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In the first decades of the twentieth century, New York City captured the attention of numerous Spanish writers who visited the city and wrote of their experience in the form of travelogues. In this article, I will discuss two of these texts: Pruebas de Nueva York (1927) by José Moreno Villa and La ciudad automática (1932) by Julio Camba. In particular, I will focus on the representation of African Americans carried out by these two writers. Whereas Black art was regarded as an essential source of inspiration for Modernism, the view of Black individuals as “subaltern others” was rarely challenged; on the contrary, it was often reinforced by the artistic appropriation of African art by the European avant-garde. The view of Blacks as an inferior “race” is one of a series of pervasive discourses of “Otherness” deeply ingrained in Western modernity, which served as justification for imperial colonisation and domination, to the extent that “racial” difference and inequality – especially in the case of Black people – was considered as a taken for granted truth which was barely questioned, if at all. This article will show the influence of these two coordinates of Western modernity – Primitivist Modernism and imperialist colonialism – in both travelogues, which in spite of their different approach to the situation of African Americans in New York, share a number of similarities that can also be found in other coetaneous literary works. Rather than qualifying these attitudes as merely racist – although these texts certainly contain racist and colonialist overtones – the article will highlight the strength of discourses of “Otherness” in Western though, which resist being challenged even when Black art is incorporated to the artistic vocabulary of Modernism.


  • New York, José Moreno Villa, Julio Camba, Modernism, primitivism, colonialism, travel writing
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 52-69
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Spanish Cultural Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2013

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