BHM: How Wide the Diaspora

While I have kept these posts largely about N. Americans, I think it is only fair to include Aída Cartagena Portalatín in this year’s Black Herstory Month/ Latinegras Project posts. Portalatín was a Dominican feminist poet who wrote poetry about women, race, immigration, and imperialism. Her poems consistently centered the female experience and were informed both by her own travels, as a student in Paris, Santo Domingo as a transnational cityscape (ie a place where people from around the world interact and engage in discussion of ideas about identity and travel), and her friends, colleagues, and family members who had moved permanently to the U.S. Thus her poems represented the viewpoint of mothers whose sons had experienced racism abroad, or women whose longing had made them susceptible to exploitation, elder women who had been abandoned for younger ones, etc. At the heart of her work was a preoccupation with the limits of freedom and how freedom was both gendered and raced.

She has published in numerous anthologies and has a wide body of work most of which has not been translated to English. Her most famous poem Una Mujer está Sola appears below:

Una mujer está sola. Sola con su estatura.
Con los ojos abiertos. Con los brazos abiertos.
Con el corazón abierto como un silencio ancho.
Espera en la desesperada y desesperante noche
sin perder la esperanza.
Piensa que está en el bajel almirante
con la luz más triste de la creación
Ya izó velas y se dejó llevar por el viento del Norte
con la figura acelerada ante los ojos del amor.
Una mujer está sola. Sujetando con sus sueños sus sueños,
los sueños que le restan y todo el cielo de Antillas.

Seria y callada frente al mundo que es una piedra humana,
móvil, a la deriva, perdido el sentido
de la palabra propia, de su palabra inútil.
Una mujer está sola. Piensa que ahora todo es nada
y nadie dice nada de la fiesta o el luto
de la sangre que salta, de la sangre que corre,
de la sangre que gesta o muere en la muerte.
Nadie se adelanta ofreciéndole un traje
para vestir una voz que desnuda solloza deletreándose.
Una mujer está sola. Siente, y su verdad se ahoga
en pensamientos que traducen lo hermoso de la rosa,
de la estrella, del amor, del hombre y de Dios.

In 1981, she published her epic poem Yania Tierra, which retold the history of the Dominican Republic from the perspective of a woman. In the poem, Yania, the protagonist, is a female personification of the nation harkening back to the original declarations of independence in which the island nation as female was celebrated rather than negated as weak and violatable. Infusing both a female perspective into the “his story” of the nation and recasting the nation as a whole allowed Portalatín to insert women back into Dominican history at the same time that she questioned machista nation building at home and abroad.

You can read more of her poetry here.

Portalatín was also an active member of the international community. After her post-graduate studies in Paris, she was appointed to UNESCO and sat on the jury of the 1977  Casa de las Américas awards for Latin American poets. In 1969, her work was up for a prestigious Premio Seix Barral International Literary Award in Spain. She also traveled frequently in Africa, Latin America, and Europe engaging in feminist encuentros, expanding her knowledge of global blackness and colonial histories, all of which informed her work. Thus her work has inspired many black female poets and other artists in and outside of the Dominican Republic.

She also taught about colonialism and history at UASD for several years, encouraging a new generation of intersectional scholars who embrace blackness and feminism in their work.

One thought on “BHM: How Wide the Diaspora

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