to Lima. In 1968 a military coup led them to move again, this time to San Juan, Puerto Rico. After completing his undergraduate education and receiving a master's degree in history at the University of Puerto Rico, he moved to the United States to pursue a doctorate in history at Duke University.
Torn between Empires: Economy, Society, and Patterns of Political Thought in the Hispanic Caribbean, 1840-1878 is a comparative study of the economy, society, and political culture of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic in the mid-nineteenth century. Martínez-Fernández discusses changes in each country's balance of power and its relationship to changes in the countries' heritage of insularity, colonialism, and slavery. The book covers the years between 1840, when British consul and abolitionist David Turnbull arrived in Havana, to 1878, when the first Cuban war of independence from Spain ended. Avi Chomsky, reviewing Torn between Empires for Americas, remarked: "What is new in Martínez-Fernández's account is the way he focuses his lens, moving easily from internal events in the United States to events in the three country/colonies of the Hispanic Caribbean . . . , to Spain, to Great Britain, and back again, showing the intricate links between local and international events and ideas." Journal of Latin American Studies contributor Jean Stubbs responded favorably to Torn between Empires, declaring: "For guiding us through the terrain of imperial rivalries still with us today, as well as on its own intrinsic merit, this is a book that should be on every Caribbean history reading list."
Fighting Slavery in the Caribbean: The Life and Times of a British Family in Nineteenth-Century Havana draws on diaries, letters, and other papers to tell the story of George and Grace Backhouse, a British couple who went to Cuba in the mid-1800s to serve on the Anglo-Spanish Havana Mixed Commission for the Suppression of the Slave Trade. Fighting slavery was an uphill battle at the time: most influential people in Cuba were strongly pro-slavery because the island's economy relied on slave labor. In addition to the difficulties of their anti-slavery struggle, the Backhouses were immersed in an unfamiliar culture and were often isolated and lonely. Through their story, the book shows the Cuban slave trade, its role in the sugar industry, and relations between races and genders on the island. Martínez-Fernández told Michelle Adam in Hispanic Outlook, "I began to read [George and Grace Backhouse's] diaries, and I fell in love with this family. They had children like me. They faced a lot of the same issues." Later, he said, "His diary came to an end, and I opened an envelope. There were newspaper notices of his death. He had been killed in Cuba. From that day on, I knew I had to tell his story." Martínez-Fernández also wrote the book because he is fascinated with Cuba's history. "I am convinced," he told Adam, "that in order to understand the current political situation of Cuba, you need to understand the nineteenth century when the political climate crystallized." And, he told Alberto Alvarez in the Daily Targum, "The lives of the Backhouses are like a window to the way life was lived in Cuba." Thomas Davis, in his review of Fighting Slavery in the Caribbean for Library Journal, called the volume an "elegant narrative" and a "fascinating peek into mid-nineteenth-century Cuba."
Martínez-Fernández's research for the book helped him not only to understand the history of Cuba, but also to understand his own roots and personal history. When he was thirty-four, he returned to Cuba for the first time to do research for the book. He told Adam, "I felt uncannily at home. The smells, people's accents, the skies, the architecture. It was almost as if I had never left." He visited his grandfather and heard his entire family history for the first time. It was not until he went to Cuba, he told Adam, that he realized he was truly Cuban. Before then, the experience of emigration had marked him and his family with a sense of exile and rootlessness. "The experience of emigration becomes internalized within families," he told Adam. "It becomes a family pattern, which is painful in many ways."
Martínez-Fernández once commented: "As is the case with most authors, I find pleasure in learning that readers enjoy my work and find it useful. Although I write about serious subjects, some of the most rewarding praise that my work has received is that it reflects a sense of humor. That is my advice to my students: 'Keep a sense of humor and enjoy what you do.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Americas, July, 1996, Avi Chomsky, review of Torn between Empires: Economy, Society, and Patterns of Political Thought in the Hispanic Caribbean, 1840-1878, pp. 174-175.
Daily Targum, April 24, 1998, article by Alberto Alvarez.
Hispanic Outlook, October 9, 1998, article by Michelle Adam, p. 14.
Journal of Latin American Studies, February, 1996, Jean Stubbs, review of Torn between Empires, pp. 266-270.
Library Journal, March 15, 1998, Thomas Davis, review of Fighting Slavery in the Caribbean: The Life and Times of a British Family in Nineteenth-Century Havana, p. 82; May 15, 2003, Lee Arnold, review of Encyclopedia of Cuba: People, History, Culture, p. 78.
Rutgers Focus, February 13, 1998, p. 4.*