The ‘Failed’ Project of Blackness in Contemporary Afro-Puerto Rican Discourse

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2017-01-27 19:50Z by Steven

The ‘Failed’ Project of Blackness in Contemporary Afro-Puerto Rican Discourse

A Contra corriente: A Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America
Volume 5, Number 3, Spring 2008
pages 243-251

Sonja Stephenson Watson, Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program; Associate Professor of Spanish
University of Texas, Arlington

Escritura afropuertorriqueña y modernidad (2007), by Eleuterio Santiago-DĂ­az, is an insightful critical work on contemporary afropuertorican discourse with an emphasis on the writings of Carmelo RodrĂ­guez Torres. The work commences by situating Puerto Rico in the “Black Atlantic,” that is, the greater African Diaspora. Ironically, Santiago-DĂ­az begins and ends his study noting that his research on Afro-Puerto Rico and RodrĂ­guez Torres is simultaneously an affirmation and a negation of black identity because it counters official discourses of racial homogeneity during the island’s nation-building period which posited blackness over whiteness. This racial oppression and suppression of blackness stems from early twentieth-century (1930s and 1940s) Puerto Rican national discourse which erased blackness from the national imaginary and contributed to the failed black project of modernity. Thus, Santiago-DĂ­az argues that afropuertorican discourse is a failed modern project stemming from Antonio de Nebrija’s seminal text GramĂĄtica castellana (1492) and the literary whitening that resulted from it. Instead of illustrating the complexity of Afro-Puerto Rican discourse, these contemporary texts illustrate the suppression of Afrocentricity that can be traced to the publication of GramĂĄtica. As the title suggests, Santiago-DĂ­az places the work in modernity and views it from a cultural studies perspective, stemming from the identity politics research of black British cultural critic Paul Gilroy (The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness 1993) and the late Afro-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois’ work on double consciousness (The Souls of Black Folk 1903), that is, the duality of being both black and (North) American, explicates the problematic of identity and the complexities of it in Puerto Rico, which is rooted in multiple representations of identity (white, mixed-race, mulatto, black, etc.) Finally, he uses performance studies to illustrate that blackness is a performance that is never realized due to a colonial discourse of whiteness…

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“Double Bind / Double Consciousness” in the Poetry of Carmen Colón Pellot and Julia de Burgos

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-01-27 19:28Z by Steven

“Double Bind / Double Consciousness” in the Poetry of Carmen Colón Pellot and Julia de Burgos

Cincinnati Romance Review
Volume 30 (Winter 2011)
pages 69-82

Sonja Stephenson Watson, Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program; Associate Professor of Spanish
University of Texas, Arlington

Carmen Colón Pellot and Julia de Burgos constructed a female literary poetics and created a space for the mulata as a writing subject instead of a written object in early twentieth-century Puerto Rican negrista literature. Because of their gender and the societal norms and limitations placed upon blacks, they each found it difficult to reconcile their heritage as mulatas in a white male Hispanic society. They each testify to the “double bind” of black female authors who strive to identify themselves as both women and as blacks. In her seminal article “Feminism and Afro-Hispanism: The Double Bind,” Rosemary Feal notes that the double bind of scholars when reading texts written by Afra-Latin American writers “is to uphold the dignity of all Afro-Latin American characters
while engaging in legitimate feminist practice” (30). Feal also notes that in order to study the intersection of race and gender in works by black Latin American female writers’s texts, we must adhere to the racial, historical, and social specificities in each country. She further explains that, “‘[a]lterity’ in feminist Afro-Hispanic scholarship has as its imperative the formulation of alternate interpretive practices, and it is through analyzing the link of race and gender that we can gain more complete access to that world of difference” (30). The double bind inherent in Afra-Hispanic literature is not only that of scholars but also of the authors themselves who comprise the focus of this study. The double bind of Colón Pellot and de Burgos compels us to return to W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal essay on double-consciousness, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), where he presented the problem of duality that plagued blacks at the turn of the twentieth century:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, an American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (5)

Although Du Bois’s theory of double-consciousness does not include gender, it incorporates the problematic of race that African Diaspora figures continue to face in the twenty-first century. The double bind/double- consciousness of ColĂłn Pellot and de Burgos is multiple and deals with their multiracial heritage as women of color. The present study examines the intersection of race and gender in both of their writings building upon the theoretical framework of double bind/double-consciousness as espoused by Feal and Du Bois. This analysis also builds on the work of Consuelo LĂłpez Springfield and Claudette Williams who analyze the themes of gender and race separately in their studies on the single authors…

