EqualityArchive post

Figueroa and her father, from Deans Report
Figueroa and her father, from Deans Report

Yomaira Figueroa is a 36-year-old literary scholar, assistant professor, mentor, and Afro-Latina from Puerto Rico who grew up in New Jersey. Her father did not attend school past the third grade, and Yomaira Figueroa later became her family’s first to graduate both high school and college. Yet it was her father who truly inspired her to read and grow a love for literature, especially poetry.

 

Yomaira at Michigan State University, from Deans Report
Yomaira at Michigan State University, from Deans Report

She attended Rutgers University, where she earned her B.A. in English, Puerto Rican & Hispanic Caribbean Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies in 2007. Later she attended UC Berkeley and obtained her M.A. and Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies in 2009 and 2014, respectively. Currently, she is an associate professor of Afro Diaspora Studies at Michigan State University at their Department of English.

Her work focuses on her identity as an Afro-Latina and the work other latinx people create. The experiences she and others from similar backgrounds have had heavily influenced the work they produce. Their unique culture and struggles have created literature that can be mapped throughout the Caribbean, which Figueroa focuses on, and through viewing them in a decolonized feminist manner, common themes can be brought to light.

Cover of Yomaira Figueroa's book Decolonizing Diasporas
Cover of Yomaira Figueroa’s book Decolonizing Diasporas

Her largest work, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature was published in October of 2020, continues this work of analyzing works made by different authors in the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. Currently, she is working on her second book Archive of Disappearances: Afterimages of Afro-Puerto Ricans at the Edge of ‘Empire’ which will focus more on Afro-Boricuas.

Her peer-reviewed articles represent the main theme of her work, which encourages her readers to absorb the information of the original literature in a manner that recognizes the influence of colonialism on their experiences and how they have shaped them to create a struggle that others can relate to.

Figueroa encourages her readers to be Faithful Witnesses, a term mentioned in one of her articles “Your Lips: Mapping Afro-Latina Becomings”, a work that includes a story on colorism in the Latinx community, another example of how colonialism has infiltrated itself into every aspect of the life of those from these nations that were colonized, even after centuries of “freedom”. From beauty standards to heteronormativity to gender norms, colonialism and neocolonialism, which demonstrates the continued domination colonizers still have over these countries, has continued to create division and harm to individuals. Faithful Witnessing was described by Figueroa in “Your Lips” by using Maria Lugones’ work Peregrinajes/Pilgrimages: Theorizing Coalitions Against Multiple Forms of Oppression. 

Yomaira Figueroa being interviewed on Left of Black at Duke University, 2018
Yomaira Figueroa being interviewed on Left of Black at Duke University, 2018

Figueroa also explained what Faith Witnessing was in her 2018 interview at Duke University in their Left of Black show. She described Faithful Witnessing as being a critical practice that allows you to “take the view among the people” and that this perspective will “go against these authorized scripts of what is official history”. Ultimately, it is vital to women of color feminism and intersectionality as it allows communities and people to form coalitions with one another through shared experiences across cultures.

Banner for Figueroa's class from http://www.yomairafigueroa.com/#/courses/
Banner for Figueroa’s class from http://www.yomairafigueroa.com/#/courses/

Yomaira Figueroa’s work is vital to creating a space in which we as readers are able to understand that the experiences people have as Latinx and/or women of color is heavily shaped by colonialism and even today, we are all under the subjugation of its influence on our cultures, religion, and economy. Figueroa has used her work to teach new generations of women of color feminists, people who will value these experiences, even if they are not their own. She demonstrates how important it is to teach these readings and present students with experiences similar to their own in the academic field. For all of history, white cis male authors have established what is the acceptable version of the history of the world. They are the ones who have purposefully created the omission of literature and art of people of color, especially women of color. The classes Figueroa teaches and the classes that include her work inspire new authors and important minds to not listen to accepted history and view their struggles as a result of the harmful norms put in place by colonialism and not of their own faults. They will be able to criticize those who wish to refuse to witness others’ experiences faithfully and continue to work towards a future where these conversations are not radical and are taught to all students as history, not just those who wish to take Black and Latinx studies.