Reena Goldthree interviews Aisha Finch at AAIHS:
Reena Goldthree: Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba situates the conspiracy of La Escalera in the context of mounting black resistance in 19th-century Cuba. In the book, you invite us to consider the “wide span of non-complaint behaviors” that enabled slave insurgencies, including the “hidden labor of rebellion” that was performed by enslaved women and non-elite enslaved men. What led you to investigate the role of enslaved people who did not occupy visible leadership roles in the rebellions?
Aisha Finch: The role of marginalized, or seemingly invisible, slaves in this rebellion became important for me to think about early in the research process. In fact, I started to wonder about the hidden labor of rebellion partly because of what I was not seeing in the archives. It felt disconcerting to be reading through this massive trial record, with literally thousands of pages of testimony, and to be still encountering so many recurring silences. I had several experiences where my questions and problems with the archive ultimately became central to the argument of my book. For example, it was striking to me that so much of what people said in their testimonies dealt with the most mundane and unspectacular aspects of their lives. Even as I was aware of the imminent violence that shaped so many of their responses, I kept wondering when other things that “looked” more like a rebellion would surface. These kinds of testimonies pushed against the idea of a rebel slave movement that I had gone into the archives thinking I was going to find.
“There was also a fascinating contrast between the pointed, direct, and ultimately violent questions that the colonial authorities posed and the responses that enslaved people gave. Most of them responded by saying things like, “I happened to run into so-and-so when I was running an errand or when I was in town,” or “I noticed this one or that one coming to the plantation at night.” It quickly became clear to me that the quotidian fabric of everyday life would have to be central to the way in which the story manifested itself. Initially I struggled with that because quite frankly, that was not the story of La Escalera that I was looking for. What I discovered in the trial record prompted me to think about the idea of rebellion in a very different way. It forced me to shift my own understanding of what it meant for slaves to collectively revolt….