"La abuela sale de la cocina:" voicing diasporic subjectivity in the poetry of Cristina Rodriguez Cabral.
In an effort to draw attention to Uruguay's African diasporic presence in literature, I argue that it is useful to move beyond the national boundaries that have kept Afro-Uruguayan cultural production in a peripheral position to consider it within a larger diasporic framework, particularly in conjunction with the Spanish Caribbean. Through these horizontal flows, Afro-Uruguayan artists who have remained marginalized within the literary canon of Spanish-American literature will be able to assert their subjectivity. By subjectivity, I refer to the problematizing of "the simple relationship between the individual and language, replacing human nature with the concept of the production of the human subject through ideology, discourse or language" (Ashcroft 202). The development of subjectivity within poetry, as thoroughly outlined in Dominique Combe's "La referencia desdoblada: El sujeto lirico entre la ficcion y la autobiografia" (1999), finds its roots in the Romantic period, when German poets like Johann Wolfgan von Goethe and Wilhelm Schlegel distinguished lyrical poetry from epic poetry through the assertion of the self, expressing the poet in his or her authenticity (128). Since Romanticism, this theory of lyricism has changed or shifted: in 1956 Gottfried Benn called all lyrical poetry a "questioning of the self" (496) while Karlheinz Stierle described the poetic voice as a "problematic subject" who is "in search of identity" (436) in 1977. I point to Benn and Stierle's theories as influential to understanding how the lyrical subject, when presented in the first person, can be thought of as autobiographical enunciations that respond to this questioning of the self and the search for identity.
In particular, I will focus on Cristina Rodriguez Cabral and her use of themes, intertextual play, and multilingualism to create transnational links with other members of the African diaspora, particularly in the Spanish Antilles, as a source of self-identity. In an interview with Miriam DeCosta-Willis, Rodriguez Cabral commented that "I defined myself as a Black woman, a broader concept than that of an Afro-Uruguayan" (qtd. in DeCosta-Willis 389). That is to say, she creates a sense of identity with the African Diaspora in general precisely because hegemonic discourse in Uruguay, in its effort to promote itself as a "White" nation, has interpellated Afro-Uruguayans as invisible citizens. Elucidating an ongoing dialogue with the Spanish Caribbean to highlight Afro-Uruguayan contributions to cultural production is a sort of return to the source. Reid Andrews discusses nineteenth-and early twentieth-century newspapers, such as Nuestra Raza, that promoted Black consciousness within Uruguay. He declares that:
Nuestra Razas aim to articulate racial difference led them to look towards the Caribbean and principally, the work of Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen. His poetry proved so comparable to the press's aims that they dedicated an entire issue to him in 1947 in honor of his visit to Montevideo. Moreover, the musicality of his poems influenced Afro-Uruguayan poets who sought to incorporate aspects of candombe into written verse. (101-2)
In that vein, my analysis will differ from that of Marvin Lewis, one of the leading scholars of Afro-Uruguayan literature. In his recent study, Afro-Uruguayan Literature: Post-Colonial Perspectives (2003), Lewis studies the development of Afro-Uruguayan literature within the borders of the nation from various post-colonial perspectives in order to demonstrate how Afro-Uruguayans have carved out a space within the nation to affirm their cultural production. Lewis states that his "aim is to reconstruct aspects of the legacy of Afro-Uruguayans who are often not perceived as serious contributors to the cultural evolution of Uruguay. Their omission is evident in any history of Uruguayan literature" (9). Through the study of twentieth-century Afro-Uruguayan writers such as Carlos Cardozo Ferrerira, Jose Roberto Suarez, Pilar Barrios, Virginia Brindis de Salas, Juan Julio Arrascaeta Sr. and Cristina Rodriguez Cabral, Lewis confirms an Afro-Uruguayan canon, albeit one that continues to be overlooked both inside and outside of Uruguay. In a more recent study, Lorna Williams' analyzes how Rodriguez Cabral grounds her poetry in an aesthetic of difference fashioned around the Afro-Uruguayan woman as erased from national discourse (33). Similarly, Jimenez's "Raza y nacion en la poesia de Cristina Rodriguez Cabral" (2007), as the title suggests, examines the negotiations that the Afro-Uruguayan woman has to make with the Uruguayan nation that has marginalized her (74). Thus, my study falls more in line with that of Clementina Adams, whose 1998 edited anthology Common Threads: Themes in Afro-Hispanic Women's Literature provides common motifs, such as social protest, a dual sense of identity, and the struggle to survive stereotypes and discrimination as tools for discussing Afro-Hispanic literature across nations (Adams 19). Although Adams correctly points to commonalities between Cristina Rodriguez Cabral and Cubans Nicolas Guillen and Jose Marti through a call for unity and understanding (263), her efforts to present readings from a plethora of Afro-Hispanic women writers across Spanish-America results in brief analyses of each writer. Therefore my aim is to expand upon these connections, particularly in regards to Cristina Rodriguez Cabral and a common theme of the African diaspora that Adams fails to mention: the role of the grandmother.
