Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"I Am Sincerely One of You": Translating and Re-Membering in Norberto P. James Rawling's Poetry

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"I Am Sincerely One of You": Translating and Re-Membering in Norberto P. James Rawling's Poetry

Article excerpt

Within norberto P. James Rawlings's poetry lies an interesting dynamic, a kind of tension invoked between an isolation of the "self" that comes from having to embody a number of cultures and languages and a sense of belonging to all of these worlds. James is not a poet who feels a kind of homelessness, rather he is a poet who tries to carve out a new kind of home, one that embraces the various cultures, languages, and people that have come to comprise the dominican Republic, and one that rejects any definition that tries to fix dominican identity. In addition, his writing is a firmament where those on the outskirts of society, such as the immigrants who came to the island in the mid-nineteenth century, are not only given voice but are rightfully established as dominican. James is not simply redefining dominican identity, rather, in the act of writing, he is re-membering identity.

During the summer of 2007, maría del carmen Prosdocimi de Rivera, a well-known critic in the dominican Republic, wrote a literary critique on James's new edition of his poetry collection, Urdimbre del silencio [The Intricate Workings of Silence], which was originally published in 2000. three quotes introduce James's collection, but one in particular stood out to me: argentine writer Jorge luis Borges writes, "one thing does not exist. It is forgetfulness." Borges asserts that forgetfulness can never be obtained or avoided; thus, memory must be a constant force that hinders our ability to forget. James's poetry validates this quote, illustrating how memories and images once locked in the mind's tunnels-even sensations that have moved us and are part of us-can be repossessed. how? one could argue through writing-or in James's case, poetry-that not only invokes an experience but documents it as well; even further, as the poet revisits an experience through writing, he is re-membering it, redefining it in the form and shape it exists in his mind. James is a poet, someone who wrestles with memory and tries to recreate it through words; this is what initially drew me to his poetry, for in the act of writing, he is essentially repossessing memory.

James was born on the 6th of February, 1945, in san Pedro de macorís, dominican Republic. san Pedro de macorís takes its names from the macorís indigenous people who had lived there, linguistically different from the taínos who came to dominate. after 1852, the town developed into an economic center known for its fishery and sugar production that drew Puerto Rican, cuban, Italian, German, French, arabian, liberian, sirian, venezuelan, chinese, haitian, dutch, and British immigrants and investors (Walcot 8). Yet, as the demand for production increased, so did the need for workers and the demand for higher wages. not wanting to increase wages, owners of fishing and sugar companies looked abroad to hire help, specifically from haiti, and the english colonized islands such as anguila, st. Kitts, antigua, tortola, among others, where laborers were willing to work for much lower wages; this instigated a huge wave of immigration to the dominican Republic, one that grew from an estimated 500 immigrant workers in 1884 to 7,000 in 1918 (9). similar to the way local dominicans once called haitian immigrants "mane" or "congo"-perceiving them as third-class blacks who not only took the worst jobs but competed for jobs with locals-these new immigrants were received with hostility and resentment and were called "cocolos"; this hostility was also due to their association with the British and to a perceived attitude of obstinate pride (9). the origins of the word "cocolo" has been disputed, but many argue that this term was born out of a dominicanization of the word "tortola" since the largest group came from the West Indian island of tortola. the term "cocolo," while encompassing the immigrants it was set to define, is also used to refer to blacks and afro-caribbeans and has multiple connotations. although it is sometimes used to convey pride, it is most often used as a pejorative, racist word; words such as "nigger" or "redneck" are somewhat similar in tone and purpose. …

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