Throughout history political cartoons have been a great way to see how people feel about current events that are happening at the time-those printed in newspapers and magazines could be seen by thousands of people, and there was often a lot of symbolism behind the funny/clever images. In the book Fighting for American Manhood author Kirsten Hoganson discusses the role gender had in igniting the Spanish-American as well as Philippine-American wars. In the second chapter of this book, Hoganson talks about American’s sympathy for Cubans, saying “Men and women from across the country wished the Cubans well. Sympathizers contributed funds, prayed for Cuban liberty, and took to the streets in pro-Cuban demonstrations.” (Hoganson, 43).
This shows how American’s felt that Cuba was a nation that needed saving and protecting- a notion that is also well represented in a political cartoon originally published in Puck magazine in June of 1896. The image, titled “The Cuban Melodrama” shows a seedy looking villain, dressed in black and with a mean looking face, labeled as Spain. There is also a damsel-in-distress looking female, clad in all white and labeled Cuba. The woman in distress is hanging onto a hero figure labeled U.S., complete with red and white stripe tights and a white starred pair of trousers. The image clearly supports Hoganson’s statement that Americans felt their duty was to protect Cuba, which also goes along with the idea of the white man’s burden-the belief that it was solely up to white people to bring civilization to non-white countries, and rescue them somehow.
Hoganson brings up the hypocrisy among Americans at the time, saying ” men who did not seem outraged at the news of a recent lynching in Texas (in which a man was covered with kerosene and burned to death on a public platform in the presence of seven thousand cheering witnesses) were now “shedding tears over the sad fate of Maceo [a mixed-race Cuban genera!]”(Hoganson, 44). I think this is a really good point and one that I thought of a lot in class while we were discussing America’s attitudes towards Cuba and Spain at the time. It seems America cared deeply-or felt like it should-about the Cubans, yet atrocities based on race where happening right here on American soil. Racism was obviously apparent in American media at the time, as evidenced by another political cartoon titled White Man’s Burden, which appeared in 1899. The image reveals America’s belief that it was bringing people of other countries, such as Cuba, to a golden civilization. This image is ironic as one of the rocks Uncle Sam has to climb, with people of other nations on his back, is “ignorance”-yet clearly this image shows America’s ignorance and racist attitudes towards those of non-white countries.
As shown in the book Fighting for American Manhood as well as various political cartoons of the time, Americans in the late 1800s felt that Cuba was a nation needed saving from the Spanish, and exhibited an extreme amount of sympathy yet also racism towards the Cubans, as well as other non-white people. Images of Cuba shown as a damsel in distress and Uncle Sam bringing non-white people to civilization were widely present in the media, and show how important media was in communicating different and popular ideas and beliefs at the time-even if they were immoral and consisted of stereotypes and racism, these images are still important today as they show the media narrative following issues with Cuba and Spain, as well as America’s historical racism.
Hoganson, Kirsten L. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), Ch. 2
C. Jay Taylor, The Cuban Melodrama, Puck, 3 June 1896
Victor Gillam, “White Man’s Burden.” Judge 1899.