The Grandmother Leaves the Kitchen
Mildred Hill-Lubin's essay "The Grandmother in African and African-American Literature: A Survivor of the African Extended Family" (1986) examines the varying roles that grandmothers play in African and African American literature. According to Hill-Lubin, "... the grandmother functions in three major capacities: one, as the preserver of the African extended family; second, as the repository and distributor of family history, wisdom, and Black lore; and third, as the retainer and communicator of values and ideals which support and enhance her personhood, her family, and her community" (258). Whereas Hill-Lubin focuses on African and African American textual examples, these three major capacities are prominent in Afro-Hispanic literature as well. Therefore the meaning of "America" as Hill-Lubin uses it is limited. In order to fully consider the African diaspora in the Western Hemisphere, the meaning of "America" must be expanded to take on a hemispheric significance.
Mapping "America" from a hemispheric perspective is especially relevant when considering Cabral as an Afro-Uruguayan who currently resides in the United States. In an encyclopedia article on Latinas in the United States, Wendy McBurney-Coombs concurs that:
As a female Afro-Hispanic writer in the United States, Cristina Rodriguez Cabral has contributed to making the black experience and culture in Latin America more accessible and visible.. .Rodriguez Cabral's literary work has also had the effect of extending the confines of what is generally considered African American Literature and what is considered Latin American literature. (637)
Cabral's fluidity in multiple spaces of identity is precisely why one must read her from beyond the restrictive Uruguayan national boundaries in order to understand how she emphasizes transnational links and a diasporic understanding. Because Uruguay's exclusionary practices towards Afro-Uruguayans, there is, to quote Paul Gilroy, a "historical rift between residence and locations of belonging" (124). In other words, Rodriguez Cabral finds a sense of belonging with the African diaspora that she was never able to find in Uruguay. She articulates this connection through dialogue with other Afro-Hispanic writers.
In the Spanish Caribbean, writers have employed the Afro-Hispanic grandmother as a metaphor for the negation of one's African roots. Having African heritage was viewed as a negative characteristic in the racial hierarchies that took form during Spanish colonialism. Therefore the Afro-Hispanic grandmother is often times portrayed as being hidden in the backroom of the house or in the kitchen, where she is depicted as a servant. Fortunato Vizcarrondo broached this topic with his poem "Y tu aguela, ?aonde ejta?" (1942). Vizcarrondo only published one book of poetry in his life, D inga y mandinga (1942). However, the poem "Y tu aguela ..." from the aforementioned collection, in conjunction with his contemporary Luis Pales Matos, brought African heritage to the forefront of Puerto Rican cultural production. The notable difference between the two, and the reason that this article considers Vizcarrondo's work as more influential to Cabral was that Pales Matos was criollo while Vizcarrondo acknowledged his African heritage. (1) Vizcarrondo provided Cabral a model of identity and subjectivity by claiming that everyone in Puerto Rico had some African heritage and thus, hiding it is only a form of self-denial. This is evident in the poem when he lambasts someone for keeping his grandmother hidden in the kitchen because she is of African descent: "Aye me dijite negro / Queriendome abochona. / Mi aguela sale a la sala, / Y la tuya oculta ajta." By having his grandmother in the "sala," or living room, Vizcarrondo has nothing to hide regarding his identity. He proudly accepts his African heritage and calls for other Puerto Ricans to do the same by asking "Y tu aguela, ?aonde ejta?" (2)
The title of Vizcarrondo's poem serves as a narratological question to which Cabral's "Memoria y resistencia" (1998) provides the answer. The prolonged use of an apostrophe throughout "Y tu aguela" ("Y hoy te boy a contejta;" "Tu colo te salio blanco;" "Tu la ejconde en la cosina" are but a few examples) is a technique that Cabral parallels. Whereas Vizcarrondo's "tu" is an ambiguous person who is attempting to pass for white, Cabral's target is much more explicit: "hombre negro." By directing her words at a "Black man" Cabral is able to draw on her doubly marginalized position as an Uruguayan woman of African descent. This trope reoccurs throughout Cabral's poems as she often intersects race with gender. In the opening verses, Cabral differentiates the feminine poetic voice from the Black man, a reminder, declares Carroll Mills Young, of "his denial of the repression and oppression of Black women" ("Crossing Borders" 406): "Hombre negro / si tan solo buscas / una mujer que caliente / tu comida y tu cama, / sigue ocultando tus bellos ojos / tras la venda blanca" and in a later stanza: "Sola fui comunidad, casa y gobierno / porque escasas veces estuviste alli" (49). The symmetrical use of the apostrophe to accuse the intended target of rejecting some aspect of his race creates a dialogue between the poetic voices of the two poems. To be clear, Cabral's poetic voice is not speaking to the ambiguous "tu" in "Y tu aguela," but rather to the poetic voice of Vizcarrondo's poem whose grandmother has left the kitchen for the living room ("Mi aguela sale a la sala"), relegated to another private space within the house.
