In an attempt to map some of the gendered and racialized aspects of Afro-Boricua diasporic experiences in the United States, Yomaira Figueroa argues that “for Afro-Latinas coming of age in homelands, islands, and in the diaspora […] the kitchen table is a place of politics, poetics, kinship, and sustenance. Likewise, we know that this hallowed quotidian space is also a site of violence, revelation, and revolt.”
Figueroa invites us to acknowledge and combat the impacts of anti-Black racism that exist within our spaces. “This means that we must interrogate and contest the living legacies of mestizaje and its failure to eradicate racial interpersonal and structural oppression and inequality. This also means actively subverting the forms of anti-Blackness endemic to Latinx and Latin American communities.” (Page 4)
Pick ONE of these assignment options and answer in the comment section below.
Using the quote above, discuss how the story “Your Lips” (pages 6-9) illustrates colorism and Anti-Blackness within Boricua and Latinx families.
Write a short poem or anecdote in which you incorporate and reflect on the ideas of the following quote:
“What hit you then was the blackness. Everyone in the room was soft and honey and even las trigueñas eran claras. But you were small and brusk and brown and black and all curls and no beauty. You knew it then. At four or five. Your papi was the black one. He’s the one that made you black and you did not belong to the table. Even though you were all from the same island. The same saltwaters. The same hard rivers. The same blood. It was then that the anger came.” (Page 8)
A native of Puerto Rico, Yomaira was raised in Hoboken, NJ, and is a first-generation high school and college graduate. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Figueroa works on 20th century U.S. Latinx Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-Hispanic literature and culture. Her current book project, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature, focuses on diasporic and exilic Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and Equatoguinean texts in contact.
On her literary upbringing and the concept of faithful witnessing 3:15-8:40
This cross-genre essay examines how Afro-Latinas in general, and Afro- Puerto Rican women in the diaspora in particular, negotiate race, sex, and belonging within Latinx families and communities. Blending fiction with prose to discuss literary poetics, faithful witnessing, and world-traveling, this piece enumerates historical and contemporary practices of relating across differences that are part and parcel of women of color feminisms, decolonial feminist politics, and anti-colonial histories of struggle and resistance.
Faithful witnessing is a political act and an ethical strategy through which oppressed peoples form coalitions in order to combat systematic oppression. Faithful witnessing is likewise a part of the practice of engaging in relations across difference. (Page 3)
“Let us instead be faithful witnesses to the intimate folds of Afro-Latina becomings and take on the labor of seeing, knowing, and feeling the aches and beauties of Blackness for ourselves and with one another.” (Page 6)
Based on our previous discussions about the colonial history of Puerto Rico, Anti-Blackness within the U.S., how do you interpret Figueroa’s poem?
I was born black and woman and desterrada.
A colonial subject hundreds of years in the making, rebelling and fugitive at every turn.
In conversation with scholar Angela Jorge and The Black Latinas Know Collective (BLKC) Figueroa contends that Afro-Latinas face manifold oppressions, and the Black Puerto Rican woman is triply “oppressed because of her sex, cultural identity, and color” and “is further oppressed by the act of omission or absence of literature addressing her needs […] the racialized and gendered dimensions of Afro-Latina life include experiences ranging from “having our Latinidad and Blackness questioned, to dealing with white Latinx standards of beauty that exclude us, to being invisibilized, to being designated as incapable of occupying our places as students, professors, intellectuals, and knowledge producers.” (Page 2)
Have you experienced or have witnessed these dilemmas of Afro-Latinas?
“A big part of Delgado’s work, as both a poet and publisher, is about imagining alternative ways of living: ecologies and economies of poetry rooted in the interpersonal, the collaborative, the open-ended, and the non-hierarchical. Her vision has become really powerful to me as I seek to understand the terms of our survival as Puerto Ricans under neoliberal austerity and neocolonial extractivism. I am especially interested in how Delgado’s work embodies space through a fraught vernacular poetics that complicates male-centered genealogies of Boricua poetry.
[The title“Noche de San Juan”] refers to the celebration of Saint John’s Eve on June 23rd (right around the summer solstice). In Puerto Rico, we popularly celebrate it by falling backward into the ocean three times. This ritual (at once playful and purifying, like Delgado’s poetry) is evoked for me by the short sequences of the poem, many of which are three lines long. I chose to leave the term in Spanish given its untranslatability but also because it can be easily googled. Additionally, I wanted to retain another possible meaning embedded in the term: “Noche de San Juan” as in San Juan (at) night. This other meaning opens up the poem into a dissonant nocturne, finding beauty amid the urban noir of a ravaged yet rebellious city.”
Pick ONE of these assignment options and answer in the comment section below.
Use Delgado’s structure to write an hour by hour short-verse-remix-poem to reflect on the issues faced by Puerto Rican and Latina women. To write this poem use Delgado’s take, our class discussions, and your own personal and intellectual observations.
