Map courtesy of istockphoto.com.
Mention of “The Caribbean” immediately calls to mind vivid, and in many respects ambiguous images – images of island life, tourism, Carnival, sugar; of the slave trade and plantation economy; and of Cold War conflicts, immigration, Pan-Africanism, and independence struggles. Unsurprisingly, then, defining the Caribbean as a precise geographical, political, and cultural space is neither possible nor necessarily desirable. Indeed, which islands do we consider a part of the Caribbean? Do countries on the Central American, mainland Latin American, and United States coastlines belong to the region that English, French, Spanish, and Creole speakers refer to as “the Caribbean”, “el Caribe”, “las Antillas”, “les Caraïbes”, “la Caraïbe”, or “les Antilles”? Is it the etymology of the word Caribbean, which refers to a group of indigenous tribes, that somehow defines this so-called New World space? Or does a shared colonial and postcolonial history of European, African, and Indian migration determine the unity that the term “Caribbean” suggests?
As “Caribbeanists,” we are motivated and, yes, inspired by the possibilities revealed through interrogations of both the commonalities and the divisions among the name-scapes of the Caribbean. Exploring the notion of the Hemispheric Atlantic enables us to look comparatively at spaces from Port-au-Prince and Havana to Basseterre, New Orleans, and Rio de Janeiro. We insist that to distinguish between the islands of the so-called West Indies, mainland Latin America, and the cities of northern North America is to rely on 19th and 20th century spatial frames that misrepresent the hemispheric Atlantic real. While certainly not denying the fundamental impact that such concepts have had on regional identity formation, our research commits to a dialectic of opacity and Relation – hoping ultimately to expand conceptions of the Caribbean as it spirals out – truly unbound – to the wider world.