In the third stanza of "Memoria y resistencia," Cabral voices the subjectivity of the Black grandmother who remains voiceless despite Vizcarrondo's aim to represent her in a positive light. She writes that "generacion tras generacion, / yo te pari, / como a tu padre" (50). Lewis identifies this verse as Cabral elevating the poetic voice to that of archetypal mother (101). I argue that interpreting the poetic voice as that of an archetypal grandmother allows for a deeper reading within an African and African diasporic epistemology. Returning to Hill-Lubin's three major capacities of the African American grandmother (preserver of the extended family, repository and distributor of family history, wisdom and Black lore, and retainer of values that support personhood, family and community), all three are salient in Cabral's "Memoria y resistencia." The aforementioned verse underscores the role of the preserver of the extended family. Here the poetic voice births multiple generations: "yo te pari, / como a tu padre, / y a tus hermanos" (50) and then ensures the children's survival even at the expense of her health: "Yo curve la espalda / sujetandote durante la cosecha" (50). Through her body, the family's lineage is able to continue.
As repository and distributor of family history, wisdom and Black lore, the speaker exclaims that she is "Iemanja, / Oxum, e Iansa a la vez" (52). By recalling and identifying herself with three deities of the Yoruban pantheon, the speaker confirms her relationship with her ancestors and the continuity of their wisdom and lore. (3) Finally, as retainer of values that support personhood, family, and community, she describes herself as a "companera de lucha y de suenos" (51) that "le ensenaron a cantarle / a nuestros Dioses, / a preparar los ninos del manana / para que sus vidas de hombres / y mujeres liberados / testifiquen / fielmente / la total nobleza / de nuestras batallas" (52). Cabral pairs religion (specifically African-derived religions) with memory as values that strengthen the community that she hopes to construct: one in which younger generations recall the struggle of their forefathers and mothers. Interestingly, Brindis de Salas employs a similar technique using the grandfather in "Canto para un muchacho negro americano del sur" (1946). Therein she elevates the grandfather to the role of gramillero, a doctor or herbalist within candombe: "Abuelito, / gramillero / siempre lo recuerdas tu / dile a este muchacho americano / que era el bantu" (50). However, Cabral's shift to grandmother represents a break with paternalism and opens up matriarchal space for the grandmother to retain old traditions.
The trope of the grandmother is present in the poem "Candomble de resistencia" (1999). In this poem, Rodriguez Cabral traces her family's lineage to find a great-great-grandmother and a great-grandmother (both slaves; slavery was abolished in 1842) whose values of freedom provide hope to the Afro-Uruguayan community: "La tatarabuela flameaba en su sangre / la bandera libertaria; / ella dijo que sus hijos serian libertados / ... / Y asi ... / el jardin resurgio" (18) and "Mi bisabuela no se equivoco / al decir que seriamos libres" (18). The garden, here a metaphor for the community, responds favorably to the message that the women are passing down and instilling in younger generations. A grandmother herself, Rodriguez Cabral recognized in an interview with Lorna Williams that "Lo importante es rescatar los valores culturales que siempre nos han machacado." By viewing the voice in "Memoria y resistencia" as a grandmother instead of a mother, in conjunction with "Candomble de resistencia," one is able to make connections with a larger diaspora via similar literary motifs. Indeed, the grandmother as a cultural bearer for Black communities is also present in the poems "De frente" (1983) by Costa Rican Shirley Campbell Barr and "Despues de tanta voz hecha" (1991) by Puerto Rican Mayra Santos Febres.