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The Politics of Race in Panama: Afro-Hispanic and West Indian Literary Discourses of Contention

Posted in Anthropology, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs on 2014-05-29 02:52Z by Steven

The Politics of Race in Panama: Afro-Hispanic and West Indian Literary Discourses of Contention

University Press of Florida
2014-04-15
200 pages
6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-4986-1

Sonja Stephenson Watson, Associate Professor of Spanish
University of Texas, Arlington

This volume tells the story of two cultural groups: Afro-Hispanics, whose ancestors came to Panama as African slaves, and West Indians from the English-speaking countries of Jamaica and Barbados who arrived during the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries to build the railroad and the Panama Canal.

While Afro-Hispanics assimilated after centuries of mestizaje (race mixing) and now identify with their Spanish heritage, West Indians hold to their British Caribbean roots and identify more closely with Africa and the Caribbean.

By examining the writing of black Panamanian authors, Sonja Watson highlights how race is defined, contested, and inscribed in Panama. She discusses the cultural, racial, and national tensions that prevent these two groups from forging a shared Afro-Panamanian identity, ultimately revealing why ethnically diverse Afro-descendant populations continue to struggle to create racial unity in nations across Latin America and the Caribbean.

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‘Black Atlantic’ Cultural Politics as Reflected in Panamanian Literature

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-05-28 15:47Z by Steven

‘Black Atlantic’ Cultural Politics as Reflected in Panamanian Literature

University of Tennesee, Knoxville
August 2005
256 pages

Sonja Stephenson Watson

A Dissertation Presented for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree

The diaspora experience is characterized by hybridity, diversity and above all, difference. The nature of the diaspora experience therefore precludes an exclusive articulation of identity. Black identity in Panama is one characterized by this same multiplicity. My dissertation examines race, culture, and ethnicity in the development of Panamanian national identity and is informed by the critical theories of Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, and Frantz Fanon. The articulation of Afro-Panamanian identity is both intriguing and complex because there are two groups of blacks on the Isthmus: Spanish speaking blacks who arrived as a result of slavery (15th -18th centuries) and English speaking blacks who migrated from the West Indies to construct the Trans-isthmian Railroad (1850-1855) and Panama Canal (1904-1914).

The country’s cultural and linguistic heterogeneity not only enriches the study of Panama and illustrates that it is a nation characterized by multiplicity, but it also captures the complexity of the African Diaspora in the Americas. This plurality is evidenced in Afro-Panamanian literary discourse from its inception in the late nineteenth century to the present. This study analyzes the representation of Afro-Hispanics and Afro-Antilleans during different time periods in Panamanian literature, the literature written by Afro-Hispanics, and the literature written by Afro-Antilleans which emerged during the latter half of the twentieth century. Finally, I address how the discourse of both groups of blacks converge and diverge.

Panamanian literature has been grossly understudied. While its history, geography, and political ties to the United States have been examined extensively by intellectuals from the United States and Latin America, with the exception of a few studies, its literature has been virtually ignored by the Hispanic literary canon. Within the field of Afro-Hispanic literature, black Panamanian literature has also been understudied. With the exception of works published about Gaspar Octavio HernĂĄndez, Carlos Guillermo Wilson, and Gerardo Maloney, Afro-Panamanian literature has not been examined comprehensively. My dissertation seeks to fill this void in the field of Afro-Hispanic literature and, hopefully, it will enrich the field of Latin and Central American literature and literary criticism.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter one: The Rhetoric of Nation and the Invisibility of Blackness in the New Republic of Panama
  • Chapter two: The Black Image in Early Twentieth-Century Panamanian Literature
  • Chapter three: The Social Protest Novels of JoaquĂ­n Beleño Cedeño: A Study of the Inherent Conflicts and Contradictions of Anti-imperialism and Negritude in the Canal Zone
  • Chapter four: The Afro-Caribbean Works of Carlos “Cubena” Guillermo Wilson and his (Re) Vision of Panamanian History
  • Chapter five: Race, Language, and Nation in the Works of Three Contemporary Panamanian West Indian Writers: Gerardo Maloney, Melva Lowe de Goodin, and Carlos E. Russell
  • Conclusion: Afro-Panamanian Discourse: From Invisibility to Visibility
  • List of References
  • Vita

Read the entire dissertation here.

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