Debates in Latin American Social Theory

We Are Owed- Ariana Brown

Entry Question

Ariana Brown starts her section on Gaspar Yanga by quoting Afro-Canadian poet, essayist, and documentarian Dionne Brand:

“Black Experience in any modern city or town in the Americas is a haunting. One enters a room and history follows; one enters a room and history precedes. History is already seated in the chair in the empty room when one arrives. Where one stands in a society seems always related to this experience.”

What do you understand by this quote? and How it helps to illuminate Ariana Brown’s intentions with this section?


Published in 2021, We Are Owed, is the debut poetry collection of Ariana Brown. Brown is a Black-Mexican-American poet-performer and educator. Many of the poems in this collection are about the author’s childhood in Texas and a trip to Mexico as an adult. This collection interrogates accepted origin stories of Mexican identity and asks readers to reject U.S., Chicano, and Mexican nationalism and to confront anti-Black erasure and empire-building and discourses. Brown places her experiences of Blackness in conversation with the histories of formerly enslaved Africans in both Texas and Mexico. These figures serve as protective and guiding forces in particular Yanga, a maroon that founded the first Black liberated town of the Americas

Mexicanidad, just like most of the national identities in Latin America, has been defined as a mestizaje (mixed race-ness/ mixed culture) in which the African heritage and blackness are diluted. Through these discourses la hispanidad is centered and indigeneity is seen as a fixed folk culture of the past. Facing this, Brown decides to center instead of the figure of Gaspar Yanga, a maroon, or self-emancipated African. The poet sees Yanga as the true origin of her Afro Mexican American identity. She doesn’t identify with brownness but with blackness.

Minutes 11:00-16:25

Class Presentation (s)

Aucapina,Daysi O



Read the statement and looks for evidence quotes in the poems that would support these claims:

.The poems in this section of We Are Owed establish a conversation with Yanga inserting him into personal memories.

.For Brown, studying abroad in Mexico, her ancestral homeland seems precisely haunting as she needs to interact with being fetishized as a Black woman and anti-blackness in the form of being separated or erased from the historical constructions of Mexicanidad.

.The experiences of maroons, these self-emancipated Africans who flew the colonial status quo and regenerated their culture in a new space resonated with the poet as an Afro-descendant haunted by history. 

.The poet wants to recover Yanga’s body and his gestures as a way to trace an origin.

.Although she understands Yanga as a kindred spirit of sorts, the poet is also critical about the historical figure and questions him about his alliances with the Spanish colonial government and how he compromised the lives and liberty of other maroons. However, she finishes on a hopeful note.