Incorporating the role of the grandmother is further strengthened by some of the preoccupations expressed in the poem wherein the voice, prior to asserting her subjectivity and optimism at the end of "Memoria y resistencia," refers to herself as "memoria perdida" (51) and states that "A veces la leyenda me recuerda / pero nunca la historia" (50). Like the grandmother in Vizcarrondo's poem, the poetic voice faces the possibility of being hidden or forgotten. This is a suppression that Afro-Hispanics had to do with both literally (in the case of the grandmother in Vizcarrondo's poem) and figuratively (as in the case of the erasure of Afro-Uruguayans from history). According to Maria Cristina Burgueno, this erasure affects Cabral at an individual level: "La invisibilidad de la obra de Cristina Rodriguez Cabral en su propio pais, es parte del borramiento producido por el racismo basado en el predominio de un modelo cultural y epistemologico eurocentrico" (2). The threat of Cabral's own erasure exists because she is Afro-Uruguayan and a woman, as the poem addresses, but also because she does not live within Uruguay's national borders. However, by reading Cabral's poetry in dialogue with Spanish Caribbean authors and beyond the nation, Cabral is able to locate a space to voice her femininity and Blackness.
In Dialogue with the Spanish Caribbean
Because the Caribbean was the entry port for African slaves to the Americas, the region maintains a large population of peoples who acknowledge their African heritage. Though this has not always translated to equal rights, people with African ancestry have been able to distinguish themselves in cultural production within the Spanish Caribbean. An early example is the epic poem Espejo de paciencia, written in 1608 by Silvestre de Balboa. Considered the first Cuban literary work, it tells the historical account of how French pirates seized the port town of Manzanillo in 1604. The hero of the story is a locally-born slave, Salvador Golomon, who kills the leader of the French corsairs, Gilberto Giron. Twentieth-century Spanish Caribbean literature, particularly beginning with the modernismo movement, has also fomented the Afro-Antillean voice. Negrista poetry, which was written by criollos such as Luis Pales Matos in Puerto Rico and Manuel del Cabral in the Dominican Republic, was problematic in the way that these authors portrayed Afro-Antillean peoples as sensual, exotic, and at times primitive, but it also inserted them into the public sphere. A contemporary of Pales Matos and del Cabral, Cuban Nicolas Guillen self-identified as having African heritage thereby adding a sense of "authenticity" that Pales Matos and del Cabral could not match. Later, as post-revolutionary Cuba declared itself an Afro-Latino nation, Guillen was able to solidify his career as Cuba's national poet, inextricably linking his verses to the revolution's ideology. These writers were able to insert and promote an Afro-Antillean identity within their respective "national" imaginaries in part because national discourse viewed African heritage as a segment of a growing postracial society in which everyone participates in mestizaje. Returning to Araujo's earlier comments, this has not been the socio-historical case in Uruguay.
Examining Cabral side by side with Spanish Caribbean authors allows her to enter that space of subjectivity. It is no surprise that she has looked to Afro-Cuban poet Nancy Morejon as a precursor for her own poetry. Take, for instance, the similarities between Cabral's "Memoria y Resistencia" and its precursor, Morejon's "Mujer negra" (1985). In both poems, society is built on the strength and sacrifice of the Black woman: "Me dejaron aqui y aqui he vivido. / Y porque trabaje como una bestia, / aqui volvi a nacer (Morejon 226). In the same vein, Cabral declares: "Soy Resistencia y memoria, / Construi el camino del amo / asi como el de la libertad" (49). Both women figures are cultural bearers, rebellious runaways, warriors, and freedom fighters whose objective is to build a better tomorrow: Morejon writes that "Baje de la Sierra / para acabar con capitales y usureros / con generales y burgueses. / Ahora soy: solo hoy tenemos y creamos" (Morejon 226). (4) Similarly, Cabral commands: "a preparar los ninos del manana / para que sus vidas de hombres / y mujeres liberados / testifiquen" (Cabral 52). What is more, both ground that future in the struggles of the past as seen in the use of verbs in the past tense to underscore the importance of memory, particularly in regards to slavery: "Esta es la tierra donde padeci bocabajos y azotes. / Bogue a lo largo de todos sus rios. / Bajo su sol sembre, recolecte y las cosechas no comi" (Morejon 226) whereas Cabral writes: "Fui sangre mezclada en el barro / con latigo, humillaciones / y el estupro despues" (50). Looking at Morejon provides Cabral with the model of feminine subjectivity as it pertains to the past, present, and future that one does not find in Uruguay's leading poets of African descent, perhaps with the exceptions of Virginia Brindis de Salas and Pilar Barrios.
