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Africans to Spanish AmericaExpanding the Diaspora$
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Sherwin K. Bryant and Rachel Sarah O'Toole

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036637

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036637.001.0001

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Tensions of Race, Gender, and Midwifery in Colonial Cuba

Tensions of Race, Gender, and Midwifery in Colonial Cuba

(p.186) 8 Tensions of Race, Gender, and Midwifery in Colonial Cuba
Africans to Spanish America

Michele Reid-Vazquez

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines representations of honor, gender, race, and labor in colonial Cuba through the lens of midwifery. More specifically, it considers how free women of African descent used occupational choice as a marker of identity and honor despite the limits of race and gender within Cuba's slave society. Using the tensions surrounding local and international debates over parteras (midwives) in the nineteenth century, the chapter looks at the ways that free women of color resisted the efforts of the colonial state to diminish their participation in midwifery. It also discusses the professionalization in medicine in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and its impact on midwifery in Cuba, along with the colonial state's attempts to regulate midwives. Finally, it considers how free black and mulatto women appropriated elite discourses of honor and created a labor niche that challenged established socioracial codes of conduct. It shows that medical professionalization, feminine ideals, honor, occupational whitening, and racial denigration converged to shape the social and economic parameters for free women of African descent in colonial Cuba.

Keywords:   honor, gender, race, colonial Cuba, midwifery, parteras, free women of color, slave society, whitening, midwives

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