Caribbean literature in Spanish



Caribbean literature in Spanish
Caribbean literature in Spanish
The literatures ofthe three hispanophone islands ofthe Caribbean - Cuba, the
Dominic an Repub lic, and Puerto Rico - are the oldest in the region. Their ori­
gins can be trac ed back to an Arawak oral tradition rich in m yth and legend­
gathered in all its vividn ess by Spanish Friar Ramon Pane in his Relacion acerca
de lasantigiiedadesdes los indios, lascuales, con diligencia, como hombre quesabe su
idioma, recogio por mandato delAlmirante (1571) (An Account of th e Antiquities
of the Indians, Gathered Diligentl y by a Man Who Knows Their Language;
Chronicles of the New World Encount ers, 1999) - tha t spe aks of a worldview
centered on a harm onious relationship between religion , culture, politics, and
patt erns of work and exchange. Pane , who lived in Hispaniola from 1494 to
1499, gathered a rich trove of myths, belie fs, and aborigin al religious practices
that constitute most ofwhat we know ofthe Ame rindian lore ofthe Caribbean.
Together w ith the man y descript ions foun d in Spanish chronicles ofthe danc­
ing and sing ing ritua ls known as areitos, through which the Tainos recorded
their histo ry and recon structed through dr ama salient episodes of everyday
life, th ey offer glimpses of rich cultural tr aditions lost th rough the impact of
warfare and the virgin soil epidemics that decim ated th e aboriginal population
of the Caribbean. The picture they con vey, of a society dep endent on a simple
economy of subsistence agricultu re and fishing, survived the devastation and
environmental assault of European conquest and coloni zati on to make an im­
portant cont ribution to Puerto Rican, Do minican and , to a lesser extent, Cuban
ru ral cultu res, laying the foundation for tra ditions ofresistance that would later
serve as a counter worl d to the economy of the plant ation. The rural subsis­
tenc e farmer, a figure that with time would become the liter ary symbol of
cultural au then ticity and national purity th roughout the H ispanic Caribbean,
traces its existe nce and worldview to th e Taino l Arawak tr aditions captured
with such vitality by Pane, later syncretized with Spanish and African customs.
The m yriad exchanges triggered by Colum bus's arrival in the Caribbean
were, first and for em ost, literary. The natural environme nt and autochthonous
cultures ofthe Caribbean region enter Spanish lite ratur e - adding to th e foun­
dations of Caribbean literatur e in Spanish - th rou gh Christopher Colu mbu s's
"Carta a Luis de Santangel" (1493) ("Letter of Discovery") and Diario de a
bordo (Diario de navegacion or shiplo g, 1451-1506). The docu ments , wh ich de­
scribe the natu ral wond ers and varied people he encountered during his th ree
voyages of "discovery," show a Spanish langu age alread y in the process of
creolization, adapting itself to new realitie s and struggling with its inadeq ua­
cies as it attempted to do justice to phenomena it had never served before.
Its incorporation of Ame rindian terms enriches and transforms the language,
initiating the proce ss of tr ansculturation that woul d begin to give shape to a
new Creo le language suit ed to conveyin g the nu ances ofa colonial society. Th e
myriad Cronicas de las Indias (Ch ronicles of the Indies) produced in the wake
of the enco unter took the shape ofletters, reports, histo ries, and biogr aphies
that conjure up a world whe re classical and Amerindi an myths, European and
American realities and languages, ethnicities and races, coexist and clash.
The earliest of these text s focus on Hisp aniola, the center for Spanish
expansion in the newl y discovered territories th rou ghout the sixteenth century,
and the first site of arrival for African slaves. Friar Bartolome de las Casas's
Brevisima relacion de la destruccion de las Indias (1522) (The Devastation of tlte
Indies: A Brief Account, (974), his denunciation of the atrocities committed by
the conquistadores against the native population, contributed an image of the
Caribbean po pulation as noble savages in harmony with the environment ­
the Indian as classic hero - to which Caribbean writers would return again and
again in search of symbols of preconquest, preslavery cult ural wholeness. Las
Casas, a soldier turned bishop who had accompanied Columbus in his early
travels through the region , was particul arly concerned with the qu estion of
how to inco rporate the native Americans int o the Spanish nation as subjects
With rights and prerogatives.
Las Casas's The Devastation ofthe Indies, perhaps the most influential of all
chronicles of the conquest of the New World, had a long-lasting impa ct on
historians' and writers' perception of Spain and its colonial policies. Credited
With having been the source of the "Black Legend" which att ributed to Spain
Utmost crue lty and design in the destruction and depopulation of the islands
oft he Caribbean, particularly ofthe th ree islands on which they concentrated
their efforts - Hispaniola, Pue rto Rico, and Cuba - Las Casas's text, with
its citation of numero us incidents of the torture and m aiming of indigenous
peoples pu rpo rte dly for failing to meet gold-production quo tas, is also said to
be responsible for counseling the importation of African slaves as a subs titute
for Indian labor, a sugge stion that Las Casas came to regret and disallow.
Caribbean literature in Spanish
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literature in Spanish
Las Casas's subsequent works, Historia de las Indias (1566) (History of the
Indies), which covers th e history of the conques t and colonization of the
Caribbe an islands from 1492 to 1520, and his Apologetica historia sumaria (1575)
(Gene ra l Apologetic H istory) in wh ich he argu es for an acknowledgm ent ofthe
full rat ional capacities of the Indians, include African slaves am ong those sub­
jects for wh om he would advocate full rights as citizens. Like fellow Dominican
friar Francisco de Vitoria, Las Casas wrote of the natu ral rights inherent in
all humans, regardless of the ir con dition, in part because of th eir having been
created in God 's ima ge bu t, mo st import antl y, because Spain's juridical tra­
dition had elaborated and sust ained a rational foundation for natural rights.
Ultim ately, the significance of Las Casas's work to Caribbean writing rests on
his interpretation of the early history of Spanish expansion in th e region as
already dependent on the economic, political, and cultural exploitation of the
nati ve populations and new environments.
Eyewitness accounts of history, such as those of Las Casas, despite their
obvious tensions between hist orical testim ony and historio graphic authority,
determine the pattern of writing in Spanish about th e Caribbean throughout
the sixteenth century. The history of writing in Spain's Caribbean possessions
th roughout th is period is indeed th at of an emerging discourse that calls upon
every European literary genr e onl y to see it transformed by the necessities
of the fresh content to which it seeks to respond. This content is primarily
descriptive and historical, protoliterary in this new context. The cumulative
importance of texts such as the 1493 letter describing the wondrous new world
written by Diego Alvarez de Chanca - the Sevillian physician who accompanied
Columbus on his second trip - the letters and account s of the exploration of
Florida written by Juan Ponce de Leon, the report to the Governor of Puerto
Rico written by Juan Ponce de Leon Troche and Antonio de Santa Clara,
known as the Memoria de Me/garejo (1582) (Melgarejo 's Mem oir) is that of
chronicling how postencounter cultures and institutions, as th ey develop in a
new multiracial social space and unfamiliar natural environments, create what
is virtu ally a new world requiring a new literature.
Att empts at w riting comprehensive histories of this crucial period in
Caribbe an history, such as Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo's Sumariodelanatural
historiadelasIndias (1526) (Compendium of the Natural Histo ry ofthe Indies),
already expose the un easy consci ousness of conflicting perspecti ves that comes
out of the violence, w arfare , and epidemic ravages of th e conquest. Oviedo,
named Official Chro nicler of the Indies in 1532, in his official apologia for the
con qu est, had to defend th e system of encomienda instituted by Spanish officials
in their attempt to m aximize Indian labor and th e subsequent importation of
Africanslaves into the Caribb ean , all in th e na me of the justification ofSpanish
colonization m ade necessar y by th e grow ing voices of criticism and dissent .
His ma in work, the Historia general y natural de las Indias, islas y Tierra Firme
del mar Oceano (1535) (Gene ral and Natu ral History of the Indies, Islands, and
Mainland of th e Ocean Sea), described this ne w world from the viewp oint of
an obse rver who was bo th surprised by the variety and vastness of its nature
and cultur es an d aware that the devastation nec essar y for the imp osition of
Spanish rule in these new ter ritories required a range oftextual responses that
stretched th e limits of literary approaches and technique s.
These textual responses became increasingly literary as the sixteenth cen ­
tury mo ved to its close . Fernandez de O vied o had him self m ade his mark
with the first book of poe try written in and about the new world, Las
Quinquagenas de losgenerosos eilustres e no menosfamosos reyes . . . epersonas nota­
bles deEspaiia (1556) (Fifty of the Generous and Illustrious and No Less Famous
Kings.. . and Notable People of Spain ), a text written in arte menor verses (six
or eight syllables) in Hispaniola which, like his histories, sought to chronicle
the emergence of a distincti vely colonial culture. It precedes by almost three
decades th e mo st significant Caribbean literary work of the latter half of the
sixteenth century,Juan de Castellanos's Elegia devarones ilustres delndias (1589)
(Elegy to the Illustrious Gentlemen of the Indies), the epic in verse in wh ich
de Caste llanos chronicles the early history of the postencounter Caribbean,
from Columbus's arri val through the conquest of Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad,
and Margarita. His stirring account ofJu an Ponc e de Leon's colonization of
Puerto Rico, and of his search for the fountain of youth, helped make of the
first Spanish governor of the island a hero for the ages.
As a record of the process of acculturation and ofthe thematic possibiliti es of
the proto-Creole world ofthe Spanish Caribbean in the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries, however, no text can match two early anthologies ­
Eugenio Salazar de Alarcon's Silva de poesia (1585--95) (Assort m ent of Poetry)
and Dr.Jua n Mendez Nieto's Discursos medicinales (16 07) (Medical Discourses).
Salazar de Alarcon's Silva de poesia, a text that discusses and displays the po­
etic production of writers based in Hispaniola, speaks to their versatility, as
well as to the preponderance of Italian verse forms as poetic models dur­
ing this period. It is of particular importance for its mention of two women
poets, Leonor de Ovando, a nun in the Santo Domingo convent of Regina
Angeloru m , and Elvira de Mendoza. Ovando's poems, five of which have
been preserved, sustain her claim to be th e first woman poe t in the Americas;
Mendoza's work did not survive. Mendez Nieto's Discursos medicinales, also
introduces an int rigu ing collection of texts - amo ng th em a sampling of the
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literatu re in Spanish
work of po ets living in Santo Domingo at th e turn of th e seventeent h century.
Its imp or tan ce rest s particularly on its int roduction of th e first black protag­
onist in Caribbean liter atu re. His "Discurso XIV" tells th e captivating tale of
a slave who feigns epilepsy so as not to be separated from the woman he
Consequently, literary pro duc tion in the Spanish Caribb ean throughout the
seventeenth cent ur y w as sporadic at best. The texts for which the century is
know n are often only tange nt ially literary. The mo st salient ofthese, Espejo de
paciencia (r608) (Mirro r of Patience), a sto ry in two cantos writte n by Silvestre
de Balboa, a native of th e Canary Island s, is a seminal text in Cuban litera­
ture, not only for its descript ion of the flora and fauna of the islan d, and of
the langu age, mythology, and custom s of th e native inhab itants , but for its
cast of chara cters, a cross -section of the growing ethnic and ra cial diversity
of the Caribbean coloni es. It narra tes, in royal octaves, the true sto ry of the
kidnapping in r604 of the Bishop of Cuba,Ju an de las Cabezas Alta mirano, by
French pira tes, and of his rescue by a ragtag militia representative of the rac e
and class spectrum of early colonial Cuban society. From among this band
of Indians, Africans, mestizos and mulattos em erges a black slave as hero. The
text survived through its inclusion in Bishop Agustin Morell de Santa Cru z's
Historia de la Isla y Catedral de Cuba (r760) (History ofthe Island and Cathedral
of Cuba). Espejodepaciencia and th e poems of Francisco de Ayerr a Santa Maria,
Puerto Rico' s first poe t, comprise th e best of what can be considered strictly
literary production in the sevent eent h century. Ayerra Santa Maria, although
born in Puerto Rico, gained fame and gathered prizes as a wri ter in Mexico,
where his works we re collected by Carlos de Sigtienza y Gon gora in Triunf o
Partenico (r683) (Parthian Triump h), and is best know n for a sonnet written to
the me m ory of celebr ated Mexican poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cru z included in
Fama y obras postumas (Fam e and Posthumous Works) a volum e published in
her ho nor in Spain in 1700.