Nevertheless, Cabral's admiration of Morejon is apparent in her homage to the Cuban poet, "A Nancy Morejon, a su sonrisa fresca" (1998) in which Cabral acknowledges both the unsettling and consoling sentiments that she savors in Morejon's poetry: "Serena paladeo tu poesia, / que lastima, / me abraza, / me quema / y luego me acaricia" (58). (5) These ambivalent feelings of savoring, hurting, hugging, burning and caressing serve as an awakening of Cabral's senses, particularly of taste and touch. They take on a queered meaning when considered in conjunction with the first stanza of the text in which Cabral describes Morejon's verses as penetrating her: "dejar penetrar tus versos / cual ejercitos victoriosos / por mis venas, / es un placer que degusto en estos dias" (58). Thinking of queer studies in broad terms, theorist David Halperin states that "queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. 'Queer' then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-a-vis the normative" (62). Defining queer theory as a disruption and transgression of conventions perceived as "heteronormative," "A Nancy Morejon" can be interpreted not just as an ode to the Cuban poet, but an unsettling of Uruguay's national boundaries as imbricated in Whiteness and heterosexuality as norms. While this article has already discussed Whiteness at length, I point to heterosexuality as well due to the nation's dependency on bio-reproductivity to ensure its longevity. Indeed, Puerto Rican queer theorist Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes acknowledges that "nonnormative sexual orientation" is talked about "as a form of deviant behavior against which the national population needs protection" (xvii). Morejon's verses penetrate and pleasure Cabral, taking on the form of victorious armies, here an ironic symbol of machista conquest. Through this conquest, diaspora problematizes nation-as-norm since Cabral finds fulfillment outside of Uruguay. Therefore, the nation, here viewed as normative, is insufficient in satisfying Cabral's desire (whether sexual, cultural, and/or intellectual). Consequently, she must go beyond the nation, like the "golondrinas" in the final stanza, to find the pleasure that comes in ascertaining belonging and subjectivity. Through the African diaspora, marginalized in Uruguay, Rodriguez Cabral threatens the nation. The third and final stanza continues Cabral's awakening, comparing Morejon's verses to "ojos luminosos en la noche oscura" and "... golondrinas / que agigantan el horizonte / hacia la isla" (58). Here Morejon's poetry takes on an emancipatory role, giving Cabral hope ("ojos luminosos") when Uruguay has historically silenced her voice. The metaphor of "golondrinas," or swallows that enlarge the horizon towards the island offers a freedom that is without borders while placing the Spanish Caribbean and Morejon's verses as the apogee of her self-awakening.
Queer theory as outlined above provides a helpful starting point for enabling Cabral to escape the trappings of Uruguayan nationhood as being historically White and patriarchal. To that end, a queering of Cabral's poetry might mean that it would move beyond studying her through the normalized lens of her position within Uruguayan nationhood. Theorist Lynda Goldstein declares that "to queer identity, nation, or theory is to subvert expectations, open up possibilities for multiplicity, erase lines of division by repositioning the debate" (267). This is important because many of Cabral's other poems, in addition to "A Nancy Morejon," continue this unsettling of the Uruguayan nation founded in heterosexuality and Whiteness, thereby allowing for queer interventions. Namely, "Laberinto" (1999) and "Gostoso demais" (1999) are both love poems offering open-ended apostrophes that are conducive to multivalent readings. Longing, nostalgia, melancholy, and an eagerness to reunite characterize both poems, such as when Cabral writes "Tal vez, nos herede el tiempo / tan solo nostalgia / luego de un gran amor-" ("Gostoso demais" 35) and "No he tenido tiempo de pensar, / no puedo anticiparme / a cual sera mi reaccion ante tu visita / a que color vestira mi voz" ("Laberinto" 37). The ambiguity about the gender of Cabral's "tu" creates multiplicity that, depending on one's positionality, subverts the dominant discourse of nation as heterosexual. Additionally, that she wrote both poems while living in Pennsylvania continues to weaken the notion of the nation as a stronghold of culture, identity, and unity (Anderson 5-7). A similar concept appears in "Monte-vi-deo" (1989) in which the poetic voice feels a sense of unbelonging that ultimately leads to her exile: "Ciudad que me vio nacer, crecer / amar, sufrir, / morir / y resucitar, / hoy me mira con extranos ojos / me apunta con su dedo critico / y me condena al exilio" (117). It is this sentiment of "weirdness" that underscores a certain unease that Cabral feels with Uruguay. As a woman of African descent in a nation defined by its Whiteness, Cabral identifies herself by going against heteronormative constructs. Her writing moves beyond categorizations that revolve around geo-political borders or sexuality and in her self-imposed exile, she finds a sense of belonging elsewhere.
