From Voicelessness to Voice: Womanist Writers of the Black Uruguayan Press

Article excerpt

Afro-Uruguayans remain largely invisible in the white people's universe, wrote the historian Alejandrina da Luz in 1995. "Their hopes, dreams and aspirations are shadowed by a world that denies their very existence." Young Afro-Uruguayans today, she reports, will find that their nation's history records only one black person; the loyal soldier, Ansina. "There are no black writers in Uruguayan literature, she says, and only in the United States are there black musicians; and in painting, black people appear only on canvas. Dozens of Afro-Uruguayan writers, dramatists, painters, musicians, and so on, seem to have faded away." Nevertheless, da Luz adds, until such efforts bear significant more fruit, Afro-Uruguayan history, literature, and culture will continue to be neglected (342).

Political maneuvers or comments such as Da Luz's eulogize what has been lost, neglected, or ignored rather than emphasize the need to recover what was started or to claim the body of literary discourse that already exists. In fact, one can find many of the contributions of black Uruguayan intellectuals in the literary archives of the black press. Since the second half of the 1800's, periodicals such as La Conservatión (1872) published poems, essays, and plays by black writers who voiced their feelings about their identity and the situation in which they found themselves. From 1917 to 1948, Nuestra Raza, the longest running black periodical, continued to publish works by acclaimed writers like Pilar Barrios (1899-1958) and Virginia Brindis de Salas (1908-1958) who became the leading voices of the Afro-Uruguayan community. Many of their voices have not faded away, but have been erased from the literary panorama of Uruguayan letters. Today, because of the legacy of writers like Barrios and Brindis de Salas, there is still a corpus of black intellectuals such as Cristina Rodríguez Cabral, Beatriz Santos Arrascaeta, Beatriz Ramírez, and Jorge Emilio Cardoso, who refuse to allow the literary and cultural legacy of AfroUruguayans to become a part of historical invisibility.

In short, I want to point out to historians like Alejandrina da Luz that it is not necessary to wait until Afro-Uruguayan intellectuals bear more fruit, but it is more important to acknowledge that the fruits of their labor have contributed to the historical, cultural and literary landscape of Uruguay. To that end, this essay, part of a larger project on Afro-Uruguayan literary history, recovers and discovers from the archives of the black press authentic texts by black Uruguayan women, a necessary step before moving on to the analytical stage of examining the construction and literary tradition of this body of feminist discourse. As a result, I want to highlight a group of Afro-Uruguayan feminists who emerged into national life in the middle years of the second decade of the twentieth century. This communal group of women in the 1930s and 1940s played a significant role in shaping and constructing the Afro-Uruguayan intellectual movement.

According to Asunción Lavrin, in the early part of the twentieth century, men were generally considered the main standard bearers of social and gender reform in Uruguay, and because of this male dominated role, the contributions of women were often overlooked (342). Therefore, it is no surprise that Pilar Barrios, "the black Uruguayan poet-pillar" of Afro-Uruguay and the lead editor of Nuestra Raza, is most widely associated with the Afro-Uruguayan think tank. Nonetheless, it was his sister María Esperanza Barrios, who was the primary force behind this distinctive journalistic venture. The role she played was not unusual for black women. Jualyne Dodson and Cheryl Gilkes argue that the:

...ties that bind the black community together exist primarily because of the vigilant action of women. Black women are, in a very profound sense, the something within that shapes the culture of resistance the patterns of consciousness and self-expression and the social organizational framework of local and national expressions of community. …