Ortiz, Fernando (1881–1969)

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Ortiz, Fernando (1881–1969)

Fernando Ortiz (b. 16 July 1881; d. 10 April 1969), Cuban scholar, public servant, and political activist. No three words can describe the life and activities of this multifaceted Cuban intellectual. He studied law in Havana, completed his studies in Barcelona, and began his career as a criminal law specialist. His interests soon broadened to include sociology, archaeology, history, philology, anthropology, musicology, and ethnology. He served as a consular official in Italy, as public prosecutor for Havana, as a professor of law and, later, anthropology at the University of Havana, and as a representative for several terms in Congress. A tireless political agitator, he directed the Junta Cubana de Renovación Nacional against governmental corruption in 1923 and organized the Cuban Alliance for a Free World Against Fascism in 1945. In answer to the fascist claim of Aryan superiority, he wrote El engaño de las razas (Deception of the Races) in 1945.

Ortiz is best known for his studies on African-Cuban culture and as a prosecutor of sugar monoculture. His studies of the African contribution to Cuban life have marked him as the "greatest definer of the Cuban identity." In his first study of colonial blacks, Hampa afro-cubano: Los negros brujos published in 1906, he introduced the term "afro" as a prefix in sociological and anthropological studies. He further initiated use of the term "transculturation" to replace the many other terms used to describe the symbiosis of cultures. He founded the Society of Afro-Cuban Studies as a forum to promote awareness of the importance of Africans to the Cubans. His works span the colonial period to the modern, slavery to music and dance, and he laid the foundation for the unique national identity of the Cuban people.

His book best known to North Americans is Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar in which he condemns the sugar industry and describes its evils and calls for promotion of the Cuban tobacco industry. He strongly opposed the United States' growing influence on Cuba and accused it of using sugar to increase its dominance over Cuban people. His criticisms brought to light the political and economic dependence of Cuba on the United States.

See alsoCuba: The Republic (1898–1959); Economic Integration.


The majority of Ortiz's many works have not been translated to English but are available in Spanish. Two in English are his Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar, translated by Harriet de Onis (1947), and his On the Relations Between Blacks and Whites (1943). An examination of his writings and philosophy is available in Diana Iznaga, Transculturación en Fernando Ortiz (1989). A study of his life and works is Araceli García Carranza, ed., Bio-bibliografía de don Fernando Ortiz (1970).

Additional Bibliography

Castellanos, Jorge. Pioneros de la etnografía afrocubana: Fernando Ortiz, Rómulo Lachatañeré, Lydia Cabrera. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 2003.

Font, Mauricio A., and Alfonso W. Quiroz. Cuban Counterpoints: The Legacy of Fernando Ortiz. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005.

Iznaga, Diana. Transculturación en Fernando Ortiz. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1989.

Salermo Izquierdo, Judith. Fernando Ortiz: Notas acerca de su imaginación sociológica. Havana: Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello, 2004.

Santí, Enrico Mario. Fernando Ortiz: Contrapunteo y transculturación. Madrid: Colibrí Editorial, 2002.

Toro, Carlos del. Fernando Ortiz y la Hispanocubana de Cultura. Havana: Fundación Fernando Ortiz, 1996.

                                 Jacquelyn Briggs Kent

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Ortiz, Fernando (1881–1969)

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