Beyond the Caribbean: Rodriguez Cabral and the African Diaspora
To that end, Rodriguez Cabral's poetry expands beyond the insular Caribbean to incorporate a broader African diaspora. "Afrodiaspora" (1998) uses "we" as a poetic voice to speak for all African diasporic peoples, for example: "forjamos nuestra esperanza" and "Somos un pueblo de resistencia" (59). Herein the poet writes of commonality and collectivity. She acknowledges the trauma of the Middle Passage as unique to the diaspora particularly in the Americas when commenting that they were "arrastrados por el mismo mar" (59). Yet the poem's tone is generally positive in nature, focusing on the unity of these peoples: "Despegamos, / nos dispersamos / y nos volvimos a encontrar" (59). Slavery divided families and sent them to different plantations throughout the Americas (Shepherd 41). However, Rodriguez Cabral finds the diaspora to be an extended network of kinship grounded in a shared struggle and a shared resistance, thereby allowing her to find a sense of belonging among transnational connections.
"Nzinga" (1993) is a poem about the eponymous warrior queen who led a seventeenth-century resistance movement of different ethnic peoples against Portuguese colonizers in modern-day Angola (Cabral 69). This brief work, in which the footnote explaining Nzinga's historical significance is in fact longer than the poem itself, points to a strong woman leader who capably unites various groups in a matriarchal society. For Cabral, race intersects with gender here to postulate a historical figure of womanhood and resistance within the African diaspora. Yet Cabral does not solely relegate her to the past as a historical model for those of African descent: "a traves de los anos / tu voz guerrera avanza / tuerce, se retuerce /... golpea / reclama" (69). Nzinga's voice is literally in the present, suggesting that her anti-colonial spirit of resistance is still alive today to guide others within the African diaspora. Cabral expounds upon this presence and continuity in her poem "A mi Nzigna simiente de tres meses" (1993) in which life becomes full circle. Just as Nzinga's endurance birthed Cabral's own revolutionary spirit, Cabral now carries in her womb ("sintiendote latir dentro de mi" (79)), soon to be rebirthed, Nzinga. The choice to use Nzinga, instead of a Uruguayan national hero of resistance, speaks to Cabral's transnational approach to poetry. By turning to Nzinga as a model, she reclaims her history for all of the African diaspora to share. Moreover, it establishes her connection with Africa as a motherland, again giving it privilege over Uruguay: "Ciertas veces el tiempo / rejuvenece mi memoria / llegando hasta tu Africa, / hasta el Africa de tu padre, / que es la misma / con cara joven / del Africa mia" (79). Finally, the poem's topic also allows Cabral to reach a larger audience who share an interest with her in understanding their common history as peoples of African heritage. Williams correctly notes that "naming the daughter becomes an ideological gesture of cultural resistance" (32). Nzinga therefore becomes a source of memory, struggle, and solidarity for Cabral that must be rebirthed again as inspiration for contemporary generations.
