FSU assistant professor earns dual fellowships to research revolutionary Cuba

Assistant professor of history Anasa Hicks will use her fellowships to conduct research on Cuban soldiers' experiences just after the 1959 revolution for her upcoming book. Courtesy photo.

A Florida State University faculty member has been awarded two prestigious fellowships from the Florida Education Fund and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to conduct research for the upcoming book, “Carlota’s Heirs: Masculinity and Military Service in Revolutionary Cuba.”

Anasa Hicks, an assistant professor in FSU’s Department of History, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, is a recipient of the FEF’s McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship and the Schomburg Fellowship from the Schomburg Center Scholars-in-Residence Program at the New York Public Library.

“I’m extremely lucky to have received two fellowships that complement each other so well,” Hicks said. “I plan to develop new courses for the history department and incorporate the research I’ll complete into classes I already teach. Students are often shocked to learn that the past can be updated, and I love explaining how historians constantly make new discoveries to add to what we know about the past.”

The McKnight fellowship promotes excellence in teaching and research by underrepresented minorities and women. Hicks will use this fellowship to conduct research in Miami, and Havana, pending travel complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a world-renowned repository of sources on the African diasporic experience that holds numerous manuscript and archival collections and a comprehensive range of publications, photographs, films, audio recordings and visual art. Hicks is slated to conduct research for her second book at the Schomburg Center in New York City from January until June 2021.

Hicks’ first book, “Hierarchies at Home: Domestic Service in Cuba from Abolition to Revolution,” spans the late 1800s, when the island nation ended slavery, through the 1959 revolution. In it, Hicks explores race, gender, and ethnicity by examining how Cubans perceived their maids and domestic work, and how those perceptions affected domestic servants’ lives and circumstances. Domestic servants and soldiers, the focus of her upcoming book, held jobs considered distinct from other labor.

“Many domestic workers are not salaried and receipt of healthcare, paid time off and other benefits is largely determined by their employers. Labor movements and labor rights generally concern those who work outside employment in offices, factories and even agricultural work. Because domestic service happens inside private homes, it’s often not considered formal labor,” Hicks said.

“Household labor and the labor of women of color have long been overlooked by labor historians. Professor Hicks’ work goes far to remedying that absence,” said history chair Edward Gray.

Labor historians view soldiers as distinct due to the nationalist implications of their work. While military service members are paid, there’s a perception that they should be driven by patriotism and loyalty to the country they serve, rather than salary. “Carlota’s Heirs” will focus on soldiers’ experiences in Cuba’s efforts to help African colonies gain independence following the 1959 revolution.

Beginning in 1961, Cuba supported African colonies in their struggles for independence, including Ghana, Algeria and Guinea-Bissau. In late 1974, the government in Portugal fell to a military coup, and the new government granted Angola, formerly a Portuguese colony, independence in late 1975, Hicks explained.

When South Africa immediately tried to take over the newly independent Angola due to the territory’s abundance of resources, an Angolan leader asked Fidel Castro for military aid. He obliged, and the first military expedition from Cuba to Angola was named Operation Carlota, after an enslaved African woman in Cuba who led a rebellion across several plantations in 1843.

“Castro wanted to connect Cuba’s history of slave rebellions¬ to the decolonization of Africa in the late 20th century. He announced to Cuba and the world that the island had its own African history, and Cuba and Africa were linked by the history of Atlantic slavery,” Hicks said. “Castro wanted to demonstrate that Cuba would stand in solidarity with its African comrades who were fighting to be free just as enslaved Africans had fought for their freedom in Cuba in the 19th century.”

Through her fellowships, Hicks hopes to find first-hand accounts of Cuban soldiers’ experiences in Angola and the conditions on the African continent. She will study their experiences upon returning to Cuba to determine whether they were celebrated and offered benefits and how they explained their time abroad to loved ones.

“Professor Hicks is a rising star among labor historians and historians of modern Latin America. Her work addresses a glaring gap in historical understanding, and because of this, her research will resonate far beyond the circle of scholars of modern Cuba,” Gray said.