Latin American Identity through Transculturation: The Work Of Cuban Writer Fernando Ortíz

Susan Pollock


This paper examines the life and work of Fernando Ortíz, with a focus on his development of the term transculturation. Ortíz (1881-1969), a Cuban anthropologist, author, and ethnographer, developed the concept of transculturation using Cuba’s colonial history as his platform. In his book, Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar, he used the two industries as an illustration of the conflict present in the development of Cuban culture and identity. He saw the clash of cultures as an interaction that was ultimately transformative, creating a new Cuban identity. Transculturation is the creation of a new culture when people of different cultural backgrounds live in close relation, both interacting with, and reacting to each other. Ortíz identified race, and elements of culture particular to each race, as features of identity created by the process of transculturation; his concept overlaps with that of mestizaje, and has entered the discourse of race in Latin America. Finally, this essay examines the work of other critics as they pertain to Ortíz’s theory of transculturation.


Transculturation; Fernando Ortíz; Latin America; Identity; Culture


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