Awakening the Caribbean African: The Socio-Political Poetics of Blas Jimenez

Article excerpt

Literary history asserts that one of the earliest collective articulations of the plight and condition of the Black Diaspora in the western hemisphere occurred from the mid-nineteenth century to the initial decades of the twentieth century with the rise of what can be considered "negritude" ideology in literature1. In many spaces throughout Africa and the Diaspora, this watershed eroded antiquated notions and perceptions of Blackness while rendering voice to silenced experiences and people in world literatures. Black intellectuals, political figures, and revolucionaries postulated counter discursive arguments in an effort to reclaim agency while combating globally entrenched pejorative stereotypes. Equally, new tapestries were woven as literary pieces stitched by these authors confronted the social realities of Blackness. For this cadre of writers, Blackness became centrifugal to their discourse as they sought through literary expressions an aesthetics that separated them ideologically and thematically from their white contemporaries. Many of the early drum majors of this movement in literature included Aime Cesair (Martinique), Leon Damas (French Guyana), Leopold Senghor (Senegal), Langston Hughes (USA), Rene Depestre (Haiti), Virginia Brindis de Salas (Uruguay), and Nicolas Guillen (Cuba). Negritude emerged as Black poets in Africa, the United States, and the Caribbean chartered a new course politicizing constructs of Old and New World Blackness by challenging hegemonic social and political positionality of Blackness through rendering counter articulations that reflected their own experiences and ideologies. This "first" wave of collective Black voices promoted Black pride, an Africa-centered identity, and a collective understanding of the struggle against the vestiges of colonialism, slavery, post-emancipation ignorance, subjugation, and racism. This investigation explores the socio-political poetics of Bias Jimenez situating him as a continued voice of the negritude aesthetic in the Spanish-speaking world. Selected poems from the author's Caribe, africano en despertar (1984), are presented and evaluated for three purposes. First, the poems used for analysis attest to the continuation of negritude ideology of Afrocentric thematic poetry in the Caribbean. Second, the poet's social criticism is directly linked to an ideology of white supremacy resulting from colonialism and slavery. And lastly, the selected verses politically challenge the historical vilification of Blackness in an effort to overcome and dismantle the post-colonial conditioning of persons of African descent in the Caribbean. However, prior to these assessments, it is important to offer brief commentary on Negritude and the Spanish-speaking Diaspora as a precursor to the emergence of Bias Jimenez.

Although primarily regarded as a francophone expression, there were many Anglophone and Hispanophone players in the literary phenomenon so designated as Negritude. As mentioned earlier, one included the celebrated Cuban poet, Nicolas Guillen. Regarding his role in the Diaspora Negritude movement, Ian Smart in Nicolas Guillen: Popular Poet of the Caribbean (1990) states:

He is generally lionized by the critics as an exponent of an exotic version of mainstream Latin American poetry, a somewhat avant-garde Negroid poetry (literally, poesia negroide).

He has also been claimed by the experts, and justly so, as a member of the Afro-American literary community, so his name is mentioned in the same breath as those eminent figures who were the principals in the so-called Harlem Renaissance: Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes. The last-named was a personal friend and, indeed, exercised considerable influence on the Cuban Poeta Nacional. Since the Negritude movement was originated mainly by Caribbean poets (albeit speaking French and operating out of Paris), Guillen's connection to this phenomenon has been explored with some critical validity. …