Between 1868 and 1898, three generations of Cubans fought to free Cuba from colonialist Spain. More than a century later, no other historical narrative is as beloved and ritualistically recited as the story of Cuba Libre and the citizen-soldier known as the mambí. In town festivals and cartoons, in textbooks and hymns, in the national currency and logos alike, the mambí is the foremost icon of Cuba’s past and present. Scrutinizing how this figure has been aesthetically rendered in literature, historiography, cinema, and monuments, Éric Morales-Franceschini teases out the emancipatory promises that the story of Cuba Libre came to embody in the twentieth-century popular imagination.

The story of Cuba Libre and the mambí is not, after all, a conventional epic. For how does one account for heroes that are neither demigods nor nobles? For tactics more sly than virtuous? Or verse more populist than eloquent? Analyzing the mambí as Afro-Cuban, woman, trickster, saboteur, and martyr, this critical exegesis shows how that heroic archetype has come to bear on issues such as racial justice, women’s empowerment, populist humor, the ethics of violence, and the nationalist sublime. With an eye toward decolonial futures, The Epic of Cuba Libre illuminates the complexities and idiosyncrasies of an aesthetics of liberation.