Diasporic Blackness

The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

By Vanessa K. Valdés

Subjects: Latin American Studies, Biography, African American Studies, History, Literature
Paperback : 9781438465142, 202 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438465135, 202 pages, April 2017

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Silence and the Meaning of It All

1. “Patria y Libertad”: Schomburg and Puerto Rico

2. The Diasporic Race Man as Institution Builder

3. Afro-Latinx Chronicles: Schomburg’s Writings

4. “Witness for the Future”: Schomburg and His Archives

5. “Furtive as He Looks”: The Visual Representation of Schomburg

Conclusion: The Dynamics of Afro-Latinx Subjectivity


Examines the life of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg through the lens of both Blackness and latinidad.


A Black Puerto Rican–born scholar, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938) was a well-known collector and archivist whose personal library was the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. He was an autodidact who matched wits with university-educated men and women, as well as a prominent Freemason, a writer, and an institution-builder.

While he spent much of his life in New York City, Schomburg was intimately involved in the cause of Cuban and Puerto Rican independence. In the aftermath of the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, he would go on to cofound the Negro Society for Historical Research and lead the American Negro Academy, all the while collecting and assembling books, prints, pamphlets, articles, and other ephemera produced by Black men and women from across the Americas and Europe. His curated library collection at the New York Public Library emphasized the presence of African peoples and their descendants throughout the Americas and would serve as an indispensable resource for the luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. By offering a sustained look at the life of one of the most important figures of early twentieth-century New York City, this first book-length examination of Schomburg's life as an Afro-Latino suggests new ways of understanding the intersections of both Blackness and latinidad.

Vanessa K. Valdés is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the City College of New York, City University of New York. She is the editor of Let Spirit Speak! Cultural Journeys through the African Diaspora and the author of Oshun's Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas, both also published by SUNY Press.


"…this book provides an excellent introduction to students and scholars seeking an accessible portrait of Arturo Schomburg. Not only does Valdés's craft a compelling biography, she fully contextualizes his life and the transnational circumstances that most impacted his intellectual development … Valdés's book is a necessary addition to the previous literature." — Black Perspectives

"Diasporic Blackness is a noteworthy addition to the growing body of scholarship on Arturo Alfonso 'Arthur' Schomburg … The author convincingly demonstrates that rather than prioritizing black nationalism or internationalism above all else, Schomburg persevered in seeking ways of reconciling black diasporic belonging with Latinx pan-ethnic identification and solidarity." — New West Indian Guide

"Thanks to Schomburg and to works like Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés's Diasporic Blackness, we know the richness, brilliance, necessity and gravity of black narratives in places like the Caribbean, from where lots of the music we Latinxs know and love is rooted." — Billboard

"Essential." — CHOICE

"…Valdés's book represents a valuable contribution to the study of the life and work of Schomburg and the history of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans of his moment." — Centro Voices