Joshua R. Deckman is an assistant professor of Spanish and Latinx studies at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His research and teaching center on contemporary Afro-Latinx and Caribbean literatures and cultural studies.
Josefina Báez is a Dominican performance artist, writer, director, and activist who currently resides in New York. She is the founder and director of Ay Ombe Theatre. Her writings and thoughts address the silences that are implicit in the fragmentation of diaspora—in a region that is filled with blank spaces and separated/connected by the fluid movement of water.
Presentation: Sonia Sinchi
With a partner discuss what do you understand by your assigned quote and how it informs your understanding of Dominican/Afro/Latinx diaspora?
Playing with hybridity in language, geographic space, and temporality… places seem to take on a spiritual urgency to connect with what surrounds us in the present. It seems that home becomes a performance of the types of experiences you narrate in your works: displacement, disjuncture, but also a search for a somewhere else—a new space from which to make new paths.
I prefer to dwell in not what I have lost but what I have gained—what it has given me. Migration is not a burden, I am a builder. So my home, then, is el ni’e. My home is “the neither” that I know, that I have built. If I stayed in the Dominican Republic, I would still be in the ni’e. I was always a migrant, and I think that all migrants have been migrants in their dissenting communities. We wander and create.
To cross the border, yes, but to also dwell in and create knowledge from the cracks—el ni’e.
El ni’e is. Border as a place, a meaning. Border as a place of being. More than limiting me, it is that space of creation. For me it really is the space of being.
It seems to also mirror the path of movement as well—you shift between Spanish and English and beyond. It almost reflects the language and rhythm that we experience as we walk down the streets of Washington Heights or Harlem.
But for me two things have been vital in my process: exclusion and invisibility. These have been my best gifts. Because I do not see myself as part of anything, I have been able to create amazing discipline and amazing one-ness in my work. And because I am invisible, I don’t belong . . . and that feeds my journey. So then I have not been able to cry and hate myself about what I am missing or what I don’t have. My lack of. So with that, I have created an amazing life for myself. Bliss. I’m not looking for integration, to be included. I’m just being and doing and what has been my reaction to the is to being. That politics that is not self-centered, it is heart-centered. Heart-centered and really concerned for others.
My personal history is important. I don’t want to lose my personal history in any of the identities that I am. My personal history is my salvia. It is my blood memory. That must be what I’m loyal to.
We have to freakin’ create something different. I don’t want to undo the past. I don’t have time to waste with my oppressor and their shit. I don’t have time. I don’t even acknowledge their system. I come in and out of their system, and I want to build what I’m building in order to survive when I have to go into their system. We have always had that. We don’t exist. And when we do exist, we are killed. I won’t accept that reality.
Our communities, we are a big body. Each artist or each community or group will emphasize a part. I am placed here [places fist over her heart], this is where my nation is. I have been here in the hand sometimes, I have been here [places hand over her throat], and here in my gut. But it moves with my needs and my urgencies. But I always see where I am as a body. And with each project, I say from where I speak and which part of this big body I belong to. And I belong to people with different shades—shades as skin color and the shade they throw. But it is that. I’m not interested in referring to myself and my pain. My pain is very personal, and I deal with it in a very personal way. I will make my suffering nothing. Not the place to sit and dwell and study. Fuck that shit. Our story cannot be a story of pain. We are an amazing people. We have personal histories that are amazing that are not being addressed or talked about. Stories of love and connection. I think these silences are important. I don’t want to compete for our suffering. I am informed by it. I have been through it. I know it. But to dwell there is not my choice. The heart is my choice. Beauty is my choice.
And liberation is ultimately my choice. My story is more about joy, about how we have created amidst all the crazy shit we have been through. We have been through that, and we have mastered some freaking macramé shit. Creation has kept us alive.
so the afro-diasporic body… in that body each one of us has their own work to do. And the work defines what part of the body it is. Some of us are standing tall with fists, and these fists are needed. Others are in the heart. Others that are in the mouth and very vocal, we need that. We all have been through all.
Comrade, Bliss Ain’t Playing
Presentation: Amanda Prescod
And we cannot dwell too much in each other’s pain. I know that in theory it sounds cool and can be very deep. However, I do not want me or my people in more pain. I do not want our reference to be more pain. The only thing that I recall when I completed Bliss is when they asked me, “You wrote that?,” and my answer was, “Yes, we too think about bliss and beauty.” That is why for me the is will have what you decide at that moment, including the past and the future.
Select a section from the poem and discuss Josefina Báez’s views on traveling and migration, exports and notions of home.