Academic journal article Centro Journal

"Can You Imagine?": Puerto Rican Lesbian Activisms, 1972-1991

Academic journal article Centro Journal

"Can You Imagine?": Puerto Rican Lesbian Activisms, 1972-1991

Article excerpt

We know that the grit, striving, brazenness,

and foresight of our elders already lives in us.

We will use this process of study, interview and

collaborative creativity to make it plain.

-Julia Wallace and Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2010)

...the task...is to redeem from oblivion

those elements of the past that are still able to

illuminate our situation.

-Maurizio Passerin d'Entreves (2018)

In 2017, a debate raged on Facebook about the dearth of Puerto Rican lesbian history accounts. The argument was triggered by historian Javier Laureano's assertion that "it is urgent for someone to do the work of PR [Puerto Rican] lesbian history. To date, lesbian women in the Academy have either devoted themselves almost exclusively to traditional history...or publish little or nothing...we deserve less timid work by queer and LGBTT scholars in Puerto Rico."1 Responses to Laureano's post varied: some observed that critical work had been overlooked or was produced outside visible institutions. Poet and critic Lilliana Ramos-Collado perhaps went further when she stated that lesbians should not be told what to write and that "our history must be written in another form."2

I concur with Ramos-Collado that no one should dictate what lesbians in the academy or elsewhere write about, and that the relative absence of lesbian academic histories is methodologically and politically significant. In this sense, the most meaningful question may not be why there are no "robust books about lesbian history in Puerto Rico" to use Laureano's terms, but how, why, and in what forms have lesbians invoked the past and to what effects. Undoubtedly, Puerto Rican lesbian histories and memories have been (and continue to be) told through embodied acts (clothing, style, dancing); aural practices such as song, gossip, radio, and video; and multiple literary genres, particularly poetry.3 Moreover, as the Facebook argument suggested, historical reflections are circulated in non-academic sites such as social media posts, blogs, magazines, weeklies, and newsletters. This multiplicity possibly points to a tension between a desire for (some) memories and an ambivalent relationship to history, described by Pierre Nora as a genre that "binds itself strictly to temporal continuities, to progressions and to relations between things " (Nora 1989, 9).

Yet, both Ramos-Collado's assumption that historical projects have not been of interest to Puerto Rican lesbians and Laureano's concluding recommendation that researchers should start an "oral history" in the future, require clarification. Evidenced by edited volumes as diverse as Documentos del feminismo en Puerto Rico: Facsímiles de la historia, 1970-1979 (2001) by Ana Irma Rivera Lassen and Elizabeth Crespo Kebler, and Compañeras: Latina Lesbians (1987) by Juanita Ramos (pen name of Juanita Díaz Cotto), lesbians in Puerto Rico and the diaspora have been actively listening to others as a way to produce public knowledge about the past since at least the 1970s.

Ramos, for instance, named her effort the "Latina Lesbian History Project," conducted numerous interviews, and ultimately included sixteen oral histories by thirteen women, many of whom were Puerto Rican. Crespo Kebler, who along with Ramos and Mariana Romo-Carmona formed part of the Latina Lesbian History Project, led four interviews as part of Documentos, and the book contains interviews produced in the 1970s by Rivera Lassén and others.4 In Rivera Lassen's own essay, she similarly makes an overt case for Documentos as a contribution to storytelling and history: "Con esta publicación y de esta forma queremos aportar y facilitar la labor de aquellas(os) que quieren conocer estas historias" (With this publication and in this way we want to contribute and facilitate the work of those who want to know these histories) (Rivera Lassén 2001a, 146).

The persistence of interviewing over other methods during the last decades is partly related to the ethics of some feminist and queer politics. …

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