Debates in Latin American Social Theory

Asynchronous Assignment on We are Owed (Selection)

Asynchronous Assignment


1. Watch the following video about Gaspar Yanga

2. Read the selected poems from We are Owed by Ariana Brown

3. Pick ONE of the following prompts and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 2/16 before the class. 200-word minimum.


Analyze the juxtaposed texts in the poem “Field Notes.” Why do you think the poet intercalates her experiences as a Black Mexican-American in Mexico and the biographical notes on Yanga? How do the experiences of maroons (self-emancipated Africans who flew the colonial status quo) resonate with the poet? Why the poet ends the text by saying that she would look for Yanga everywhere? (Pages 68-70)


By referring to Dionne Brand’s quote at the beginning of the Yanga section (Page 62), discuss the notion of the Black experience as “a haunting” in  Brown’s poems. Refer to specific poems and/or lines.


Elaborate on how the poet humanizes Yanga in various poems and inserts him into personal memories. What do you believe is the intention behind this poetic approach to the historical figure?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about Ariana Brown’s Yanga poems do you want to bring into the discussion?

12 thoughts on “Asynchronous Assignment on We are Owed (Selection)”

  1. “Known as the first liberator of the Americas, Gasper Yanga led one of the most first successful slave rebellions in the Americas. Yanga was among the many slaves brought over from West Africa and forced into working the Spanish sugar plantations in Mexico” (Heredia). This poetic approach to the historical figure was to show us why Yanga is important to remember even today. Yanga risked his life to fight for enslaved people not to carry goods, foods, and other supplies for Mexicans. Even though the Spanish governor wanted to fight Yanga and his group, Yanga did not. He sent a Spanish prisoner to talk to the governor, but they did not listen and sent people to attack Yanga and his group; however, they failed because Yanga was more powerful. In the end, Yanga and his group got what they wanted in 1618, and the first free African was born in San Lorenzo in 1630. San Lorenzos was renamed Yanga because of what he did, which was help free enslaved people.

  2. Gasper Yanga is known as the first liberator of the Americas. He led one of colonial Mexico’s first successful slave uprisings. He was an enslaved Black prince who In “We are owed” By Ariana Brown, the poet talks about Black relationality in Mexico and Mexican American spaces. She describes her childhood in Texas and her trip to Mexico as an adult. In her poems, Ariana, has profound respect for Yanga and she wanted to honor her ancestor. One poem which stood out to me was “Letter to Yanga, from six year old Ariana”, which was from her collection “We are owed.”
    She is concerned about the lack of light being shed on Yanga. Yanga faced a lot of challenges as a Black person for example when the Spanish Colonial government sent troops from Pueblo to enslave Yanga and his people again after escaping. The troop consisted of about 100 fighters with some type of firearm. Brown also expressed in her poems that she too faced many challenges growing up in Texas. She was disconnected from her culture and from her understanding the only wat for her to connect with her Mexican identity is to give up her Black heritage and accept the violence’s against Afro-Mexicans.

  3. I think the poet creates this connection between these experiences and the biographical notes on Yanga as a way to show the importance of Yanga’s actions with the Black Mexican-American history. Yanga is a role model for the African-Mexican population after fighting for their rights; therefore, the poet might have wanted to show respect and admiration for him as part of her poem. The experiences that the maroons lived to gain the freedom that Black-Mexicans are worth it because it helped them to choose their own destiny and actions without having a master. Also, the poem ends by showing ways that the author says that she would look for Yanga, and I think it’s a metaphorical way to follow, respect, and practice Yanga’s actions in the current world.

    1. Hi Daisy, I agree with you on the poet wanting to show their appreciation towards Yanga on what he really meant to the rest of the African-Mexican population, fighting for their rights. We can see how Ariana constantly sympothizes with Yanga, despite the constant burden of white supremacy & endless search for what is “owed” to them all, she is able to provide comfort “we know, we know, we got it”. We can see how a young Ariana & her innocent questions, is sadly no way to be answered. Whether its questions on how Yanga looks like, can a picture be sent, does he have a garden, what’s his favorite fruit, etc. they are questions that resignate with Ariana, considering they are very much alike. Despite not being able to obtain an image of Yanga, Ariana learns to accept & love her own physical characteristics. Emphasizing on us now having the formula to love ourselves.

