“Puerto Rico en mi Corazón,” Poetics of Care and Dissent

Edited by Carina del Valle Schorske, Ricardo Maldonado, Erica Mena, and  Raquel Salas Rivera, the poetry anthology Puerto Rico en mi corazón is a complex project of networking, printmaking, translation, and climate justice activism that goes beyond the actual book. The collection embodies feminist and queer poetics of care, diasporic communion and intimacy, decolonial politics, and black and Rican pride. Created in the aftermath of the destructive Hurricane Maria, the book is proposed as an artifact of angst and loss over the preventable deaths of more than 4,000 Puerto Ricans. It is also conceived of as a healing poetic involvement that promotes a sense of a borderless community.

When the storm hit, that’s where we began to build- an immaterial way to survive the very material grief of our own survival. But with so much loss, we knew we’d have to make something we could hold- and something that could travel, and fly out from us as birds of protest against failed recovery and the policy that preceded it. We hope this anthology and the handmade broadsides that preceded it will participate in the vast ecosystem of care that calls our community into being. (del Valle Schorske et al. 2019, XIII)

I want to call attention to the ways the notion of a borderless community resonates with the concept of queer diaspora, as theorized by Gayatri Gopinath, especially because of the queer poets-translators-editors that organize and document this community. In her book Unruly Visions, Gopinath argues that the aesthetic practices of queer diaspora “seek to reveal not coevalness or sameness but rather the co-implication and radical relationality of seemingly disparate racial formations, geographies, temporalities, and colonial and postcolonial histories of displacement and dwelling” (Gopinath 2018, 4). For Gopinath, these inter and transdisciplinary artistic exercises work as archival practices that suggest alternative understandings of time and space obscured within dominant and official narratives. Similarly, Puerto Rico en mi corazón organizes an archive of contemporary Puerto Rican and Diasporican poets publishing in small presses and engaging in alternative publishing practices. The anthology builds a fluid network of creators and translators in poetic but also socio-political dialogues.

Considering the context of the governmental neglect and colonial impasses regarding relief in response to Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rican diaspora consolidated virtual and physical networks of support and mutual aid, among them Puerto Rico en mi corazón. The lack of response from the part of the local and federal government put Puerto Ricans in the archipelago and in the US, in need of creating concrete and virtual bridges, autonomous organizing efforts, routes of transportation, and platforms of practical, journalistic, and artistic documentation. First created as a means of survival and then as a critical process of denunciation, the diasporic formations after Maria were, as Gopinath proposes, interested in taking control of a failed official narrative in order to turn it into a practice of accountability and care.

One poem in the anthology that connects with the intentions of underscoring the intersections of queer black and Rican poetics of care is “Diosa te salve Yemayá/Hail Yemayá” by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro translated by Raquel Salas Rivera. Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro is an Afro-Boricua poet and fiction writer that articulates her work around Afro-Caribbean cultures, identities, queer sexualities, and (her)stories. By including a poem-prayer to the orisha Yemayá, the editors-translators are emphasizing the importance of African religions in Puerto Rico and the Antilles and how these African traditions in the Caribbean are connected to projects of rebellion and liberation.

In the Yoruba religion, Yemayá is a water deity. She is the goddess of the oceans and rivers. She is a motherly fertility spirit that cares for children and protects women, their love, and (queer) bodies. Using a syncretic liturgy that combines elements of Catholicism and African religious rituals, the poet Arroyo Pizarro hails Yemayá and her daughters “that take justice into their own hands.” This reference to women’s justice makes me think of the key role of women in contemporary social movements in Puerto Rico such as the 2019 protests that pushed for the resignation of the then governor, Ricardo Roselló after a scandal propelled by a leaked chat in which Roselló and his cronies shared homophobic, misogynist declarations and a full disregard to the Puerto Rican people’s mourning process. The negligence after Hurricane Maria led to massive protests against corruption and demanded justice and dignity for the dead. The idea of justice is also thought of in the poem from the perspective of domestic violence. Establishing a discussion about gender inequality and violence, Arroyo Pizarro is asking women to defend themselves and to rise against abusers from an individual but also a systemic point of view (Arroyo Pizarro 2019, 8).  In the last stanza, the poetic voice asks for the protection of orishas Yemayá, Obatalá, Orula, the hermaphrodite Eleguá, and trans angels. The deities of Santería and other African-derived religions are convened by the poet as sources of strength in an ongoing socio-political struggle that goes beyond a single political administration. They are also integrated into the commitment to civil disobedience and the fight for women, queer and trans people’s liberation, and moreover, of la matria borincana.

Just like this poem, Puerto Rico en mi corazón puts forth instances of emotional inquiry and affinity, socio-ecological transformations, and a rejection of any type of anti-blackness, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. The anthology centralizes the act of conversation and searches to promote intimacy, affiliation, traveling, encounter and crossing. The “unruly” anthology understood here via Gopinath as a queer aesthetic and diasporic practice “excavate[s] these submerged, comingled histories and become[s] attuned to their continuing resonance in the present as they echo across bodies and landscapes” (Gopinath 2018, 7).

The poem and the anthology are interested in testifying “to the necessity of collaboration” and repudiate calls for “self-reliance” and hollow bootstrap mentalities “so often a brittle mask for colonial neglect” (del Valle Schorske et al. 2019, XIII). These writings propose an alternative conception of sovereignty in Puerto Rico organized around cells of creation, study, debate, political research, and action. The editors and poets subvert notions of political parties and voting as the only organized efforts for change. By acknowledging the flexible and contradictory identities of the diaspora and its flexible time and space, these projects highlight underground currents of Boricua aesthetics and cultural activism.