Yomaira C. Figueroa-Vásquez, "Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature" (Northwestern UP, 2020)


Yomaira C. Figueroa-Vásquez pens towards decolonial freedom. Her recently published book, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2020), uses peripheralized (5) novels, visual/sonic works, poetry, essays, and short stories by diasporic and exiled Afro-Atlantic Hispanophone writers and artists towards “render[ing] legible what these texts offer to subjects who resist ongoing forms of colonialism…” (1). By centering the relationality of Equatorial Guinea, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic from the foundations of Ethnic Studies and Women of Color Feminist methodologies, Figueroa-Vásquez holds space for the different ways Afro-descendant peoples are racialized across the Atlantic while simultaneously attending to the anti-Blackness seemingly endemic to the modern world.

But what does it mean to decolonize? For Figueroa-Vásquez, “In the contexts of the literature outlined in the texts, I pose that the lifeblood of these worlds takes the shape of decolonizing diasporas – radical Afro-diasporic imaginaries that subvert coloniality and usher in new ways of knowing and being, and interrogate and excavate location and dislocation” (25). By linking the diasporic Afro-Atlantic Hispanophone Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa to the works of Black, Indigenous, and women of color thinkers, the world of decolonial thought emerges through the pages of Decolonizing Diasporas. It is through the literary poetics and artwork made under conditions of destierro – a theory and methodological formulation set out by the author – which become forces that challenge structures of power that give rise to possibilities of subverting colonial mentalities.

Decolonizing Diaspora reads like a detailed manual for decolonization specifically designed for Afro-Atlantic Hispanophone diasporic subjects on their journey of reimaging and creating other worlds. Each chapter builds on the next. Recognizing the intimate impacts of dictatorship, occupation, and coloniality of gender opens up sites of resistance (Ch. 1) that require faithful witnessing (Ch. 2). Faithful witnessing is a necessary action in Figueroa-Vásquez’s conception of destierro as a decolonial method (Ch.3) and in turn, reveals the condition for demanding reparations and reparations of the imagination (Ch. 4). With an emphasis on decolonial love and relations across difference, the possibilities of Afro-Atlantic resistance and futurities beyond coloniality come into clear view (Ch.5). Even then, Dr. Figueroa-Vásquez guides us back to the Introduction of the book with her last vignette “Relations Again,” in which she underscores the relationships between Equatorial Guinea and the Latinx Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The reader has no choice but to begin again.

If Latinx Caribbean literature is already on the peripheral of U.S. readership, then AfroLatinx and Afro-diasporic literature are further peripheralized, Figueroa-Vásquez argues. However, she does not simply look to include Equatorial Guinea in U.S. Latinx Caribbean literature. Rather, she “offers another way of radically remapping Afro-Diaspora Studies and the Afro-Atlantic writ large, with Equatorial Guinea and Afro-Latinxs as central thinkers, actors, and anticolonial and decolonizing agitators” (6). Figueroa-Vásquez demands a rearticualtion of Latinx studies, Hispanophone studies, and Black and diaspora studies. She pushes us (non-Black Latinx academics) towards understandings what can surface from these works of literature by illuminating the possibilities of futurities beyond coloniality, and it is our job to bear faithful witness to and act upon these lessons. Decolonizing Diasporas makes relations across the fields of Black & Latinx Studies and Hispanic Studies and therefore should be read within and across these fields.

Jonathan Cortez is a Ph.D. candidate of American Studies at Brown University. They are a historian of 20th-century issues of race, labor, (im)migration, surveillance, space, relational Ethnic Studies, and Latinx Studies. Jonathan is currently a Ford Predoctoral Fellow as well as a curatorial assistant at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz and on their personal website www.historiancortez.com

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Jonathan Cortez

Jonathan Cortez is currently the 2021-2023 César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz

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