Filling the vacuum left by th e pau city of strictly liter ar y pro duction in the
region during this period is a number of descripciones and relaciones th at , in th e
process of addressing conditions on the islands (particularly in Pu erto Rico,
whose stagn ant economy and decreasing population w as th e source ofserious
concern and stu dy), gave ample opportunity for flights of literary fancy and
incursio ns int o creative narrative. Diego de Larrasa's Relacion de la entrada y
cerco delenemigo Boudoyno, general de la armada delprinCipe de Orange en laciudad
de Puerto Rico de las lndias (r625) (Relation of the Entrance and Siege to th e
Island of Pue rt o Rico by th e Ene my Boudoyno Enr ico, General of the Prince
of Orange's Navy) offers a stirri ng account of the Du tch siege and burning
of San Ju an. Bisho p Dam ian Lopez de H are 's "Carta a j u an Diaz de la Calle"
(1644 ) ("Letter to Juan Diaz de la Calle") is of note for its dispa rag ing portrayal
of the poverty and desolation of th e island, wh ere women are described as not
able to atte nd Mass because they lack decen t clothing to appear in public. His
letter is particularly known for its inclusion of a sonne t - the first example of
In this period of "firsts," Santo Domingo also boasts the first play written
and performed in the Spanish Caribbean, an eniremi s (or dramatic interlude)
written by Cristobal de Llerena, a Santo Domingo-b orn pro fessor at the Uni­
versity of Gorj 6n in Hispaniola. The satirical piece - perform ed by students
in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in r588 - already displays a proto-Creole
politi cal consciousness that expresses itself thro ugh the critique ofthe colonial
officials and institutions that, through their lack of control oflocal conditions,
have failed to fulfill the expectations of the population. The piece addresses a
multiplicity ofills plaguing th e oldest colon ial city in the new world - the rising
tide of pros titution, the problems pos ed by tra de restrictions placed on the lo­
cal population, w hich had led to the in crease in smuggling and pir acy, corrupt
officials, and venal lawyers - and resul ted in Llerena's temp orary banishment
from the colony.
This early prom ise of a blo ssoming of Caribbean-born writers voicing the
realiti es ofcolonial life from a recogn ition of their differenc e from the metropo­
lis w as slow to fulfill itself in the seven teenth century. As th e Caribbean
region lost its centrality in Spain 's growing empire after th e conquest of
Mexico and Peru and its territorial expansion throughout the Am ericas, the
island s of the Caribbe an b egan to lose their population. Cries of "m ay God
take me to Peru" sign aled the beginning of a flight to the continent that
left th e islands depopulat ed, and thei r eco nomies dependent on subsistence
agriculture and smuggling. Frequ ently under att ack, and occasionally occu­
pied by Dutch, French, and English privateers, th e Spanish possessions in
th e Caribbean were quickly reduced to Hispaniola, Cuba, and Puerto Rico,
a develop m ent that intensified their isolation an d econom ic decline. They
were subo rdinated to a peripheral role as way-stations for the Spanish flota
transpor ting the we alth of South America to Spain, fortified garrisons for the
armies prot ecting the naval routes between th e new center of the empire and
the metrop olis, the ir econom ies depe nde nt on th e situado, a subsidy collected
from the Mexican treasury. Until th ey restored the ir dwindling fortu nes by the
large-scale cultivation of sug ar, which did not take fir m hold on the Spanish
Caribb ean eco no mies until the mid-eigh teenth century, the political and social
clim ate of these islan ds did not offer the m ost propitious ground for literary
expression .
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbeanliterature in Spanish
satirical verse written in / about Pu erto Rico - that speaks of the nak edness of
the black population and describes the inhabitant s as fewer than those held in
the priso n in Seville.
It is of interest in th is context to not e that L6p ez de Hare 's secretary, Diego
de Torres Vargas, a criollo, offered in Descripcionde/a Islay CiudaddePuertoRico, y
desu vecindad y poblaciones, presidio, gobem adores y obispos;fru tosy minerals (1647)
(Description of the Island and City of Puerto Rico, of its Neighborhoods and
Towns , Citadel, Governors and Bishops; Fruits and Mineral s), a countertext
to his sup erior 's dismal assessm ent ofthe colony. Torres Vargas, writing from
a decidedly colon ial perspective, as on e wh o identified with the land and its
incipient national definition, ha s much to say in praise of the island 's natural
enviro nment - particularly of its healing waters - and in defense of the moral
char acter, int ellectual potential, and physical strength of its people . His stance
has prompted critics to conclude tha t the text represents the first example of
pro ton ational affirmation in Puert o Rican writing.
Pedro Agustin Morell de Santa Cru z's Historia de la Islay Catedral de Cuba,
a comparable work, altho ugh finished in 1760, was not published until 1929
and, as a result , failed to have a corresponding impact on other works of
this genre. Known best for his inclusion of Balboa's Espejo de paciencia, the
Historia . . . offers minute descriptions of life in Cuba after Columbus's arrival,
peopled with vivid histori cal characte rs and peppered with colorful anecdotes.
It has been faulted by critics, however, for its failure to address the African
presenc e in Cuba or raise the qu estion of Cub a's growing dep endence on
African slavery as a main source oflabor.
Writ ing in Hispaniola, Cuba, and Puerto Rico follows a similar descriptive
and historiographic pattern through out the eighteenth century, particularly
after the introduction of the printing press in Cuba around 1723 and the publica­
tion of th e first newspaper, the Gaceta de la Habana (Havana Gazette), founded
in 1764 . Of these texts - which include Alejandro O'Reilly's Relacion cireun­
stanciada del actual estado de la poblacion, frutos y proporciones parafomento que
tienela Isla de Sanjuan de Puerto Rieo ( 1765) (Contextu alized Description of the
Present State of the Population, Resources and Opp ortunities for Develop­
ment of th e Island of San Juan de Puert o Rico) - perhaps the mos t significant
is the Historia geogrtifica, civil y politica de la Isla de Sanjuan Bautista de Puerto
Rico (1775) (Geographic, Civil, and Political H isto ry of the Island of San Juan
Bautista de Puerto Rico) by Fray Inigo Abbad y Lasierra, noted for its acute
observation s of th e natural enviro nment, the customs, pr actices, and racial
compositions ofi ts people, and his observatio ns on th e island 's depende nce on
slave labor as the basis for its economic development . Abbad y Lasierra 's book
isof particular significance for its applicatio n of Mon tesq uieu's theories ofgeo­
graphical determinism to his ana lysis of Puerto Rican society. The Caribbean's
tropical envi ronme nt , in Abbad y Lasierra's argument, determines the phys­
ical, moral, and intellectual character of native Puert o Ricans and im poses
profound cha racter changes on Span iards who have settled in the colony. Th is
impact, which he sees as responsible for the inferiority of the colonial pop­
ulation , can be overcome through arte, or deter mined int ellectual exertion,
thus leaving some room for the em ergence of the exceptional colonial as a
being comparable to the European colonizer. T he argu me nts resurfaced in
the closing years of the nineteenth centu ry, as part of the ideas sustaining the
Naturalis t movement.
Abbad y Lasierra's argu ments about th e Spaniards' sup eriori ty, part of an
intense debate that raged in the last decades of the eighteent h and open­
ing decad es of the nineteenth centu ry, were countered by Ha vana native Jose
Martin Felix de Arrate in LlavedelNuevoMundo (1830), a work th at, like Abbad y
Lasierra's, offe rs a descript ion ofthe geography, economy, institutions, and cul­
ture of Cuba th rou gh out its colonial histo ry. Arr ate parades before th e reader
a sampling ofthose exceptional eriollos wh ose arte constitu te his stron gest case
for the equality, if not th e superiori ty, of the colonial. Like Abbad y Lasierra,
Arrate builds his arguments on the ories of enviro nme nt al determination , bu t
unlike the form er, he argu es for the sup eriority of man in his natural environ­
ment, building his line of reasoning on a comparison between the adaptability
of the indigenous population to their nat ive landscape and the strugg les of
the African slaves to acclim atize the mselves to unfamiliar su rro und ings. Like
Abbad y Lasierra, Arr ate, altho ugh recogn izing the moral evils of slavery and
the corrupting effect it has on slaves and slaveho lders alike, rejects abolitionist
Viewpoints as being inimical to the economic health of the islands .
The institu tion of slavery do es indeed constitute th e main focus of inte l­
lectual debate , and literary production , in th e Spanish Caribb ean islands ­
particularly in Cuba - thro ugh th e first half ofth e nineteent h cent ur y. In Cub a,
beginning w ith Petrona y Rosalia (1838) by Felix Tanco y Bosmeniel, the novel
carried the bu rden of translating problematic ideo logy int o narr atives accessi­
ble to the Cuban reading public. The Cuban antislavery novel was profou ndly
influenced by the European and Latin Ame rican literary fashion s of th e sec­
ond half of the nineteenth centu ry - Romant icism , Realism , Natura lism , and
Criollismo - but most particularly by the Romantic movem ent. It accomplished
its effect prim arily th ro ugh the exploitation of every possible convention we
have come to associate with Rom an tic writing -- me lodram a, vows of vir­
ginity, incest, racial taboos, exoticism, prim itivism , and bathos. The seminal
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literature in Spanish
works of the Cuban an tislavery novel - Cirilo Villaverd e's Cecilia Valdes (1838)
(Cecilia Valdes, 1962), Anselmo Suarez y Romero 's Francisco (1839), Gertrudis
Gomez de Avellaneda's Sab (1841), and Antonio Zambrana 's El negro Francisco
(1875) - are vital, imp assion ed sto ries of th warted love who se sentimental
core pro vides an ideal filter for mildly subversive abolitionist argu m ents and
denunciation s of its conco mitant racism , as well as for more conservative
ra tionali zati ons of slavery and racial hierarchies.
W hat links these narratives together is their adheren ce to liberal philan­
th ropist Domingo Delmonte's position that as a group the aboli tionists' main
recour se was that of speaking ou t against the abu ses of the institution through
ever y avenu e open to th em in an effort to gain converts to thei r cause. Cuban
w riters found th eir ideal vehicle in th e passionat e melo drama of the forbidden
love between mulatto wo men and white upper-class men . Villaverde's Cecilia
Valdes is stru ctu red aro un d such a tragic relationship - th at between a young
white ma n and the mulatto woma n wh om he discovers to be his half-sister, a
revelation that eventually results in his murder after he has married a woman
of his own race and class. Suarez y Romero's Francisco - th e story of a slave
couple wh ose love is destroyed by the brutality of the slave system - explores
the somewhat to uchy subject of slave rebellion as a respons e to th e forced la­
bor, sexual exploitation, and racial oppression of slavery. Th e plot of Francisco,
as th at of Zambrana's EI negro Francisco (which is based on the earlier text),
revolves around the tensions between the plantation master's sexual desire
for th e woman the protagoni st loves and the slaves' pure, innocent love. In
both tales the young wom an , in an effort to save her lover, capitulates to the
master's desire, a decision that leads to the protagonist 's suicide. Both tragic
love stories are pre sent ed in the cont ext of un successful slave reb ellions.
Gom ez de Avellaneda's Sab - often compared to H arriet Beecher Stowe's
UncleTom's Cabin (published eleven years later in 1852) for its contribution to
antislavery literature - finds a fresh approach in the reversal of some of the
familiar eleme nt s, portraying the heartbreaking love of a mulatto slave for
his white mistress and his mortal sadn ess when she marries a man unworthy
of he r. Th e novel w as banned in Cuba both because of its ant islavery stand
and for the perceived imm orality of its subversive equation of slavery with the
situa tion of women in Cub a's nineteenth-century colonial society. Through
the character of Teresa, th e poor and unatt ractive cousin to the heroine who
identifies with Sab's plight and offers to run away with him and begin a new
life togeth er in some faraw ay land, Go mez de Avellaneda adds a feminist
dim ension to her abolitionist text, shocking her audience in the process . As
a result, in 1844 the official Censor, Hilario de Cisneros, declared the novel
to con tain a doctrine "subversive to the system of slavery" and contrary to
"morals and go od customs."
