Ethnic Ambivalence and Afro-Hispanic Novelists

Article excerpt

The argument that the term "Black literature" ought to be applied only to that which emanates from Black writers who are proud of their African ancestry and who affirm in their works an authentic solidarity with Black people is highly suggestive. It calls into question the position of some of the more famous Afro-Hispanic novelists who reveal in their literary output a profound psychological dualism-a marked cultural and racial ambivalence. This ambivalence, in turn, raises the following very serious questions: To what audience or to which world are these Afro-Hispanic writers responding? What social factors contributed to their being numbered among the more famous? Are there Black writers of authentic Black literature who are unable to get their works published? Do pronouncements about mestizaje in Spanish America signify a truly pluralistic outlook on aesthetic matters?

The purpose of this essay is twofold. First, an analysis of specific aspects of the works of some Afro-Hispanic novelists will be used to illustrate the authors' ambivalence on racial and cultural issues. Secondly, some of the elements of the socio-historical background of the authors will be examined with an eye to uncovering some of the causes of their ambivalence. In the process, light will be shed on the circumstances of Black writers who are determined to produce authentic Black literature. Attention will be focused, in this analysis, on Cumboto by the Venezuelan Ram6n Diaz Sanchez and on Juyungo by the Ecuadorian Adalberto Ortiz.

Adalberto Ortiz, one of the famous Afro-Hispanic writers, has won international acclaim not only for his novels but also for his poetry and short stories. His delineation of a Black protagonist in the novel Juyungo is one of the most vigorous portrayals in Afro-Hispanic fiction. But, in that very novel one of the recurring topics is the cultural and psychological conflict, the contradictory emotions of some mixed personages, a theme that Adalberto Ortiz is able to describe very effectively for, as will be illustrated later in this study, he, too, shares the contradictory tendencies.

Among the characters in Juyungo who reveal this conflict is Antonio Angulo. He confesses that because of the racial prejudice and humiliations he has suffered, he at times considered suicide as "the only remedy." He adds:

It is difficult for me to live between two worlds, to be an entity just hanging in mid air. I would have wanted to be either totally white or truly Black. And I would be happy.1

He then blames the white-dominated media as one of the multiple factors causing his spiritual duality, his ambivalent emotions:

White culture, through the medium of the cinema especially, has placed in our heads the feminine archetype of white beauty. And then what happens to us? The brutal shock between this fiction and the reality shatters the spirit. (p. 102)

Throughout the novel there are forceful condemnations of the tendency to debase Blacks, to disrespect their esthetic activities and to minimize their economic contributions to the total national life. An intriguing feature of the novel is that the author does not at times detach himself by using a narrator-reflector for some of his authorial comments. For example, in direct narration, there is a denunciation of white society for its having caused the spiritual conflict in the young mulatto, Antonio Angulo. The novelist maintains that whereas Antonio considered Juyungo "as a symbol of a race dynamic and growing from strength to strength," he, Antonio, "saw himself enveloped in his timidity and a sentiment of inferiority hatched in the heat of a pseudo-white society" (p. 152).

It is interesting to note, also, that some of the comments in the novel, are similar to revelations that Adalberto Ortiz made about himself many years later. For example, in his introduction to a collection of his poems published in 1973, Adalberto Ortiz remarked:

I am a mulatto, son of mulattoes. …