In addition to themes that deal with a larger African diaspora, Cabral has also employed writing in Portuguese to reach a wider audience. This again highlights her desire to dialogue beyond Uruguayan and even Spanish-American literature in a transnational attempt to assert her diasporic identity. "Saudades do jeito da minha gente" (1985) and "Meninas" (1996) are two examples of poems written in Portuguese, while others, such as "Saudades da Bahia" (1988), "Bahia" (1988), and "Nossa herenca" (1993) are written in Spanish with Portuguese titles. "Saudades do jeito da minha gente," "Saudades da Bahia," and "Bahia" reflect a nostalgia for when Rodriguez Cabral moved to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil in 1988. According to Young, it is at this time when Cabral's poetry became more radical, shifting from love poems and poems of introspection to Afrocentric culture and philosophy, largely stemming from Bahias large Afro-Brazilian population ("Cabral, Cristina Rodriguez" 220). In "Saudades do jeito da minha gente," Rodriguez Cabral credits her time in Brazil for strengthening her Black consciousness and motivating personal growth: "prazer de encontrar uma razao para existir, / pra me transformar / numa melhor pessoa, / mais bonita, / com aquela beleza descoberta em muitos / olhos morenos que eu conheci, / ... / Muitos olhos morenos / que as minhas maos sentiram pertinho" (170). The poet finds a sense of belonging in the likeness between the people and herself, giving her reason to exist. Her growing sense of solidarity with Black populations outside of the Uruguay is grounded in notions of a community that operates across space.
Finally, in her anthology she has included her poetry translated into English in an effort to reach yet another different audience. The poems "Maroons" and "To Become Unequal" continue to articulate a stance of resistance and a call for social change as it relates to the African presence throughout the world. "Maroons," in fact, includes a quote from Malcolm X as an epigram and acknowledges a common history of cultural resistance (maroonage) that unites those of the African diaspora through their ancestry: "we are the same" (Rodriguez Cabral 78). Rodriguez Cabral's multilingual approach, even through translation, ties her to a broader sense of diaspora. She is not just writing for Spanish-speakers, but for a global audience. This is because, as Stephanie Smallwood declares in her study on the African diaspora in the Americas, "Ethnic belonging bears no set correspondence to linguistic, political, territorial, or other cultural boundaries" (118). That is to say, Rodriguez Cabral's project is greater than inserting herself into the Uruguayan canon; her project is to be an agent of change for all marginalized peoples of African descent.
Uruguayan national discourse has largely suppressed Afro-Uruguayan cultural production in the twentieth century. While various scholars show how Rodriguez Cabral contests this erasure within the nation, this article aims to show how Rodriguez Cabral articulates a post-national counterdiscourse grounded in a larger hemispheric network of diasporic connections. Through the use of the common literary trope of the grandmother in African and African American literature, intertextuality with the Spanish Caribbean, and a multilingual effort to reach a larger diasporic audience, Rodriguez Cabral acknowledges that Uruguay's geopolitical borders are unable to integrate Afro-Uruguayan voices into its cultural production. Therefore, the poet finds a sense of belonging beyond her national borders both literally in the sense that she currently lives in North Carolina and has lived in Brazil, and figuratively through her writing. By working across transnational spaces, Rodriguez Cabral asserts her subjectivity through resistance and solidarity with other Afro-descendants who have been alienated within their respective nations. In so doing, the poet successfully draws attention to the African presence in Uruguay and around the world while promoting discussions on equality and visibility.
(1) I define criollo as someone born in the Americas but of European descent.
(2) In 1958, Puerto Rican playwright Francisco Arrivi debuted Vejigantes, a drama in three acts about three generations of women living under one house. The matriarch of the family is Mama Tona, whose prominent African features lead her daughter Marta, the offspring of Tona and a Spaniard, to look down upon her mother. When Clarita, Martas daughter and the lightest-skinned of the three as her name implies brings home an Alabaman that she has been dating, Marta forces Tona to hide in the backroom. The end of the play vindicates Afro-Puerto Ricans when Clarita introduces her date to her grandmother and, after his discriminatory reaction, then asks him to leave. At this point in time the three women reconcile their racial animosities and all three share in valuing the African heritage found within Puerto Rican culture.
(3) Afro-Colombian poet Edelma Zapata Perez's "Miedos ancestrales" (1999) uses a similar invocation of ancestral spirits as sources of liberation while Afro-Ecuadorian Luz Argentina Chribogas "Sin titulo" (1991) calls upon Chango and Yemaya to combine sensuality and magic as a component of the Afro-Ecuadorian woman's identity.
(4) It should be noted that Afro-Colombian poet Yvonne-America Truque also employs the female warrior motif in her poem "Mujer batalla" (1983).
(5) Interestingly, to this author's knowledge Rodriguez Cabral does not have a similar homage to Brindis de Salas or Barrio in her work.
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|Publication:||Confluencia: Revista Hispanica de Cultura y Literatura|
|Article Type:||Ensayo critico|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2016|
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