The Cuban antislavery novel, with its Romant ic typology of the wh ite
master with his illegitimate mula tto offspring, th e abusive white m istres s, and
the bea utiful mul atto in love with her secret half brother, offers at best a strong
argume nt for the amelior ation of the conditions un der whi ch slavery opera ted
in Cuba. Written as it was prim arily by the wh ite Creoles who con stituted its
reading public - and often with white Creol es as cent ral characte rs - it did
not pres ent a bold argument for the abolition of slavery. It remained , despite
its success in inciting pity for th e slave's cond ition and criticizing the moral
failures of a slave society, too bou nd in rigid liter ary conventions and too
fearful of shaking the racial! caste hierarchies of Cuban society to propose
solutions th at would lead to social upheaval. Even juan Francisco Manzano's
Autobiografi a de un esclavo (1838) (Autobiography of a Slave), w ritte n to be
included in an antislavery tra ct to be published in the United States, despite
the un questionable truth of its tale, is too dependent on Rom antic rhetorical
conventions to escape the ambigu ities that plagu e the abolitionist novel in
Cuba. Th is is not to say that thes e texts did not have a positive imp act in
eliciting sympathy for - and perhaps improving - the pligh t of the slaves, but
that the solu tions they proposed were not radical from the social and economic
point of view.
The literatures of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola - wh ich became the
Dominican Republic in 1824 when it gained its ind ependence from Spain _
do not have an abolitionist tradi tion that can be compared to that of Cuba. In
Puerto Rico, despit e the strengt h of the abolitionist movement, with its ties
to the struggle for political independence through the lead ership of Ramon
Emeterio Betance s, the abolitionist novel did not flouri sh as a genre. In his
Writings - particularly his Diez mandamientos (1870) (Ten Command ments)
and his preface to Wen dell Phillips's Discours sur Toussaint L'Ouverture (1879) ­
Betances repudiates the Darwinian scholars who argued for the inferiority of
blacks on pseudoscientific grounds and included freedom and equality for the
slaves among those freedoms (ofspeech, suffrage , and national determination)
necessary for the creation of a new nation afte r independence from Spain w as
achieved . Yet the only sustained literary exploration of the evils of slavery and
racism is to be found in a quintessentially Romantic drama by Alejandro Tapia
YRivera, La cuarterona (1867) (The Quadro on ), about the frustrated love be­
tween a bea utiful mulatto girl and th e handsome scion of a white aristocratic
Havana family (the tale is set in Cuba), which end s tragically when it is revealed
that she is the illegit imate offspring of his father's relationship wit h on e of his
-The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literature in Spanish
slaves. A conventional Romantic dra ma, despite its vividly created characters
and richness ofl angu age, it rem ains an isolated exam ple of abolitionist writing
in Puert o Rico.
Tapia y Rivera , however, represented th e second cru cial aspec t of Roman_
tic writing in the Spanish Caribbea n, th at of voicing the emerg ing nationalist
feeling among th e region's int ellectua ls. A versatile writer wh o cultivated a
bro ad spectrum of genres - th e historical drama , the allegorical novel, philo­
sophical poetry, au tobiog raphy, treati ses on esth etics - Tapia y Rivera's work
represents the crystallization of a project of creation of a Creole literature that
reflected Puerto Rico's enviro nm ent, history, and political realities. Puerto
Rican litera ture - hampered by the late arrival of the prin ting press (r806) and
the island 's uncertain statu s as a second-rate m ilitary garrison - had been slow
in de velopi ng b efore th e mid -ninet eenth cen tu ry. The protolite rary texts that
appe ared in th e Gaceta de Puerto Rico, th e country's first n ewsp aper, paved the
way for the three anthologies that ma rked th e beginning of a truly Puerto
Rican litera tu re: the Aguinaldo ptlertorriqlft:no (r843), th e seco nd Aguillaldopuer­
torriqueiio (r846), and th e Cand olleTo de Borinquen (r846), collectio ns of poems
and short prose, falling into the genera l category ofcuadros decostumbres (snap­
shot s oflocal cust oms) through whic h the contributors sought to record the
idiosyncrasies of Puerto Rican Creole culture as th e means of establishing it as
different from th at of Spain . As snapshots of national culture th rough which
the au thors sou ght to inscrib e th e specificities of Puerto Rico's incipient iden­
tity as a na tion, they ant icipated th e publication of Manuel Alonso's seminal
book, EI Gi baro (r849) , a book credi ted with the consolidation of Pue rto Rican
Alonso's EI Gibaro documents th e tradit ion s and pra ctices of the Puerto
Rican peasant or gibaro (Jibaro ), the white subsistence planter from the moun ­
tains whose way oflife is bound with th e cult ivation ofproduce and coffee and
whose cultu re Alonso posits as th e essence ofninet eenth-century Puerto Rican­
ne ss. The book's significance come s primarily fro m its establishing the figure
ofthe pe asant as a symb ol ofthe island's emb ryonic nationhood, an enduring
sym bo lism that would beco me incr easingly problematic in th e twentieth cen­
tu ry wh en it clashed against notions of nationh ood tha t sought to embrace
Pu erto Rico's African heritage and open spaces for a broa der repr esentation
of classes and gend er.
El Gibaro's powerful affirm ation of ru ral Pu erto Rican culture as emblem­
atic of the nation al character cont ra sts against Tapi a y Rivera 's prolific urban
cosmopolita nism , evident p articularly in his drama and fiction . Tap ia y Rivera,
one of th e fou nders ofthe Atene o Puertorriquefi o, the island's m ost important
nineteent h-century cultur al institution, and a cont emporary of Alonso's, de­
voted his energies to the represent ation ofPuerto Rico as a nation on the br ink
of mo dern ity. His work, a reflection of the latest Eu rop ean lite rar y trends _
Romanticism , most emp ha tically - and his essays, in whi ch he explore d the
relevance of European philo sophy (chiefly H egel and Schelling) to the devel­
opment of modern Puerto Rican society, argu ed for a different conc ept of th e
nation fro m that of Alonso' s subsistence farmer, tied to th e land and rooted in
his tra ditions. Tapia y Rivera and his colleague s at the Aten eo, which inclu ded
the poe t Alejand rina Benitez (niece of Puerto Rico's first woman poet, Maria
Bibiana Benite z), pro se w riters Jose Juli an Acosta and Segu ndo Ruiz Belvis
(both active in the abolitionists movement), and novelist and femi nist activist
Ana Roque de Duprey, had thei r fingers firml y on the pu lse of European (and
increasingly American) social and int ellectual trends. Avid readers themselves,
they sought, th roug h the founding of journals, newspapers , and reviews, to
translate an d adapt int o Creole realities those ideas th ey believed capable of
transforming Puerto Rico's insular colonial society int o a cosmopolitan in­
dependent democracy free of slavery and increa singly enlightene d about th e
position and rights of women.
Tapia y Rivera's own literary work, in all its proli fic variety, sou ght to bring
life to these ide as. An admirer ofVictor Hugo, Lord Byron.jose de Espro nceda,
and the Duque de Rivas, leading names in European Romanticism , Tapia y
Rivera becam e an indefatigable producer ofRomantic texts , particularly ofthe
historical plays and novels th at had been the cornerstone of Eu ropean Rom an­
ticism. His historic dr am as Roberto D'Evreux (r848, inspired by th e rom ance
between Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex), Camoens (r868 , abou t th e
love between the Portuguese poet and Catalina de Ataide ), Hero y Leandro
(r86 9), and Vasco Nl.lIiez de Balboa (r872), am ong others, together with th e lyrics
he wro te for Felipe Gutierrez's indigenista (Ind ian-cente red) opera Guarionex
(r854), allowed him to approach controversial themes and ideas - political
freedom , racial prejudice, colonialism , gender oppression - while protected
by the historical, geographical, and political distance to th e settings of th ese
texts from an energetic Spanish cens orship.
Tapia y Rivera was also Pu erto Rico's first novelist and writer of short sto ­
ries. The num ero us Puerto Rican "lege nds" he invented, such as La palma
del cadque (r862) (The Chief's Palm Tree), wh ere he explores Pue rto Rico 's
pre-Colum bian past and th e sho ck ofthe Enco unter, or his novel Cojresi (r876 ),
Which narr ates the adventures of Roberto Co fresi, a Pu erto Rican pirate ex­
ecuted by the Spanish in r825, seek to interpret Puerto Rican history to th e
larger public at a time when Pue rt o Rican incipient historiography had yet
68 1
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literature in Spanish
to produce its first accou nt written from the local perspective. Of all of Tapia
y Rivera's man y narratives, however, three stand out as his most original,
all th ree representing a bre ak away from Romanticism and engaging local
themes: th e autob iogr aphical Bildullgsromall, La leyenda de los veillte mtos (r874)
(The Legen d of the Tw enties), and the two-par t explorat ion of reincarnation,
Postumo el transmigrado (r882) (Postumo th e Transmig rated) and Postumo el
envirginiado (r882) (Postu mo th e Envirgin ated). In La Leyenda de los veinte arias,
Tapia y Rivera' s tr ansitio n to autobiographical social realism , he follows the
adven ture s and sentim ental episodes in the life of a young m an against the
backdrop of Pue rto Rican history in th e early to mid-nineteenth century.
The two Postumo novels, which reflect the Widespre ad po pularity of Allan
Kardec's espiritismo among Puerto Rican int ellectu als of his tim e, are noted
for the hu mor and social satire through which he tells of the adventures of
a man who after death retu rn s to life in the body of his m ost hated enemy
(in Postumo el transmigrado) and has a second tr ansmi gra tion of soul, this time
returning in the bo dy of a woman nam ed Virginia (in Postumo el envirginado)
and learn ing first-hand of the restrictions and fru str ations of women's livesin
liberalism - duty, respect for elders, education, ethical behavior, individual and
social rights - so consistently th warted by colonial repression, Hostos's work
shoWS his progression from liberal refor mist to propo nent of Latin American
revolution. His efforts, which earned him the title of ciudadano de America
(citizen of Ame rica), were m anifest in his pedagogical publications - among
them his Lecciones de Derecho Constitucional (r887) (Lesson s in Constitut iona l
Law) and Tratado de Sociologia (190r) (Treat ise on Sociology) - but above all in
his travelog, Mi viaje al Sur (r87r) (My Voyage to th e South), whic h narra tes his
travels through South America wo rking on behalf of Cuban indepe ndence,
and his Diario (r903), a rema rkable chro nicle of his selfless efforts and dedi­
cation to po litical freedom and education whose m any volumes span more
than thirty years.
As a fiction w riter, howe ver, Host os's reputation rests on La peregrinacion
de Bayoan (r863), a Roma ntic novel w ritte n in diary for m that returns to
the Caribbea n's Arawak past - shared by the three Spanish island s of th e
Caribbean - by building a tale of the search for nation , justice, and hu manity
around char acters taken from th e legends and histories of Cub a (Marien), th e
Dominican Republic (Guarionex), and Puert o Rico (Bayoan). As embodime nts
of Hostos's dream of an Antillean Confeder ation - the ba sis of his program for
independence - they embark on a pilgrimage across the spaces of violence and
enslavement th at figure prominently in Caribbe an colonial histo ry. La peregri­
nacion de Bayoan, like Tapia y Rivera 's "legends," finds an echo in comparable
texts publi shed in newspapers and m agazines in Cuba and th e Dominican
Republic in the second half of th e ninet eenth cent ury. In Cuba, the se texts,
although not as central to literary developm ent as the abolitionist novel, yet
produced some exam ples of note, chief among them Gertrudis Go mez de
Avellaneda's novellas about the conquest of Mexico, Guatimozin (1846), and of
Colombia, El cacique de Turmeque (1860). Indigenista texts are of parti cular im ­
portance in the Dominican Republic after the restorat ion of its independence
in 1865. The first half of the nin et eenth cent ury had be en a period of intense
Political turmoil in the Dom inican Republic, ma rked by the stru ggle for in­
dependence from Spain (1809-24) and the H aitian occup ation th at followed ­
which ended only after anothe r armed struggle against Haiti (1844-61) and a
brief return to Spanish colon ialism (r86r-65). The relau nching of po litical inde­
pendence in 1865 signaled the return to consistent literary activity,heralded by
tales about Indian lore and the sixteenth -century Arawa k war against Spanish
Conquest and colonialism on which the new inde pendent nation sought to
bUild its national identity, such asJavier Angulo Curidi's La ciguapa (1868, The
\Vater Sprite Tree) and Lajantasma de Higuey (1869) (The Ghost ofHigu ey).
the mid-nineteen th century.