  4. The Invisible Line
    The version of ourselves that we can’t deny is our roots. The invisble line that we can’t see and the wolrd that someone unites us and destorys us; like a a fragile wind: strong enough to take everything in its path and yet gentle enough to leave everything in its place. Yanga was pushed barriers and created a new understanding of what it meant to have freedom; the poet openly shares how it feels to push barriers and create discompfort by owning your own idenity.
    The poet openly shared her experience owning his identity as a woman who identified as Mexican and African; the poet has dreadlocks and is not ashamed to identify within that form of their truth and yet people feel the need to ask her what dreadlocks are; as if to poke and prod. Yanga freed a part of her identity and rejected a form of ruling that pushed a eurocentric ideology of beauty. As the poet progresses; more and more people ask the poet where she is from and even go as far as framing their names and rejecting an identity around the poet’s roots. She can openly identify with the struggles of feeling like a country and a set of people rejected her. As an outsider, you start to realize the perverse lack of representation in their communities which is why the poet hopes one day she can identify with people who look like her and share her experiences.
    Race still continues to create barriers in our society, but being able to frame a different narrative can give your perspective.

    1. Hi Lourdes, I agree, our roots are the parts that follow us throughout our entire lives. Throughout the poem, it’s obvious that the poet, Ariana, is experiencing this as a struggle when she comes to Mexico. As an Afro-Americana, she has multiple sides to her that she also sees in Yanga. We can see that from a young age she had this idea about Yanga but she yearned for more knowledge about him. Like you mentioned, Yanga pushed boundaries and didn’t let the Spanish colonizers walk all over him. Likewise, Ariana starts to do the same when she’s in Mexico; she stands her ground and faces the prejudice and racism from the people around her with strength. The sentence that stood out to me the most is towards the end when she says, “I can’t find an image of Yanga online. Instead, I try harder to love my own face, nose, lips, hair”. At this point, she accepts that she may never truly know what Yanga looked like. Yet, although she acknowledges this I think she knows that they probably had some physical similarities given that Yanga was from Africa and she is Afro-American. As a result, she begins this journey of loving her own appearance and everything that makes up who she is.

  5. Starting with the quote from Dionne Brand is already indicating how the life of a Black person is through how history has neglected them and put them in specific places that they can be at and where they should dare to cross. In the poem we see how the narrator is trying to get a photo of Yanga and trying to wonder how he look like, and through the video we understand his importance and how he was a historical figure for Afro-Mexicans. Moreover, we get to see the experiences of the narrator and how she is treated herself similar to what was expected from Yanga from the Spaniards to be someone who work for them and he having to obey since they believe to be superior.

  6. Dionne Brand quotes at the beginning of the Yanga section that the Black experience is a “haunting.” She says, “One enters a room and history follows; one enters a room and history precedes.” I believe she is saying that the Black experience exists with the reminder of their history. In other words, they can’t escape their history, most likely because that dark history still affects Black people today. With racism, stereotyping, racial profiling, mass incarceration, police brutality, etc. still being a major issue for the Black community, it’s hard to not see it as a result of their historical experience that lasted 400 years. Later on in “We Are Owed” in the Field Notes section, an Afrolatina quotes how her appearance is picked at in Mexico. Questions such as “is that your real hair?” or stating that people didn’t know afro-mexicans existed, made her feel uncomfortable. I think this ties back to Dionne Brand’s quote because no matter where she goes she experiences a part of the Black experience that is a result of history.

  7. Ariana Brown starts the poem off by stating a quote by Dionne Brand which states “Black experience in any modern city of town in the Americas is a haunting.” After the last couple of years especially under the power of Donald Trump as our president we faced various attacks on the black community that has yet to change. There is always arising situations of racism such as mentioned in the poem it could be a comment that could be out of ignorance. One example mentioned in the poem was “my professor, güera, compares being called ‘güera’ to being called ‘nigger’ & i am the only one to correct her” Mexico, overall is oblivious to racism they only see people as one but that is because topics of racism to name others such as gender and mental health have been a debatable topic in the country itself. Therefore for the Professor to say such she thought she was in the right state of mind and for nobody to say anything could either mean they agree or are just ignorant. The statement made by the professor made me recall a couple of my experiences in Mexico and also my families. We are from Oaxaca and there everyone is so lovely and it just it home because you have a mixture of people from the north, central and coast. Whenever we go to Mexico City you can feel the shift change in energy that isn’t the same because of all the ignorance.

