Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Capá Prieto

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Capá Prieto

Article excerpt

Yvonne Denis Rosario. Capá Prieto. San Juan: Isla Negra, 2009. 113 pp.

Although works by Yvonne Denis Rosario have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, Capá Prieto (2009) is the Puerto Rican author's first independent collection of short stories. As Marie Ramos Rosado suggests in the prologue, the title is rich in associations with the Caribbean in general and Puerto Rico in particular. On the one hand, Ramos Rosado observes that Capá Prieto refers to a tree indigenous to the Antilles, whose wood serves a variety of purposes. Among these are the fashioning of musical instruments, furniture, and crafts. On the other, she notes that it was the name of the first secret society founded in nineteenth-century Mayagiiez, whose concerns included independence and abolition. While the twelve stories of Capá Prieto embrace many themes, Ramos Rosado surmises that they are unified in their affirmation of Négritude. Classified as historical fiction, Capá Prieto incorporates events situated in the actual and/or fictional landscape of Puerto Rico and elsewhere from the eighteenth through the twenty-first century. According to Ramos Rosado, its stories emerge from the "intrahistoria" of its protagonists, reflecting the lives of individuals of African descent, both real and imagined, who have made contributions to Puerto Rican culture in such diverse areas as education, politics, and the arts.

The first story, "El silenciamiento," is presented from three narrative perspectives. The two principal narrators are separated by time, space, and ethnicity; the third is embedded in an impersonal police report. In the walls of the Morro fortress, Francisco Lanzos, the eighteenth-century Affo-Hispanic narrator, "Capitán de la Compañía de negros o pardos," hides documents and a manuscript which bear witness to the valor of his troops in the expulsion of British forces in 1797 at Boca de Cangrejos. Centuries later, these materials are found and sent to the Archive of the Indies in Seville, where they are encountered by Spanish historian and professor, Francisco Santaella. The initial interest of this contemporary narrator soon becomes an obsession that leads him to theft and, perhaps, to madness.

"Barrotes olvidados," the second story, centers on the political activist, Pedro Albizu Campos (1891/1893-1965), who spent nearly a fifth of his life in jails in the United States and Puerto Rico. Albizu's final period of incarceration was in La Princesa, formerly the oldest penal facility in San Juan. "Barrotes olvidados" is largely an extended conversation between Albizu and the penitentiary. During their interchange, references are made to significant events in his life, such as the Rio Piedras massacre in 1935. Also presented in disturbingly vivid yet poetic detail is Albizu's repeated claim that he was tortured and subjected to radiation experiments. Casting this abominable act in charitable terms, La Princesa comments: "Voy a permitir una visita a tu celda, la del arcoíris. Desde hoy y cada cierto tiempo, ese bello reflejo de luz te hará compañía y entrará al subterráneo donde te encuentras."

From the imposing historical figure of Pedro Albizu Campos in the twentieth century, heroic like the soldiers of Francisco Lanzos's troops in the eighteenth, the focus moves to a timeless but humble figure, the wet nurse. "Ama de leche" is recounted by Richard Gorrión, his great-great uncle José Dolores Gorrión Santiago, and an impersonal narrator. The narrative begins in contemporary times with Richard Gorrión's recurring dream about a baby and his wet nurse. Shifting to the nineteenth century, the impersonal narrator discloses information about the protagonist, Josefa Osorio Villarán or Maita, and her years of service-first as a slave and then as a ffeedwoman-to Richard's great-great-great grandfather and his four children. Eventually, a diary and photographs belonging to his great-great uncle are discovered. These old documents help Richard understand his past and present, by revealing the reason for the recurring dreams shared by all in his family: "Todos soñábamos lo mismo y se comentaba de generación en generación, ya sabía el por qué. …

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