Tapia y Rivera also ma de his ma rk as an essayist with tw o biographical
works, the first written in the Spanish Caribbean - Vida delpintorpuertorriqueiio
Jose Campeche (r855) (Life of th e Puerto Rican Painter Jose Campeche) and
Noticia historica de Don Ramon Power (r873) (Histo rical Account of Don Ramon
Power) - as well as an au tob iogr aphical text, Mis memorias, 0 Puerto Ricocomo
10 encontre y como 10 dejo (My Memoirs or Puert o Rico as I Found It and
as I Leave It, publi shed po sth umously in r928), and a volume that collects a
number ofthe lectures he gave at the Ateneo Puertorr iquefio, Conferenciassobre
estetica y literatura (r88r) (Lectu res on Esthetics and Lite rature ) on a variety of
philosophical and sociological top ics.
Rivaling Tapia y River a's commandi ng presence in Puerto Rican literature
du ring th is period is the figure of Eugenio Maria de Hostos , the writer, patriot,
and educator wh ose influ ence was felt through out the Spanish Caribbean. As
the region's first sociologist and follower of Herbert Spencer, Hostos sought
to produce in his Moral Social (r888) a theory of Positivism suitable for the
specificities of Antillean realities. A passionat e proponent of Ant illean inde­
pendence from Spain, Hosto s assume d a pan-Caribbe an perspective, writing
indefatigably in support of Cuban, Puert o Rican, and Dominican indepen­
den ce movem ents and working towards the establishment of homeg rovm
pub lic education systems that he saw as crucial to the developme nt offree na­
tions in the Spanish Caribbean. As an advocate for the principles of Positivist
The Cambridge History ofAfrican and Caribbean Literatu re
Caribbean literatu re in Spanish
The crowning achieveme nt of the indigenista approach to the definition
of na tional identity in the Spanish Caribbe an was Dominican wri ter Manuel
de Jesus Galvan 's Enriquillo (1882) (The Sword and the Cross, 1954), a historical
ro ma nce tracing its roots to Bart olome de Las Casas and Gonzalo Fern andez
de Oviedo's sixteen th-cent ur y histo ries of the colony of H ispan iola, which
reached th e status of a national epic shortly after its publication . The noble
Indian hero, Enriquillo, direct heir of the Indian queen Anacaona, rose against
the Spaniards after the seizure of his possessions by his encomendero and the
attempted rap e of his wife, holding the Spaniards at bay for fourteen years
until reaching a truce with the Spanish kin g that gua rante ed his people free­
dom and lands in return for their loyalty to the crown. Th e ro mance-cum-epic
through which Galvan sought to cem ent the roots of the nation in the distant
ind igen ous past rested in part on the elabo rat ion of a mestizo identity that
could erase the nation's black and mulatto root s. Needing a historical past as
removed as possible from the histo ry of black rebellion that had made of Haiti
the region 's first independ ent republic, Galvan - echo ing Do minican resistance
to any identity connec ted even tangentially to th at ofHaiti - return s to the pre­
sumed origins of the nation in the distant past of the Spanish conquest, thereby
expunging from the national epic any connection to an Afro-Caribbean his­
tori cal and cultural past. This pro blema tic foundation for Dominican identity
wo uld be the focus of a debate that continues today, as Dominican intellectuals
have sought, often unsuccessfully, to validate the nat ion's Afro-Caribbean past
against the powerful hold of Enriquillo's legacy.
Dominican nar rative ofth e late nin eteenth century, domina ted by Galvan's
Enriquillo, produced on ly a few examples of the costumbrismo that followed in
the w ake of Rom anticism in the Hispanic Carib bean, and which paved the way
for th e Naturalist novel that marked the tr ansition into th e twe ntieth century.
Fran cisco Billini's narrative of social custo ms, Engracia y Antonita (1892), and
Miguel Billini's late-Romantic Estela (1904) are th e two salient examples of
turn-of-the-century narrative in the Do minican Republic. Cu ba, in the midst
ofits own First War ofIndependence against Spain during this period (1868- 78),
produced sporadic examp les ofcostumbrista literature that showed the incipient
influence of European Realism. The best examples are Ramon Meza's Mi tio
elempleado (1887) (My Uncle the Civil Servant) and DonAniceto eltendero (1889)
(Don Aniceto the Shopkeeper), both critiques of colonial bureaucracy and
mercantile practices, and Nicolas Heredia's Un hombre de negocios (1883) (A
Man of Business).
The unsettledness of Cuba's political situation in the last two decades of
the nineteenth century meant an erratic literary production that curtailed the
impact of Natur alism , especially after the resumption of the war of indepen­
dence against Spain in 1895. Th e on e salient examp le of Cuban naturalism ,
Martin Mor ua Delgado's proposed cycle of novels on slavery and racial dis­
crimination, of which tw o novels were comp leted - Sofia (1891)and Laf amilia
UllzIlazu (1901)- earne d him a reput ation as the Caribbean "Black Zola." In
puerto Rico, on the othe r hand, Natur alism found fert ile ground, first in
Salvador Brau 's novellas, and later in the work s of Manuel Ze no Ca ndia and
Carm ela Eulate Sanjurj o.
Brau, Puert o Rico's for em ost historian of the nine teenth century, began his
literary career as a writer ofRomant ic dram a: his Heroe y martir (1871)(Hero and
Martyr) dealt with the rebellion ofthe comuneros in Castille, while La vueua al
hagar (1877) (T he Return Hom e) cen tered its tra g ic melod ram a on the histor y
of piracy and smuggling in eighteenth-cent ury Puer to Rico. After earnin g a
reputation as a writer of costumbrista liter ature - with narratives taken from
the ora l tradition such as Una invasion de filibusteros (1881) (Pirate Invasion )
and Un tesoroescondido (1885) (A Hidden Treasu re) - Brau ma kes his mark as a
Naturalist writer with La pecadora (1890) (The Sinner ), a searing indictment of
colonial laws and of the un forgiving Spanish clergy th at interp rets the m too
literally, subtitled estudio del natural (a study from natur e). A feminist tale of
how they combine to destroy a poor wo man whose lover seeks unsuccessfully
to marry her, it speaks to the plight of wome n in Puerto Rican society that had
been the focus ofintense public debat e in the press duri ng the 1880s and 1890S.
La pecadora, as earlier in his La campesina (1887). shows how Brau , responding
to the influence of sociologists Robert Owen and Herbert Spence r, saw the
peasant as the necessary focus for any analysis of Pue rto Rican reality that
meant to look seriously at the int ersections of the econom ic life, commerce,
agriculture, and incipient ind ustry of which the peasant was the pivot .
La pecadora and La campesina paved the way for Manuel Ze no Candia's
Cronicas de UII lIIundo elifermo (Chronicles of a Sick World), a cycle of portraits
of Puerto Rican society - four of which were ultima tely published - thro ugh
which he sought to tra nslate into Puerto Rican Creo le society the experim ental
notions pu t forth by Emile Z ola and the social Darwinism made popular by
Herbert Spencer. In his pro logue to Carme n Eulate Sanj urjo's La lIIuneca (1895)
(The Doll), Ze no Candia wo uld describe his efforts to app ly science, logic,
and reason to the literary text (without neglecting esthet ic form ) as the only
way of understanding the wo rld and the crea tures that inhabit it. Of the four
chronicles pub lished, tw o - La charca (1894) (The Pon d) and Garduna (1896) ­
addressed the problems of the rural world; the ot her two - Eillegocio (1922)
(The Business) and Redelltores (1925)(Redeemers) - publis hed two decades later
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
as Zeno Gand ia was leaving Naturalism beh ind, looked with a critical eye at
the econo mic and political exploitatio n of the island that was un dermining
the economic health of the new American colony.
Ofthese, La charca is considere d the Spanish Caribbe an's Natur alist master_
piece. Written against the ba ckdro p of a coffee plant ation in th e mountains of
Puert o Rico - and featu ring a version of Alonso's arche typa l pe asant degraded
by poverty, disease , and miscegenation - th e various plot strands of the novel
weave a web ofinfectio n, official corru ption , plan ters' greed, clerical collusion,
and psychological and racial det erminism th rough which Z eno Gandia seeks
to illustrate how Puert o Rican postslavery plantation society is a "stagnant
pond " that will eventually dro wn all who come near it. Zeno Gandia, from his
per spective as a doctor, seizes upon the illness metaph or as the best textual
str ategy for laying bare the ills that plagu e Puerto Rican society,bringing upon
his analysis a Natu ralist esthetics bu ilt upo n social determinism and Contem­
porary psychological and physiologica l theories th at saw miscegena tion as a
weake ning of the "pu re" races th at un dermined the strengt h to fight against
social and eco nomi c cond itions. Working with a gallery of social types within
interweaving plots intent on showin g the inevitability of death and decay in
an enviro nm ent plagu ed with tuberculosis, venereal disease, hun ger, and their
concomitant moral deg radation , Ze no Gandia present s a scenario in which
the figu re of the gibaro, forty-five years after the publication of Alonso's sem­
inal text, is threatened with destru ction from within , a victim of the "morbid
debility" brought about by the repression and abuses of the colonial system.
Two years after the pu blication of La charca, Carmela Eulate Sanjurjo, a
young friend and colleagu e of Ze no Gandia, pub lished La mwieca (1895), a
naturalist stu dy of empty social mores that probes th e dep ths of a beautiful
young woma n's self-cente redness and greed, and which looks upon high soci­
ety as an enviro nment as fraug ht with moral dangers as any stagna nt pool in
rural Puerto Rico. Set in Madrid, La mU1ieca opens with the preparations for
the pro tagonist's wedding and ends wi th the suicide ofher husband, driven to
bankrupt cy and selfdestruction by her coldn ess, the insatiable thirst for luxury
to wh ich her social ambition has driven her, and her inability to con sider the
impa ct of her behavior on others. La mU1ieca and Ana Roque's Luz y sombra
(1903) (Light and Shadow), which tells the parallel tales of two friends - one
living an idyllic love story in the coffee-growing m ount ains of Pue rto Rico, the
ot her having married for money and position on ly to find real love after the
fact - represent hybrid texts that blend elements of Romant icism and Realism
with a heavy dose of experime ntal Natura lism to explore the changing role
of women in Spanish Caribbe an societies. Both pro ponents of the bourgeoiS
Caribbean literature in Spanish
feminism that had been foremost in public deba te since the publication of
Alejandro Tapia y Rivera's Postumo el envirginiado, Roqu e and Eulate Sanjurjo
represent a temporary openness of liter ary space to wom en's issue s at the
tUrn of the twent ieth centur y, a space promptly closed to anything but nation­
building concern s wh en the island passed int o American contro l in 1898 after
Spain lost its remaining Caribbean colonies in the Spanish-Ame rican War.
The growth of nationalist thou ght was the salient intellectual focus of the
second halfofthe nine teenth century, and it found its most imp ortant vehicle in
the regio n' s developing poetic tra dition. In the Dominican Republi c, bound as
the cou ntry had been throughout the cent ury in a seem ing ly ceaseless struggle
to solidify its independence, as in Cuba and Puerto Rico, nineteenth-centur y
poetry assumed a patriotic to ne, proclaim ing its solidarity with the nationalist
struggle. Salome Urena, the Domin ican Republic's "Muse of Civilizatio n,"
author of a volume of Poesias (1880) and a friend and followe r of Ho stos in
her educ ational endeavors, pou red into her patriotic poetry all he r Positivist
faith in the power of edu cation , the art s, and the sciences to consolidate
the foun dations of a new nati on . Through poems such as "La Gloria del
progreso" (1873) (The Glory of Progress), "La fe en el po rvenir " (1878) (Faith in
the Future), and "Luz" (1880) (Light), Urena played a funda me nt al role in the
elaboration of the ideal of a pro ud nation with a pro mising future, free fro m the
wars, ignorance, and dictat orships that threat ene d national aspirations. Her
most famous poem, "A Mi Patr ia" (1878) (To My Nation), argu es against the
indiscriminate deploym ent of brute force in po litics and the blatant disregard
for prudence in the use of pow er, calling for peace as the first step towards
the glor ious future awaiting the nat ion. He r poetry, exagge rate dly Romantic
and "excessively exhort ato ry" as a ru le, achieves its central role in Dominican
letters thro ugh its direct appeal to the budding citizenship to rally for the
national cause. Published in newspapers by a young girl still in her teens, they
made of Urena the embo dim ent of the natio n's hopes.