What reflections do you identify in Nicole Delgado’s poem about the current socio-political-cultural state of Puerto Rico? Pay special attention to these verses below:
“Summer Solstice/Noche de San Juan”
This is how the hours slip us by:
If I’ve been too political or not political enough we’ll never know.
Time is compressing and the sea is expanding.
Poetry is quiet lately.
I barely miss my old loves anymore.
Buildings are also disappearing.
I placed candles
on an altar full of rocks I found
and though they have no higher powers I feel protected.
One must protect oneself when an island goes under.
My friends leave for the United States yet sea turtles are nesting.
They close down schools yet sea turtles are nesting.
A week ago god’s hate took over the media.
There were concerts and funerals.
People dressed as angels built a fence
to protect the dead from god’s hate.
To work without pay. To work without pay. To work without pay.
How many friends left the country today? I ask,
watching the hazy insecticide sunset over a beachfront city.
You make the rice and I’ll do the dishes.
Gender is an imposed order and we don’t follow orders.
As we saw with Yarimar Bonilla’s interview and documentary as well with the essay “Dancing Backup” by Carina del Valle Schorske the long colonial processes in the archipelago and its repercussions in the diaspora have marginalized Puerto Ricans amid continuous disasters. The US frame Puerto Rico as a subordinated territory in the margins and shadows of US society, imperial wars, and politics. Using del Valle Schorske analogy, Puerto Rico and Boricuas are put in the background serving as an expendable, racialized, and sexualized workforce.
The poetic and cultural work that Nicole Cecilia Delgado does in Puerto Rico and other locations including the US is proposed as an empowering alternative to colonial oppression and ecological disasters and exemplifies the type of grassroots movement and sovereignty that Bonilla calls attention to.
Nicole Cecilia Delgado has been a leading figure in the Puerto Rican cultural landscape as a poet, translator, editor, and founder of Atarraya Cartonera and La impresora, independent non-hierarchical poetry houses that imagine alternative ways of living. A traveling poet with projects in the diaspora and Latin America, Delgado’s collaborative ecopoetic work has received increasing critical attention and recently has been translated to English by prominent translators and poets like Urayoán Noel, Raquel Salas Rivera, and Carina del Valle Schorske. Photo by ADÁL.
Urayoán Noel is a Puerto Rican poet, translator, performer, and critic living in the Bronx. He is the author of In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam(University of Iowa Press, 2014) and the forthcoming Transversal (University of Arizona Press), among other books. His translations include No Budu Please by Wingston González (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018) and Architecture of Dispersed Life: Selected Poetry by Pablo de Rokha (Shearsman Books, 2018), which was a finalist for the National Translation Award. Noel teaches at NYU and at Stetson University’s MFA of the Americas. Photo by Luis Carle.
In “Islote Poetics”, Noel proposes that Delgado re-imagines political spaces and integrates feminist poetics and inner journeys. Delgado uses intertexts (conversations and references to other poets, movements, and authors) and experiments with graphic elements, empty spaces, and minimal text as a way to discuss colonial logic. Her work acknowledges the “from below” visions of Puerto Rican male poets and Nuyorican/Diasporican literary works, but she articulates her projects through an ecologically conscious, feminist, community-based, decentralized (beyond the city; beyond the main island), and artisanal activity. (Pages 218-9, 221)
Delgado uses the classic 1970’s salsa song by Willie Rosario about walking in Santurce, a historically Black and migrant neighborhood in San Juan as a way to describe the collapse of the Puerto Rican urban and political project. Santurce used to be an economically thriving, culturally rich area (to some extent it continues to be so) but it has fallen to ruins because of governmental neglect and massive migration to suburbs and the US. The US is seen by Delgado as an elusive and abstract space that functions as a goal of Puerto Ricans searching for a better quality of living. She also reflects on the circular migration of Puerto Ricans and how returns are bittersweet because they highlight feelings of confusion and displacement.
Delgado says: “soon enough I feel treelike/and grow leaves” (29). In this poem, Delgado proposes an ecological consciousness in which the body of the poet is integrated into her ecosystem: “my heart palpitates/ and pumps blood/ to all these branches.” She is at the same time human and tree. The idea of the dormant tree and nature after the hurricane is conveyed by the poet when saying “some days/one is simply/not ready/ ready to die.” While the deforestation after the hurricane was alarming, signs of natural healing and regrow were spotted relatively quickly. Just like in nature, the poet affirms a slow and many times invisible process of recovery, self-care, and healing. The poetic voice affirms also that although expectations of outside help are at an all-time low, the heart keeps beating and the natural cycles continue. It is key here to understand, la espera, the waiting, as a reference to the well-documented lack of official relief after the hurricane.
Write down a question you will like to ask Nicole Delgado on Wednesday 10/14 at 4:10 pm?
Think about her writing, translating, publishing, and community building processes but also on the content of her work. When posing questions think about her feminist, ecological, political, and grassroots visions.