  8. Reading: We are Owed (Poetry)
    Author: Ariana Brown

    Made me cry:

    I will write to you always

    Someone we cannot picture is writing to us now

    asking for assistance
    they are on the brink

    of an escape neither you nor I could see
    (pgs. 74-75. Brown, Ariana)

    It was the culmination of all the poems coming together, to demonstrate the importance of our ancestors being spiritually present to guide us along this post-colonial world, in this apocalypse.
    And how one day we are also going to become ancestors to a whole new generation, waiting for us to give them answers on how not only survive but thrive in this settler-colonial world, for future generations to be free.

    Elaborate on how the poet humanizes Yanga in various poems and inserts him into personal memories. What do you believe is the intention behind this poetic approach to the historical figure?

    First and foremost, lets touch on the significant importance to humanize our Ancestors, as opposed to idolize them. One’s ancestors or relatively any human being shouldn’t be place in a high pedestal above us all. Because centrally we don’t want to start a hierarchy of any sort. As well it serves to remind us, that our ancestors were far from perfect, and they also made mistakes that we can’t repeat ourselves in order to end generational curses.

    Humanizing ancestors also gives us permission to have genuine conversations with them, as opposed to just having to obey guidance, you also have to question where they are coming from. ‘Letter to Yanga, from Six-Year-Old Ariana’, gives us examples of how Ariana Brown questions her ancestors on everyday life, such as “Do you have a favorite fruit?”. Or giving Yanga a physical description of where to find her, “We don’t have a porch but you can sit on the step by the front door until I come home”, this quote reminds me so much of my family talking relatively normal about the dead, the ancestors.

  9. My apologies, I originally posted this on the wrong Discussion.

    Much of We Are Owed is about honoring and linking us to our history. The poems for Gaspar Yanga and Esteban Dorantes demonstrate Brown’s refusal to erase these two historic figures and instead elevate them into current times as they are not only relevant but a part of her history. Yanga and Dorantes history is Brown’s history as she can identify with the first Black Mexicans she has been searching for. In one of the most tender moments, a 6 y.o. Ariana writes to Yanga in “Letter to Yanga, from Six-Year-Old Ariana.” The speaker’s tone is tender and innocent, but it is also heartbreaking because we know these moments are just out of pure will of her imagination. “Yanga I wanna know what you look like. Can you send me a picture / please. We don’t have a porch but you can sit on the step by the front door until I come home.” Just as a six-year-old would, Ariana spits out question after question to Yanga: “Have you ever seen someone being born?” “Do you have a garden?” “Do you have a favorite fruit?” In the poem’s final line, Ariana pleads for a photo of Yanga. She writes, “Can you let me know when you get this. I really want those pictures.” We can see how much she longs to be connected with her ancestry and how much she identifies with Yanga as someone so similar to herself and also mourning the history that has been lost and perhaps buried but is owed.

    Longing for what it is that “we are owed” resonates through Brown’s work . And despite the burdens of white supremacy, which continue to oppress Brown still finds it in herself to comfort us with couplets such as:

    every morning, i listen to chance the rapper’s coloring
    book. hum to myself, we know, we know, we got it

    i can’t find an image of yanga online. instead, i
    try harder to love my own face, nose, lips, hair.


  10. In Ariana Brown’s “We Are Owed”, she starts with a quote that discusses the Black experience as a haunting. This quote is extremely important and has a large impact on the messages Ariana is trying to convey throughout her poems. Her poems discuss the fact that her Blackness is a large role in her identity, as it is not something she can hide. Her Blackness is the first thing people see about her, the first thing they identify her with. Yet because of that, she also identifies with the history of being Black and all that has been associated with that in the past. In her poem “Field Notes”, she points out various examples of where people within her community question the way she looks and treat her differently. This directly affects the way she sees herself and how she moves throughout society. No matter where she goes or what she does, her being Black will always affect her, it isn’t something she can hide or put away, unlike white-passing Latino’s, who are able to disguise their Latinidad with more ease. In this sense, her Blackness “haunts” her, and the history of Black people follows them throughout their daily lives and impacts the way they are seen and treated in their communities.

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