In Puerto Rico, the Romantic celebration of the beauty of the island ­
such as we find in Jose Gautier Benitez's 'Ausenci a" (1878) (Absence) and
"Puert o Rico" (1878) - blosso ms into patri otic exho rtat ions as the politi cal
status of the island becomes the center of intellectual and literary debate in
the works of Lola Rodrigu ez de Ti6, Luis Munoz Rivera,Jose De Diego, and
others. Gautier Benitez, dead in 1880 at the age oftwe nty-ni ne, was the island's
most accomplished Romantic poet, a young talent whose work celebrates the
loveliness ofthe Puert o Rican landscape, the tem perateness ofits climate, and
the Sweetness of its people. His work, published in newspapers and journals
across the island, helped crystallize the identification between the mildness
The Cam bridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literature in Spanish
of the Puerto Rican enviro nm ent and th e cha racter of its people, a powerful
notion tha t continues to surface as an explanation for the lack of armed struggle
in pursuit of independence in Pue rto Rican history.
The poetry of Rodrigu ez de Ti 6 and De Diego was more systematically
political. Rod riguez de Ti6, a militant supporter of the Grito de Lares (the
failed rebellion again st Spain of 186 8), spent most of her adult life in exile
because ofher revoluti onary activities. Her collections of poems - Mis cantares
(1876) , Claros y nieblas (1885), and Mi libra de Cuba (1893) - be came vehicles
for a call to the struggle for political independence and a union with Cuba
through a Confeder ation of the Antilles. One of her poems provided the
lyrics for the Puerto Rican national anthem. Together with De Diego - whose
Cantos de rebeldia (1916) spoke to the agony of the Puerto Rican patriots as the
island moved from a hard -fought political autonomy to becoming an American
colony after the Spanish Am erican War - Rodrigu ez de Ti6 represents the
transition from Romanticism to th e Modernismo that characterized Caribbean
poetry in Spanish in the early years of the twentieth century.
In Cuba, the role of patriotic poet bel ongs to the national hero, Jose
Mart i. Following in the footsteps ofJose Maria He redia, Cuba 's best-known
nineteenth-century poet , who se work serve d as a rallying cry against Spanish
tyranny, Marti eventually concluded that war against th e Spaniards was the
only recourse left to the small budding na tion . In poems such as "EI himno
del desterrado " (c.1820) (The Exile's H ymn), "La Estrella de Cuba" (c.1820)
(Cuba's Star), and "El laud del desterr ado" (c.1820 ) (The Exile's Lut e), Heredia
had given voice to th e ideals of th e liberal Cuban bourgeoisi e that had begun
to art iculate the foundations of a separatist political ideology. His evocations
ofthe idyllic Cuban landscape as paradise lost and his no stalgia for the absent
homel and were inst ru ment al in the elaboration of a discourse of the nation
that remained at the he art of Cuban nationalist expression until well into the
twe ntieth century. His partici pation in the conspiracy known as "Los Rayos
y Soles de Bolivar" (The Suns and Rays of Bolivar) and his organization of
a failed invasion of Cub a fro m Mexico, led by Mexican General Santa Ana,
prefigured Marti's own career.
Mar ti, a larger-than-life figure who wa s at once j ournalist, philosopher,
essayist, ideologue, and soldier, reached his largest audience as a po et through
his Versos sencillos (1891) (SimpleVerses, 1997), celebrated for its inn ovative use of
popular verse for ms as we ll as for the space it op ened for the expression of his
moral, social, and political aspirations. In their blend ofRom anticism , incipient
Modernismo, and liberalism his verses provide a populist frame for Marti's
pan-Americanism , which m anifested itself through his em phasis on the Latin
heritage tha t united the Carib bean and the Ame ricas and through his warnings
against the emerging sha dow of the United States as an imperial nation, a threat
that risked bo th the sovereignty and hopes for democracy ofthe newly formed
Latin Americ an and Caribbe an nations and the intern al int egri ty ofthe United
States's ow n democr atic institu tion s.
As the Caribbean entered the tw entieth cent ury, the looming presence of
the Unite d States be came cen tral to the region 's economic, social, and political
developm ent - and to a great extent, almost as central to its literatu re. Spanish
Caribbean writers, who opened the first decades of the tw entieth century
as adherents to a literary Modernismo emerging ou t of Eur opean influe nces
but rooted in the realities and tr aditions of the Americas, closed the cen tury
writing against the backdrop of the ever-growing influence of the United
States's media, pop culture, economy, and politics over Spanish Caribbean
nations and their cultures.
Modernismo, th e first literary movement orig inal to Latin America, sprang
out of a reaction against the cen trality of th e material worl d - and the con­
comitant neglect of spirituality - characteristic of Realism and Natur alism , as
well as out of a desire for form al expe rimentation and renewal. Its tenets - the
preference for sensual, dynamic language, the centrality of synaesthesia to the
production of liter ary im agery, the experimen tation with meter and rhyme
(including the use of free verse ), the influe nce of the French Parn assians and
Symbolists and ofthe English Pre-Raphaelites, the retu rn to Greco-Roman mo­
tifs, and the creative use of Oriental exoticism and cosmo politanism - offered
Spanish Caribbean poets th e possibility ofescape from th e thematic and forma l
demands of patriotic exhortation and a narrowly defined nationalist agenda.
The Caribbe an' s greatest modernista poet wa s undoubtedly Cuba's Julian
del Casal, once described by the movem ent's founder, Ruben Dario, as a
"deep and exquisite princ e of m elancholy." A translato r of Cha rles Baud elaire
into Spanish, Casal embodied th e same decaden t neo-Roma ntic ism th at had
stamped the fin-de- siecle sensibility ofthe French poetemaudit. His work, in both
prose and verse, sought perfection through strict adhe rence to the mos t rigid
of literary forms , while his themes - death, bitt ern ess, alienation, pain, and
hopelessness - were deployed through imagery that sought to make palpable
What was vile and corrupt, what awakened horror and melancholy. In Hojas al
Viento (1893) and Bustos y rimas (1893), Casal, who died prematurely at the age
ofthirty in 1893, anticipated the exoticism, elusiveness, and dreamy ambiguity
of the brief flowering of pure Modernismo in the Spanish Caribbean.
Puerto Rican Modernismo, spearheaded by Jose de Diego's experiments
With form in his patriotic and philosophical poetry, found its principal vehicle
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbeanliterature in Spanish
in the Revista de las Antillas (Review of the Antilles) - founded in 1913 by LUis
Llorens Torres - which published the work ofthe island's foremost modernistas
among them Llorens Torres, jose de jesus Esteves, Nem esio Can ales, and th~
post-modernista Evaristo Rivera Chev remont . Ofthese , the m ost accomplished
poet was Llorens Torres himself, whose early work, Al pie de laAlhambra(1899)
(At the Foot of the Alhambra) introduced modernista ideas to Puerto Rican
liter ature. His evolution as a poet, especia l1y after the publication of his Visiones
de mi musa (1913) (Visions of My Muse ), led him to embrace the criollista aspect
of Modernismo tha t jose Marti had pur sued in the pop ulist them es and forms
of his Versos sencillos. Llor ens's Voces de la campana mayor (1935) (T he Tol1 of
the Main Bell) and Alturas de America (1940) (Heights of America), appealed
broadly to an increasingly liter ate Puerto Rican popu lation th ro ugh the mu­
sicality of verse form s drawn fro m popular traditions, such as the decima, the
use ofthem es and mo tifs taken from the island's folklor e, and a lucid vernac­
ular that resonates with an identification with the cultur e of the mountain
jibaro already elevated to the status of national symbol by Manuel Alonso
in 1849.
Of the many lite rary trends and mo vem en ts that followed in quick succes­
sion in the wak e of Modern ismo, the most important to the development of
Spanish Caribbean literatu re were those concerne d with the affirmation of the
African roots of Antillean cultures. Beginning with Alejo Carpentier's !l~cue­
Yamba-O!, his novel about a young man's initiation into an Afro-Cuban secret
socie ty, and Nicolas Guillen's Motivos del son (1930) (Variations on the Cuban
Son), which incor por ated the rhythms of Afro-Cuban music into a vibrant
poetry tha t celebr ated the Caribbea n's neglected African heritage, the litera­
tu re of the period between 1930 and 1950 was for the mo st par t committed to
integ rati ng the population ofAfrican descent int o the discour se of nationality.
Guillen 's 56ngoro cosongo (1931), West Indies, Ltd. (1934), Cantos para soldados y
sonespara turistas (1937) (Songs for Soldiers and Beats for Tourists) proposed a
revolutionary reassessment of Cuban culture, with its implied affirmation of
the cent rality of African-derived cultu re and practices to the definition of the
nation . Following on the groundbreaking anthropological work of Fern ando
Or tiz and Lydia Cabrera , whose Los negros brujos (1906) (T he Black Sorcerers)
and Cuentos negros de Cuba (1936) (Black Tales from Cuba) respectively had
brought overd ue attention to the culture, narrative tra ditions , and belief sys­
tems of the peoples ofAfrican descent in the regio n, Guillen , his fellow Cuban
Lino Novas Calvo (author of Laluna nonay otros cuentos, 1942, Th e Nint h Moon
and Ot her Stories), and his counterpa rts in Puerto Rico and the Dominican
Republic - principal1y Luis Pales Matos and Manuel del Cabral - sought to
redefine the Antilles as mulatto islands. Del Cabral, a propon ent of Negrismo,
achieved , through the poems collected in Tr6pico negro (1941) (Black Tropic),
a wel1-deserved international fame that made him on e of the early voices of
black deco lonization.
In Puert o Rico, Luis Pales Matos, founder of the Movimiento Antillano
(Antil1ean Movement), bu ilt upon the technical experimentation of the mod­
ern istas and the criollistas' concern wit h folklore and local custo m, to present
through his poetry a challenge to the accepted cultura l notions of the Puerto
Rican elite and its preference for the white jibaro as the emb lem ofthe island 's
culture. In Cancionesdelavidamedia (1925)(Songs ofthe Half-Life) and Tll!1tun de
pasa y grif eria (1937) (Dru mbeats of Black Life and Kinky H air), Pales answered
the racialist claims of the likes of Anton io S. Pedre ira, whose La actualidad
del jlvarO (1935) (The Relevance of the j ibaro) had argu ed for the white peas­
ant as the essence of the nation, and who, in lnsuiarismo (1934) (Insularism)
had offered environ ment al and biological argu me nt s in support of his con ­
tention that miscegenation had weakened the Puerto Rican race and culture.
Pales's poetry - built upon stylized notions of Afto-Caribbean culture th at
were no t the mselves devoid ofsome degree of exoticism - non etheless argued
for Afro-Caribbean histo ry and cultures as vital elements in the elabor ation of
an Antillean consciousness. H is work had an enormous imp act on writers of
subsequ ent generat ions, among them Francisco Arrivi, whose play Vejigan tes
(1958) (Carn ival Dancers) explor ed the complexities of Pu ert o Rican att itudes
toward race, and the writers of the 1970Sgeneration, whose own version of the
nation - bui lt upon notions ofinclusion and social justice inspired by the Latin
American revolutionary movements of the 1960s - required the recognition of
the essential mul atto roots of the Puerto Rican nation .
The Afro-Ant illean m ovem ent of the first decade of th e twentieth centur y
developed alongside a recurri ng Criollismo th at delved int o the dism al realities
of rural Caribbe an life un der a succession of dictatorships (in the case of Cuba
and the Dominican Repu blic) and American colonization (in the case ofPuerto
Rico). This Criollismo manifested itself prima rily thro ugh prose - short sto ries
and novels alike - that speak of the plight of the sugar -cane laborers working
under slave-like conditions, the tragic wrenching of the subsiste nce peas ant
from the land (and his subsequent uprooting into menial jobs in the new
urban slums), the indiffere nce of the state (and in many cases the Church)
to the exploitation and te rrorizing of the peasa nt, and the debas ement and
prostituti on of the landless peasant.
