Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration, and Survival

Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration, and Survival

Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration, and Survival

Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration, and Survival

Synopsis

It is a persistent image in Caribbean literature. But for Caribbean women especially, salt-particularly the image of sucking salt-has long signified how they have endured hardship and found ways to transcend it. In this study of Caribbean women writers, Meredith Gadsby examines the fiction and poetry of both emigrant and island women to explore strategies they have developed for overcoming the oppression of racism, sexism, and economic deprivation in their lives and work. She first reviews the cultural and historical significance of salt in the Caribbean, then delineates creative resistance to oppression as expressed in the literature of Caribbean women writing about their migration to the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. From British poet Dorothea Smartt to Edwidge Danticat of New York's Haitian community-and with a special emphasis on the creative artistry of Paule Marshall-Gadsby shows how, through migration, these writers' protagonists move into and through metropolitan spaces to create new realities for themselves, their families, and their communities. Her work draws on critical and ethnographic studies as well as creative works to take in a range of topics, not only considering the salty sexuality of calypso songs and offering new insights into Jamaican slackness culture but also plumbing her own family history to weave the travels of her mother and aunts from Barbados into her studies of migrating writers. Through these close readings, Gadsby shows that Caribbean women express complex identities born out of migration and develop practical approaches to hardship that enable them to negotiate themselves out of difficulty. Her innovative study reveals that "sucking salt" is an articulation of a New World voice connoting adaptation, improvisation, and creativity-and lending itself to new understandings of diaspora, literature, and feminism.

Excerpt

My aunt's kitchen smells of peppers, of stews, and mostly of saltfish. Tantie loves saltfish, usually on days when she is undecided on what to eat for dinner. “I don't feel like any meat today,” she says. She beats back questions and concerns about the effect this amount of salt will have on her diabetes with the irrefutable “Eh, people that don't eat salt die too. People die every- day. I guess I'm just old-fashioned.” She walks back and forth, then leans against the counter, arms crossed on her ample breasts. Though she has no children, she feeds her younger siblings, nieces, and nephews with mother wit, wisdom, and life lessons, and with saltfish and cou-cou. Sometimes she goes a bit overboard, both with salt and advice. Nonetheless, hungry mouths, hearts, and minds continue to eat, washing down the salty meal with mauby spiced with “old talkin'.” “Little salt won't kill yuh.” Tantie speaks of people she knows, people she once knew. “Them people came up hard, with nuthin'. But sometimes you just have to suck salt until you can do better.” It is in this space, this kitchen, that I learned most of what I know about my family history. I found myself drawn to the histories of my mother and three aunts and the lives that they have created for themselves. Each woman has her own story to tell—four sisters: two in New York City, two in Barbados. All but one left Barbados at some point, taking with them literally “a little chunk of salt” to suck on when the situation demanded it. They spin and have spun webs in the corners of a number of home spaces, in Canada, the United States, and England, always connected to persistent memories of “home.” On their backs they carry their children, nieces . . .

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