Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Nationalist Rhetoric and Suppression of Black Consciousness: Literary Whiteness in Poems by Federico Escobar and Gaspar Octavio Hernández

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Nationalist Rhetoric and Suppression of Black Consciousness: Literary Whiteness in Poems by Federico Escobar and Gaspar Octavio Hernández

Article excerpt

The black man wants to be white. For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.

-frantz fanon1

The works of the afro-hispanic poets federico escobar (1861-1912) and gaspar octavio hernández (1893-1918) illustrate the tension that race created in writing during the formation of the new republic of panama. these early writers were of colonial descent and represent the hispanicized blacks who were descendants of slaves. their references to, or denial of, their own blackness demonstrate the complex nature of being black and of writing as a panamanian during the height of the national movement (1880-1920). panama won its independence from Spain in 1821 and joined Simón Bolívar's gran Colombia (consisting of present-day Colombia, ecuador, panama and venezuela). panama attempted to separate from Colombia on three occasions-in 1830, 1831, and 1840-yet rejoined gran Colombia in 1841 (garcía, Historia 39). Colombia's distance from panama, its geographical ties to South america instead of Central america, and its failure to recognize panama as a sovereign nation led to panama's desire for independence and complete autonomy. nationalist spirit in panama intensified with the publication of justo arosemena's El Estado Federal de Panama (1855), which conceptualized panama as an autonomous nation. finally, with the help of the United States, the guerra de los Mil Días (1899-1902) catapulted panama's separation from Colombia.

As writers of the new republic who were fighting for independence, black panamanians constantly felt the need to sacrifice their own ethnicity for the wellbeing of the nation. Both hernández and escobar dealt with blackness in their own way, and the treatment of blackness in their poetry, whether absent or visible, reveals much about being black during panama's quest to establish itself as an independent nation. although a majority of their poems espoused nationalistic themes, the authors' race poems subordinated blackness to a white literary aesthetic and defined whiteness as superior and blackness as inferior. the literary subjects of these poems thus conformed to a white aesthetic, that is, they were often portrayed as beautiful if they had "white features that clearly distinguish[ed] them from other black africans" (jackson, "Black phobia" 467). this artistic dichotomy (blackness/whiteness) stemmed from archetypal images of color which associated blackness "with ugliness, sin, darkness, immorality, Manichean metaphor" and whiteness with opposite traits (467). in the literary sphere, Cuban antislavery novelists such as gertrudis gómez de avellaneda (Sab) and Cirilo villaverde (Cecilia Valdés) downplayed their mulato characters' blackness and concentrated instead on their approximation to whiteness within the color spectrum. the focus on whiteness affected the literary portrayal of blacks by nonwhite writers and writers of african descent. the works of escobar and hernández demonstrate the extent to which concepts of race and nation were intertwined during this period. indeed, it remained difficult for these writers to affirm their blackness in their poetry and to maintain their national identity and gain acceptance by other panamanians during the formation of the new republic. jackson previously analyzed escobar and hernández as poets who openly discussed their blackness or were escapists (Black Writers 63); this analysis illustrates that oth were plagued by blackness and society's perception of race.

In "Literary Whiteness and the afro-hispanic Difference," josé piedra notes that writers of african descent, such as Spain's juan latino (1518-1596), constantly equivocated between "writing white" to avoid racial identification and writing for their countries of origin. "Writing white" encompassed obscuring racial identification, racial prejudice, or racial issues in literary texts. for writers of african descent, expressing racial awareness in their works was extremely problematic because "[n]onwhites could write as long as they did not address the issue of difference" (piedra 312). …

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