The depiction of rural life takes as many forms as there were literary move­
ments in th e Spanish Caribbean in the first half of the twentieth cent ury. In
69 1
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Puert o Rico, in the hands ofa wri ter like Emilio Belaval, author of Cuentospara
[omentar el turismo (1946) (Stories to Encourage Tourism), the pre dicament of
the peasant is presented with a ligh t irony and manifest picaresq ue enjoyment
at the clever ways in which the peasa nt negotiates the param eters ofl iving un,
der American colonialism . In Enrique Lagu erre's ponderous novels, such as in
his m asterp iece, La llamarada (1935)(The Co nflagration) and in Solar MontoYa
(1941) (The Montoya's Land), on the other hand, the decade nce of the planta_
tion, the abuses of systems of credit that result in th e virt ual enslavement of
workers, the devastation caused by hurricanes on the ag ricultural sector, and
the psycho logical plight of those middle-class pro fession als who must serve
the Am erican centrales (large-scale plant ations) or g ive up their hopes for eco­
nomic pro sperity, are all made to fit int o the narr ative stru ctures of the tragic
dram a. Also tragic is the appro ach of Abelardo Diaz Alfaro in his short story
"Elj osco" (1947) (The Tough One), the metaph orical tale ofthe castra tion and
yoking of a proud black Puert o Rican bull to make way for its replacem ent by
a white American stud.
Caribbean literature in Spanish
In the Dominican Repu blic, the nam es ofJuan Bosch (leftist political leader
and President of the count ry from 1963 until th e American invasion of 19 65),
and of poet Pedro Mir (perhaps the most undeservedly neglected of Caribbean
autho rs), are th e two most closely associated with the literary rendi tion of rural
con ditions. Bosch, in his ea rly and uneven novel LaMmiosa (1936)(The SlyOne)
tells the tale - narrated th rou gh the perspect ive of a somewhat picaresque
donkey - of the fate of a ru ral family during one of the many civil wars that
prece ded the first Ame rican occupation of th e island in the 1920S. But it is
in his nu m erous short stories, collected in various volumes - among them
Camino Real (1933),Cuentos escritos en el exilio (1964a) (Sto ries Written in Exile),
Mas cuelltos escritos en el exilio (1964b) (More Stories Writt en in Exile) - that
the tra ditions, langu age, tro ubles, and worldview ofthe Dominican peasantry
found a voice. Stories like "Dos pesos de agu a" (Two Dollars of Water"), "La
mujer" (The Woman), and "La bella alma de Don Damian" (The BeautifulSoul
of Don Damian) display Bosch's command ofthe langu age and perspective of
the Dominican peasant, his un derstanding of rural culture, the anticlericalism
that was at the root of his analysis of rural sociery, and the socialist philosophy
that provides a subtext for his tales. The latter forms an ideological link between
Bosch and Pedro Mir, whose poems "Hay un pais en el mundo" (There's a
Country in the World) and "Si alguien quiere saber cual es mi patria" (If
Someone Wants to Know Which Nation Is Mine) represent the mo st eloquent
literary denunciations ofthe predicament of the landless Dominican peasant.
Well-known also for his "Contracanto a Walt Whitman" CCountersong to
walt Whitman," 1993), Mir's is one of the strongest voices for decolonization
of his generation.
Two other Dominican write rs are important in the con text of rural history:
Ramon Marrero Aristy, author of Over (1939), and Freddy Prestol Castillo,
whose novel EIMasacresepasa apie (You Can Cro ss the Massacre River on Foot),
although w ritten in 1938, was not pu blished until 1973. Over is an indictment
of the exploitation suffered by Dominican cane cutters working for Ame rican
sugar companies; EI Masacre se pasa a pie tells of the slaughter of Haitian cane
workers by Trujillo's forces at the Haitian-Domi nican border in 1937. They
represent the best of Dominican lon g fiction until the resurgence ofthe novel
in the 1970S.
Rural-focused lite rature, on th e othe r hand, is no t very prominent in Cub a,
where the best talent of the first half ofthe century- Carpentier, Eugenio Florit,
Lin<ls Calvo, Guillen - had concentrated instead on Afro -Cuban expression.
The contributors to the period's mos t influential jo urnal, Origenes (1944-56),
founded by Jose Lezama Lima, po inted to new formal and them atic direction s
that came to fru ition during the literary Boom of the late 1950S and 1960s.
The quandary of the Cuban peasant ry under the dictatorships of Machado
and Batista was left to minor talents, such as Luis Felipe Rod rigu ez, whose
Relatos de Marcos Antilla (1932) (Tales of Marcos Antilla) tell of the oppression
of the Cuba n guajiro by the combined power of the Cuban land owners and
American companies, and Dor a Alonso, wh ose Tierra adentro (1944) (Deep in
the Country) offers a detailed pictu re of the brutal reality and poverty of the
Cuban peasa nt ry, focusing on th eir exploitation by th e land ed classes with the
aid of the dictator's Rural Guards.
The seco nd half of the tw enti eth cent u ry saw the atte ntion of writers and
intellectu als shift to urban settings. In Puert o Rico, the transition is vividly
rendered by short-sto ry writerJose Luis Go nzalez, whose collection EI hombre
en la calle (1948) (The Man on the Street) showcased th e plight of characters
forced out of thei r ru ral ho mes by the collapse of the sugar industry du ring
the Second World War and into the San j uan slums that became a way-station
On their way to low-paying wages and the ghe tto in New York. In stories such
as"La carta" (The Letter) and "En el fondo del cafio hay un negrito" (There's
a Little Black Boy at the Bottom ofthe Culvert) Gonzalez explores the human
Cost of dispossession and displacement.
If Gonzalez represents th e transition to urban literature, Rene Marques
Stands out as the first gre at urban writer in Puerto Rican literatu re. Known
Primarily as a dramatist whose work explore d the decline and fall of the
backward-looking white upper-middle classes, treachero us in their alliance
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean literature in Spanish
with Ame rican interests in Puer to Rico, Marques also wrote short stories and
two novels , La vispera del hombre (1959) (T he Eve of Man) and La mirada (1975)
("T he Look," 1983). His sho rt sto ries, particularly "En la po pa hay un cuerpo
reclinado" (1959) (There's a Body Leaning Against the Stern), th e sto ry ofa man
led into murder, self-castr ation , and su icide by his wife's ever-g rowing demands
for Am erican consumer goo ds, are m eant to wo rk as symb olic renderings of
th e inr oads rampan t consume rism had ma de int o tr aditio nal Puert o Rican
But it is as a dramatist th at Marques made his most sign ificant cont ribution
to Spanish Caribbean literature. A dra matist with a rem arkable com mand of
staging an d lighting, Marques brought his considerable talents to plays such
as Los sales tru ncos (1958) (Tru ncated Suns) and Un nino azul para esa sombra
(1958) (A Blue Child for That Shadow). Los soles rru ncos, th e sto ry of three
sisters living in the past, in th e realm of denial and m em ory, gives dramatic
form to the threa t to traditio nal cultu re from injurio us Am erican influences.
In Un nilio azul para esa sombra he uses th e figure of a child as a sym bol of the
loss of cultural and national ident ity tha t ste ms fro m m iddle-class adoption of
Am erican tr aditions and mores.
Marque s's dedication of his work to the representation ofthe evils of Amer­
ican culture and wha t its acceptanc e by Puerto Ricans repr esented in terms of
cultural im poverishm ent sets the parameters for th e literatu re ofthe lat e fifties
an d sixties in Puert o Rico. In th e liter atur e that eme rged out of th e massive
migratio n of Puert o Ricans to th e United States (chiefly New York and New
Jersey) d uring the 1950S, Marques's anti -Am ericanism provides a vital leitmo­
tif. This literatu re is dominated by tw o na mes - th ose of Pedro Jua n Soto and
Em ilio Diaz Varcarcel - writers whose work is deeply critical of American
colo nialism and its con sequences for Puert o Rico. Soto's Spiks (1956) offers
heartrending vignettes of th e failu re of Puerto Rican m ig rants to New York
in adap ting themselves to th eir new environment and circumstan ces. Diaz
Varcarcel's EI asedio ([958) (T he Siege) brings to life the catastrophic partic­
ipation of Puerto Rican soldiers in th e Korean War, m oving from personal
alienation to the emotional cost of m utilatio n and death. In his Harlem todas
los dias (1978) (Hot Soles in Harlem, 1993) he wrote wi th light hum or and deft
satire about the quasi-picaresque adventures of a you ng innocent im migrant
making his way in New York.
In Cuba, the literature of the period immediately preceding the Boom is
best represented by Virgilio Pifiera, himself a master of irony and satire.
Primarily known as a short-story writer, Pifiera published two novels - La
carne de Rene (1952) (Rene's Flesh, 1989) and Pequenas maniobras (1963) (Petty
Maneuvers) - who se influenc e can b e clearly seen in Diaz Varcarcel' s late
work. His charac ters, m oving vert ically and ho rizontally acro ss society in typ­
ical picare sque fashion, bring the ir m ordant wit to th e description of the alm ost
lunatic qu ality of Cuban life.
The deca de of the 1960s witnessed th e most extrao rdinary explosion of cre­
ative and experim ent al w riting in the histo ry of Latin Am erican literature, a
period that cam e to be kno wn appro priately as el Boom. T he technical inn ova­
tion, inventiveness in th e use of langu age, incorpor ation of po pular culture,
the deploy m ent of humor and parody, and revolut ion ar y ideo log y for which
the decade becam e kn own placed Latin American writing at the very cent er
of international literatu re . Coinciding as it did with th e first decad e of th e
Cuban Revolution - and sharing its sens e ofpromise and expectatio n, th e Boom
signals a conscio usness of a new er a in Latin Ame rican w riting. The w rite rs
of the Boom, translat ed into a multiplicity oflanguages, reached un dream t-of
audiences aro und the world.
Among th e islands ofth e Hispanic Caribbean only Cu ba played a significant
role in the Boom, being rep resented by four w riters: Alejo Carpentier, whose
magic realis m , whi ch he had introd uced in 1949 with EIreinode este mundo (The
Kingdom of This World, 1957), was vital to th e m ovem ent ; Jose Lezam a Lima,
whose "Baroque" masterpiece, Paradiso (1966) (Paradiso, 1974), cha llenge d
the orthodoxy of Cuban social realism; Guille rmo Cabr era Infant e, whose
obsession w ith langu age in Tres tristes tigres (1967) (ThreeTrapped Tigers, 1971) fil­
tered the ma nic night life of pr e-Revolut ion H avana ; and Severo Sard uy, whose
ever-m etamorphos ing tr ansvestites in De dOllde son los cantalltes (1967) (From
Cuba With a Soug, 1994) point to the never-end ing possibilities of carni valiza­
tion and play. These writers, about wh om volu mes of critical work have been
written since the 1960s, wo rked in what has come to be known as ne o-Baro que
style. Different in th eir them es and approaches, they no ne the less shared a com­
mitment to the exploration ofreality th rough the richness and bo unteo usness
oflanguage, a gift they wielded m asterfully in prolific aband on . Carpentier's
amazing produc tivity - he published almo st a novel a yea r through the 1960s ­
COntrastedon ly in ultim ate volu me with Lezam a Lima, whose Paradiso became
a never-ending work, nurtured and perfected through en dless resurrection s.
As with Cabrera Infante's Tres tristes tigres, the ir work recreates Cuban reality
With a lavishness tha t comes from th eir love affair with words.
Puerto Rico's contribution to the literatu re ofthe post-Boomcame through
the work ofLuis Rafael Sanchez, whose hilarious LaguarachadelMacho Camacho
(1976) (Macho Camacho 's Beat, 1980) brings parody to bear on the critique of
the Puerto Rican obsession with American-style mass media. The novel, built
The Camb ridge H isto ry of African and Caribbean Litera ture
upon th e int erw eaving monologu es of five characters para lyzed by one of
Pu erto Rico's m onumen tal traffic jams - a metaphor for the country's colonial
paralysis - follows them as th ey listen to Mach o Cam acho's guaracha "Life Is
a Phenomen al Thing" on the radio. The gap between th e Panglossian lYrics
of th e song and th e realities of th e Pu erto Rican bottleneck are explored by
Sanchez - through at tim es outr ageous parody - as th e means of conveying
his analysis of Puerto Rican society as a place that "doesn't work."
Sanch ez, who earlier in his career had focuse d on dram a - his Creo le version
of th e Antigone m yth , La passion segttn Antigona Perez (1968) (The Passion
Accor ding to Antigona Perez), having been one of the m ost-oft en performed
plays of th e late sixties and seventies th roughout Latin America - had also
produced a pivotal collection of short stories, En cuerpo de camisa (1966) (In
Shirt sleeves), not ed above all for its candid approach to race an d sexuality
and its inclusio n of th e first sto ry in Puert o Rican literature w ith a clearly
avowed hom osexual theme . Sanchez reprised his analysis of m edia obsessions
and his critique of machismo in La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos (1988)
(The Imp ort ance of Being Dan iel Sant os), his fiction alized biography of the
popula r singer of boleros.
In th e 1980s, homosexuality becam e a sort of ultim ate frontier for writers
seeking to challenge the hold ofpat riarchal perspectives- which Rene Marques
had m astere d in his plays and fiction - on the definition ofPuerto Rican culture.
Of the writers dealing candidly and ope nly with homosexua lity in their work,
th e most richly talented was the late Manuel Ramos Ot ero , dead prematurely
from AIDS . Ramos Otero , one of Puerto Rico's most experi me nta l shor t-story
writers, published his first collection of tales, Conciertodemetalparaun recuetdo y
otras orgias desoledad (A Metal Concert for a Reme mbrance and Oth er Orgies
of Solitud e), in 1971. In this, as in his subsequen t collections, El cuento de la
mujer del mar (1979) (The Story of the Wom an of th e Sea) and Pdgina en blanco
y staccato (1987) (Blank Page and Staccato ), Ram os Ot ero ant icipates the camp
sensitivities of th e late eight ies and nine ties, reveling in refere nces that open
the texts to Holl ywood images, qu eenly gay behavior, outrageous in-your­
face allusion s to hom osexual eroticis m m eant to epaier all of us bourgeois, and
weirdly imaginative psychological abe rrations in his ch aracters. This, together
w ith the form al experim ent ation with fragm ented streams of consciousness
and minim al pu nctuation, make of his wo rks an enjoyable challenge. RamoS
Otero pu shed to its lim its the incursions int o gay identi ty and national solidarity
presented so painfully in Cuban wri ter Reinaldo Arenas's texts, am ong them,
his bes t, El mundoalucinante (1969) (Hallucina tions, orthe Ill-Fated PeregrinatiOns
ofFray Servando, zoot) . In comparison, Cuba's Senel Paz's meditation on the
Caribbean literature in Spanish
political consequences ofbeing gay in Cuba, ElBosque, ellobo, yel hombrenuevo
(199 1) (translated as Strawberry and Chocolate, 1995), appears subdue d.
Equally important in post-Boom Puerto Rican lite rature was the work
of novelist and essayist Edgardo Rodrigu ez Julia, an admirer of Carpent ier's
whose Baroque text La renuncia del heroe Baltasar (1974) (The Renunciation,
1997), blurs the line between history and fiction as it create s false historical
documentation to support a fable while using the language of th e fable to
narrate histo rical events. One of the m ost inventive texts of the post-Boom
period in the Caribbean, the novel retu rn s to the eighteenth centu ry to ponder
the possibility ofblack political power in th e colony of Pu ert o Rico. Rodrigu ez
Julia has also m ade his m ark th rough th e elaboration of hybrid texts, richly
illustrated with photographs, based on funera ls of prominent Puerto Ricans.
His most fascina ting to date, El entierro de Cortijo (1982) (Cortijo' s Funeral),
recreated the pomp and circumstance - and uncontrollable popular grief - of
the burial of Puerto Rico's m ost imp ort an t salsa mu sician .
In the Dom inican Republic, th e m ost important voices of the pos t-Boom
period were th ose of Pedro Verges, Rene del Risco Bermudez, and Pedro Peix.
Verges is the autho r ofS610cenizas hallards: bolero (1980) (Th ere'll Be Only Ashes
Left: Bolero) , a novel whose for m follows closely th at of Argentinian writer
Manuel Puig's Boquitaspintadas (1970) (Heartbreak Tango, 1973), but whose com ­
mand of the multiple registers of Dominican speech and its un der standing of
the psychology ofthe Trujillo er a combin e to create wh at is argu ably th e coun ­
try's best novel of th e seco nd half of th e twentieth century. Del Risco's tw o
collections of short stori es, Vientofrio (1967b) (Cold Wind) and Del jubilo a la
sangre (1967a) (Fro m Joy to Blood), showed exceptional pro m ise, bu t his third
collection, En el barrio no hay banderas (There Are No Flags in th e Neighbor­
hood) was published posthumously in 1974 after his prem ature dea th in 1967
at the age ofthirty. Peix, a wr iter wh ose experiments with form and language
and his clear-sighted analysis of Dom inican history have made him th e na tu ­
ral heir to Jua n Bosch as a short-story wri ter, has published one collection of
stories, Elfanttlsma de la Calle El Conde (1988) (The Ghost of Conde Street), an d
has numerous prize-w inning stories scattered in newspapers and magazines
awaiting publication in book form .
Literary production in the Caribbean in the last two decades ofthe twentieth
century was dominated by a "veritable explosion" in women's writing, as
women's voices moved into the mainstream of literary activity in the region
after decades of silence and neglect, articulating, primarily through novels and
short stories, their gendered position in Caribbean societies and their search
for "agency" in their personal and social lives. As the century came to a close,
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
wo m en 's writings expan ded into new areas : religion (particularly African_
derived religious syste ms), the erotic, popular culture, and the enviro nment.
In Cuba, beg inning in th e 1970S, but particularly as a response to the chal­
lenges ofthe "periodo especia l" after the collapse ofthe Soviet Union, women
writers sough t to address the reorganization of the islan d's socialist economy _
with its tent ative forays into capitalistic enterprise - and the balsero flight frol11
the islan d in the face of diminishing resour ces an d severe redu ctions in public
services have found th eir way into fiction by Cuban wo m en. From among
th is generation of ne w Cuban writers, three stand apart as m ost inn ovative
and prod uctive: Mirt a Yanez, Na ncy Alon so, and Marilyn Bobes. Yan ez has
pu blishe d a nu mb er of collections of short sto ries, the earliest, Todos los negros
tomamos cafe (1976) (We Blacks All Drink Coffee), a text that stood out for its
gro undbreaking use of colloquial langu age and acute use of iro ny. Her most
recen t book of sto ries, EI Diablo son las cosas (1988) looks at Cuban realities
through the prism of bittersweet nostalgia for the freshness and hope of the
early years ofthe Revolution . Alon so's first collection ofstories, Tirar laprimera
piedra (1997) (To Cast the First Sto ne), displays her talent for creating deeply
etche d characters through me ticulou s reconstructions of the specific linguistic
reg isters appropri ate to the ir gend er, educatio n, and situ ation. The tensions
between how the persistent scarcity ofgoods , food, an d m on ey haunts th e peo­
ple ofCuba and th e ease with which something as bana l as a carton ofeggs can
becom e a we apon for vengeance in such a cont ext are beautifully showcased
in th ese stories, as are the hon esty and deftness with which she addresses the
realities of Cuba 's Vietnam - th e mas sive losses of Cuban lives in Mozambique
and Angola. In tu rn , Marilyn Bobes, w inner of the 1995 Casa de las Americas
Pr ize for her first book of tales, Alguien tiene quellorar, deploys m ultiple voices
in her sto ries to create a cocoon of voices that weaves a p art icular context
aro und her cen tr al characters, giving th em definition and depth. Bobes, an
avowed femi nist, knows the im po rt ance of literatur e for opening venues for
th e discussion of top ics tha t h ave long be en tabo o in Cuba, such as homo­
sexuality (part icularly fema le homosexuality) and violence against women.
Her efforts on this behalf have been p art of what she sees as a the m atic and
conceptual op enin g for wh ich wom en wri ter s have prep ared the gro und.
Among Cub an w riters living outside of Cuba during this perio d, Daina
Chaviano has m ade her ma rk as a writer of science-fiction, a rare example of
a Latin Ame rican aut ho r working in this genre . A prolific writer, Chaviano
publis h ed her first science-fiction tale, Ftibulas de una abuela extraterrestre, in
1988, which she followed in 1990 with a collectio n of science-fiction tales, EI
abrevadero delosdinosaurios. Her trilogy ofscience-fiction tales, LaHabaJlaoculta
Caribbean literature in Spanish
(The Oc cult Side of Havana), includes Gata encerrada (1998b), an exploration of
how the power ofthe imagination can transform a faceless, shadowy cha racter
into an obsessive forc e as it struggles to becom e a living entity; Casa deJuegos
(1998a), which dr aws on her stro ng fam iliarity with fantastic and Surrealist
literature, film, art, and the power of the orichas (the guidi ng spirits of th e
Afro-Cuban practice of Santeri a) to conjure up a fable abou t a young wo m an 's
penetration into her ow n heart of darkne ss; and EI hombre, la hembra, y el
hambre (1999), in which Ch aviano returns to Cuban espiritismo and th e role of
the medium as conduits to gain access to the wo rld of fantasy and th e spirits.
Zoe Valdes, born in H avana in 1959, was th e m ost pro lific of Caribbean
women w riters th rou gh out the 1990S. Valdes began her writing career as a
poet, bu t her internation al fam e is based on her work as a novelist. She first
came to no tice as a writer in 1995 with th e publicatio n of La nada cotidiana
(Yocandra in the Paradise ofNada, 1997), a bestseller translated imme diately into
a dozen langu ages. Valdes followed her success with La nada cotidiana with a
third novel, La hija del embajador (1995a), for which she won the Prem io Novela
BreveJua n March Cen cillo. A proli fic author, Valdes has pub lishe d Tedi la vida
entera (1996) (l Gave You all W hen I Wed, 1999), a finalist for th e Planeta Litera ry
Prize, Cafe Nostalgia (1999), Querido primero novio (2000) (Dear First Love, 2002a),
and Milagro de Miami (2001).
In the Dominican Republic, Angela He rnandez, a poet, short -story writer,
and novelist, is kno wn for her subtly erotic evocatio ns of the disharmon y be­
tween a lush int ern al world wh ere dream s and passions lur k an d the mundane
terrain of everydayne ss. "Com o recoger la sombra de las flores" ("H ow to
Gather the Shadows ofthe Flowe rs," 1991), th e first of He rn and ez's sho rt sto­
ries, which won her th e 1988 Casa del Teatro Literary Prize, an chored her
first book of sto ries, Alatropos. By th e tim e she published her second collec­
tion of sho rt sto ries, Masticar una rosa in 1993 - m ediated by tw o collections
of poems, Tizne y cristal (1987) and Edades de asombro (1990) - her standing as
the foremos t Dominican prose writer of he r generation was assur ed. Masticar
una rosa (Gnawing on a Rose) echoes the writer's childh ood m em ories of
haVinglived through Trujillo's dictatorship. Since the publication of Masticar
una rosa, He rnandez has published two addition al prose texts: Piedra de sac­
rificio (1998), a collection of short stories that wo n the Premio Nacional de
Cuentos in the year of its pub lication as well as the Premio Cole de Literatura,
and a novella, Mudanza de lossentidos (2001). Piedra de sacrificio retu rn s to the
urban settings of Masticar una rosa to imbue th em with the magical aura of
the countryside through th e voices of characters rooted in ru ral splendors
Who have to settle for an urba n absence of colo r. In Mudanza de los sentidos, a
The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature
Caribbean Bildtmgsroman , the voice of a young g irl that served H ernandez So
well in Masticar una rosa, eme rges as the filter for the horrid experiences of
growing up in the turmoil that was Dominican history in the latter half of the
tw entieth centur y. A mature work th at draws up on Hernand ez's experience as
a short -story writer, Mudanzadelossentidosg ives voice to the emerging novelist.
Puerto Rican wo men w riters blossomed in the 1980s with the emergence of
voices of such importance as Ana Lydia Vega, Magali Gard a Rami s, Carmen
Lugo Filippi, Rosario Ferre, Olga No lla, Mayra Santos Febres, and Mayra
Montero. Ferre, Puerto Rico's foremost novelist and short-stor y writer of the
1980sand early 1990S, had he r first success with Papeles de Pandora (1986) (The
Youngest Doll, 1991 ) and becam e an internationa lly known figure with the pub.
lication of Maldito amor (1986) (Sweet Diamond Dust, 1996). In the early 1990s,
aware that tra nslations of her fiction had enjoye d considerable success in the
American market, and in respons e to genero us offers from Americ an publish­
ers who found original work in English more profitable than tr anslations ­
and wh o saw in Ferre, a writer of established reputation , a perfect bridge to
the Latino market - she agree d to beg in writing in English. In Puerto Rico,
a nation that had made of the Spanish langu age - and of liter ature written
in Spanish - the symbo l of resistance against American political control and
cultural influ ence, the decisio n was greeted with shoc k and she cam e under
att ack from writers and critics alike. Despite the success of her first English­
language book, The House on the Lagoon (1997), which was a finalist for the
prestigious National Book Award in the United States, her reputation as a
Latin American - and part icularly a Puer to Rican - writer has yet to recover.
Her second English-language book , Eccentric Neighborhoods (1999), an upper­
class Puerto Rican family saga, was almos t equally successful with critics and
readers. Ferre's most recent public ation , Flight of the Swan (zoot), is a novel
inspired by the life of Ann a Pavlova, th e famou s Russian ballet dancer. It is the
third of Ferre's novels to be wr itte n and publi shed initially in English.
Olga No lla, known thro ughout her liter ary caree r as a poet, blossomed as
a pro se writer in the 1990S. In 1990 she published a collection of short stories,
Porque nos queremos tanto, which she followed with her first novel, La Segunda
hija (1992). Two othe r novels, EI Castillo de la memoria and EI manuscrito de
Miramar, we re published in 1996 and 1998 respectively. EICastillo de lamemoria,
Nolla's meditation on the histor y of hispanidad in Puert o Rican culture, returnS
to the sixtee nth cent ur y to im agine what Puert o Rican history could have
been if Pon ce de Leon had returned to Puert o Rico after having succeeded
in locating the Fountain of Youth, im mortalizing in the process the NeW
World as the em bodi ment of the spirit of th e Ren aissance. Th e public ation
Caribbeanliterature in Spanish
of EI manuscritode Miramar completely transform ed Nolla's profile as a pros e
writer. In it she we aves together the stories oftwo uppe r-class wom en - mother
and daughter - through the discovery of a manuscript that unveils the silence
that has served as a veil covering stories of desire , infidelity, and long ing. T he
recovered ma nuscript establishes a dialog with Maria Isabel's own attempt to
reconcile her image of her mot her with this new vision of a woman writing
of secret desires, adulte ry, and ot her illicit passions .
Ana Lydia Vega, wh ose often hilarious shor t sto ries - collected in Encancar­
anublado y otras cuentos de naufragio (1992) and Pasion de historia y otras historias
de pasion (1987) - set the to ne for Puerto Rican fem inist literature in the 1980s,
opened the 1990S wit h a fresh book oftales, Falsas cronicasdelsur (1991), which
gathers eight tales inspired by Puert o Rican histo ry. As she did with detective
fiction in Pasion de historia, whe re she parodied that popul ar genre as the basis
for her exploration of a wife's pu zzling disappearance (d la Rear Window), here
Vega calls upon a number of genr es- the Romantic novel, the tale of adventu re,
social satire, the political ch roni cle - to tu rn histo ry inside out, helping us to
look at familiar incidents fro m the individu al's perspective, bringin g histo ry
(and the folkloric interpretation of history), in the process, into the realm of
the everyday occurrence and personal dram a.
Magali Garda Ramis, wh ose Felices dias, tio Sergio (1986) (Happy Days, Uncle
Sergio, 1955) had redefine d the Puert o Rican Bildungsroman, published a collec­
tion of short storie s, Las noches del riel de oro, in 1997. In th is volume Gard a
Ramis begins to distance he r work from the familial, aut ob iographical them es
of Lafamilia de todos nosotras, the collection she had publi shed in 1988, whose
topics were closely conne cted to the Bildungsroman aspects of Felices dias.
Firmly grounded in Puerto Rican popular culture, with salsa and othe r forms
of popular m usic providing a thematic foundation to tales like "Cuando can­
ten Maestra Vida" and "Solita con las estrellas," the tales explore San juan 's
urban cultu re and the ob sessions to whi ch it can lead . Of particular interes t
are "Cuando canten Maestra Vida," about the habituees of a som ewh at seedy
old San Ju an bar, and "Prituras y lunas," abo ut a man's incestuous obsession
Withhis daughter, which leads him to m urder a young man who bu ys the last
fritter available fro m a vendor, the very fritt er his daughter had requested.
Of all Pue rto Rican writers of the 1990S th e mos t important and innova tive
voice was that of Mayra Montero, born in Cuba but a resident of Puerto Rico
for mo st of her life. Mon tero opened th e decade with the pub lication ofa short
story, Corinne, muchachaamable (1991)(Corinne, AmiableGirl, 1994), that followed
upon a collection of vigne ttes , VentUres y una tortuga, which had appeared in
1981. In this story of a young wo man turn ed into a zombie by the lover
The Cam bridge Histo ry of African and Caribbea n Litera ture
she has spurned, Montero is partic ularly interested in deploying the familiar
conventions of the Gothic genre to lay bare the Haitian people's struggle
against the Duvalier govern ment , here represent ed by th e dre aded Tonton
Macoutes, the regime 's feared militia . T his com mitm ent was already evident
in he r first nove!' La trenza dela Hermosa !twa (1987), a beautifully rendered tale
of an exile's return to Haiti after twenty years as a wandering sailor and ofthe
tra nsform ation th at leads him from disillusionment to passionate commitment
to action against the Duvalier regim e. The novel ma rked Montero as the talent
to wa tch in Puerto Rican w riting, a promise th at she has fulfilled repeatedly
in the period since La trenza de la Hermosa luna first dazzled critics.
Monte ro is, ofall contem porary Caribbe an writers, the most ind ebted to the
Euro -Ame rican Gothic tradi tion , which she has made her own, transforming
the familiar conventions th ro ugh her deep knowledge of Caribbe an magic0­
relig ious tradition s and her concern s for social justice. As she did in "Corinne,
m uchacha amable" and La trenza de la Hermosa luna, she appro priates the
Gothic in Delrojo deLu sombra (1992) (TheRedof HisShadow, 2001b), to unveil the
vicious and corrupt politics and African-derived religiou s tr aditions that link
the Dominican Republic and Haiti despite the enmity th at has existed between
the countries for centuries. In Ttl, la oscuridad (1995) (In the Palm of Darkness,
1997), Montero returns to the production of horror that served her so well
in "Corinne, muchacha arnable" in the tale of American herpetologist Victor
Grigg wh o, with the aid of his Ha itian guide Thierry Adrien, is on a quest for
an elusive and threatened blood frog, extinct everywhere but on a dangerous,
eerie mountain near Port -au-Prince . In the volatile and bloody setting of the
Haitian mou ntai ns, cont rolled by violent thugs, through her weaving together
the stori es and vastly different perspectives of her two protagonists, Montero
un covers a new haunting postcolonial space built up on the conflict between
a scient ific and an animistic worldview : the extinct ion of species due to a
collapsing enviro nment; the troubled land scape ofHaiti, peopled with zombies
and frightening, other-worldly creatures; political corruption, violence, and
relig iou s turmoil.
Montero 's con cerns with Caribbean spirituality, particularly as represented
by the Afro-Caribbean religious practices that have been at the heart ofso much
of her fiction, maint ain their centrality in her 1998 novel, Como un mensaieto
tuyo (T he Messenger. 1999). Narrated by a young Cuban woman of Chinese and
African ancestry, it relat es the secret events tha t transpired when, during a series
of pe rfo rmances in Cuba in 1920, legen dar y tenor Enrico Caruso fled for his life
into the streets ofHavan a after a bomb exploded in the theater where he was re­
hearsing Verdi's Aida. Rescued by the narrator's mother, Aida Petrinera Chang,
Caribbean literature in Spanish
the seriously ill Car uso embarks on an advent ure that takes him fro m an in­
tense affair that will result in the narrato r's birth to a search for a Sante ria
priest wh o can heal him - or at least protect his lover from sha ring his fate.
Montero also establishe d herself during the 1990S as th e Caribbean's fore­
most writer of ero tic fiction. Her two erot ic novels, La Ii/tima noche que pas«
contigo (1991)(TheLastNight I Spent with You, 2001a) and PltrpuraproJiwdo (2000)
(Deep Purple, 2003), fuse tw o deep interests: the natur e of erotic desire and its
connectio n to Caribbean popular music. Montero , wh o had been a finalist
in 1991 for the Sonrisa Vertic al Prize - given in Barcelona by the prestigious
Tusquets Press for the best erotic novel written in Spanish in a given year - for
La ultima noche - won the prize in 2000 for Pltrpura proJillldo.
Of the new gener ation of Pue rto Rican writers that follows in the wake
of Ferre, Lugo Filippi, and Montero, Mayra Sant os Febres is the most accom­
plished. Known as a poet -she has published to date a number of poetry bo oks,
including EI orden escapade (1991b), Anamu y 11lanigua (1991a), and Tercer11lundo
(2000C) - she has emerged in th e last five years as a gifted prose writer. Her
first boo k of short sto ries, Pez de vidrio (1994), won the Letras de Oro literary
prize. In 1996, "Oso blanco ," featu red in her second collection of sto ries, EI
cuerpo correcto (2000a), won th e presti gious Ju an Rulfo Prize in Paris. Also in
2000, her novel Sirena Selena vestida de pena (Sirena Selena, 2000d) established
her reputation as the leading w riter among Puert o Rico's young aut hors.
The texts of Sant os Febres's Pez de vidrio and EI cuerpo correcto are erot ic
urban vign ettes about desire and its frustration as they play thems elves out
in conte m porary Pu erto Rico. In "La fragancia de Marina," for exam ple, a
woman selects her perfume based on the kind of reaction she wants to elicit
from men, while in ''Abne!, dulce pesadilla," a female voyeur describes her
thrilling sensations while she watche s men showering. "Dilcia M." tells of a
frustrated young woman im prisoned for her participation in an armed struggle
for Puerto Rican inde penden ce. Santos Febres's interest in homoero ticism and
popular music, and her concern with the exploration of the writing proc ess,
link these tales.
These concern s find ample roo m for developm ent in Sirena Selena vestida
de pena, the story of a gay teenage bo y earn ing a living on th e streets, and of
the transvestite who recogni zes the crystalline sweetness of his singing voice
and helps him become a famo us travesti in th e Dominican Republic. It is also
the parallel story of Leocadio, a Dom inican boy who kn ows himself to be
different because of his special sensibilities and the ways in which he awakens
male desires. Santos Pebres's explor ation ofsexual ambigu ity and unsanctio ned
desire, her com mand of musical allusion and the technical skill with which
The Ca m bridge H istory of Afric an and Caribbean Literature
she can incorporate mu sic and rhythm into her text, and her m anipulation of
langu age as a disturbing element in her text - at once erotic and hu morous- all
contribute to making Sirena Selena one ofthe best Puerto Rican novels in recent
As the literatur e of the Spanish Caribbea n moves into the tw enty-first cen,
tu ry, it has mo ved closer to the pan-Antillean vision imagined by Marti in
"Our Ame rica." Th e work of Mayra Mon tero, truly Antillean, which has
foun d a worldwide audience, points to the un iversality of the realities fac.
ing the Caribbea n. Her literary exploration of popu lar culture, which we find
in th e mul tiple renditions of the bolero in late twentieth-century literature, as
well as in Leonardo Padura Fuentes's det ective fiction or Daina Chaviano's
science-fiction, augu rs well for a renewed and invigor ated Caribbean literature
in Spanish .
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