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Volume 8 2006
Copyright C 2006 by Hyacinth M. Simpson
All rights reserved
Submission Criteria for MaComere:
MaComere is a refereed journal that is devoted to scholarly studies and creative works by and about
Caribbean women in the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean diaspora. It is the journal of the
Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS), an international organization
founded in 1995. MaComere is published once per year in the fall.
Submissions of critical articles, creative writing, interviews and book reviews are invited. All manu-
scripts should be submitted in triplicate-on disc formatted in WordPerfect 6.1 (or higher) or Word 6.0
(or higher) and in two hard copies sent in the mail. Authors should submit no more than 5 poems and/or
2 samples of prose fiction at any one time. Critical articles should not exceed 7,000 words and book
reviews should be apporximately 1,000 to 1,500 words in length. Authors should follow the most recent
edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. All articles are refereed blind by at least
two readers; consequently the name(s) of the authors) should appear only on a separate title page,
which should also include the titles) of works(s) submitted, street address, telephone, fax and email in-
formation and a brief biographical statement of no more than 50 words. A self-addressed envelope
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cluded with each submission. The journal does not accept unsolicited material that has been previously
published. The editors reserve the right to amend phrasing and punctuation in articles and reviews
accepted for publication.
All submissions and editorial correspondence should be sent to Hyacinth M. Simpson, Editor,
MaComere, Department of English, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5B 2K3. Telephone: 416-979-5000 ext. 6148; fax: 416-979-5110; email:email@example.com;
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members of ACWWS receive a single issue of MaComere with their yearly membership.
The editors do not assume responsibility for loss or damage to materials submitted. The editors, staff
and financial supporters do not assume any legal responsibility for the materials published in the
journal. Opinions expressed in contributions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent
the views of the editors, staff and the journal's financial supporters.
MaComere's Founding Editor: Jacqucline Brice-Finch
Cover logo by Marcia L. Spidell
Printed in Canada
The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars
(ACWWS) Founded in 1995, Pennsylvania
Hyacinth M. Simpson
Manuscript Review and Advisory Editors
Jacqueline Brice-Finch, Benedict College; Sarah Phillips Casteel, Carleton
University' Andrea Davis, York University; Denise Decaires Narain, University of
Sussex; Pascale DeSouza, Johns Hopkins University: Alison Donnell, University of
Reading; Keith Ellis, University of Toronto; Evelyn Hawthorne, Howard University;
Nalo Hopkinson, Writer; Kathleen Kellett-Betsos, Ryerson University; Heather Milne,
University of Winnipeg; Anne Malena, University of Alberta; Antonia MacDonald-
Smythe, St. Georges University; Katherine McKittrick, Queen s University; Pam
Mordecai, Writer; Evelyn O'Callaghan, University of the West Indies (Cave Hill);
Velma Pollard, University of the West Indies (Mona); Helen Pyne-Timothy, Univer-
sity of the West Indies (St. Augustine); Maria Cristina Rodriguez, University of Puerto
Rico; Leah Rosenberg, University of Florida; Leslie Sanders, York University; Elaine
Savory, New School University; Olive Senior, Writer; Renee Shea, Bowie State
University; Heather Smyth, University of Waterloo; Neil ten Kortenaar, University of
Toronto; Alissa Trotz, University of Toronto.
Diana Lam (Research); Jenny Ryan (Typesetting & Cover Design)
Publication ofMaComere is supported by the Office of the Vice President (Research),
the Ryerson Caribbean Research Centre, and the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts,
Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
Table of Contents
About the N am e ........................................... ..........................
Hyacinth M. Simpson
From the Editor ................ ............. ..........................3
O live Senior "H ook"..........................................................5
Ramabai Espinet "Talking Between the Rooms"........................6
"Evening (After Air India, 1985)".......................... ............ 10
Pamela Mordecai "Cold Comfort"............................................13
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Deagelar Ma .Comere: Dispersed Daughterhood
and Queer Desire-a blue airmail letter........................................21
"I knew this was England": Myths of Return in
Andrea Levy's Fruit of the Lemon....................................35
"National" Poetry? Diaspora and/or Transculturation in
the Representation of National Identity in the Work of Black
Cuban W om en Poets....................................................................67
"A Place on the Map of the World": Locating Hope in Shani
Mootoo's He Drown She in the Sea and Dionne Brand's
What We All Long For ....................................................... 94
Gendering Diasporic Migration in Erna Brodber's
Curdella Forbes's From Nation to Diaspora: Samuel Selvon,
George Lamming and the Performance of Gender................. 136
Evelyn O'Callaghan's Women Writing the West Indies,
1804-1939: "A Hot Place, Belonging to Us" ....................142
Sarah Phillips Casteel
Jamaica Kincaid's Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya...... 148
Notes on Contributors...................... ...... .. ....................152
About the Name
The word macomere is widely used by women in the Caribbean to mean "my child's
godmother"; "my best friend and close female confidante"; "my bridesmaid, or an-
other female member of a wedding party of which 1 was a bridesmaid"; "the god-
mother of the child to whom I am also godmother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the
depth of her friendship, has rights and privileges over my child and is a surrogate
This name seems appropriate because it so clearly expresses the intimate rela-
tions which women in the Caribbean share, is so firmly gendered, and honours the im-
portance of friendship in relation to the important rituals of marriage, birth, and
Moreover, macomere is a French Creole word which, although related to the
French language, has taken on a structure and meaning which is indigenous to the
Caribbean. The word is spelled in this way, instead of in the clearly Creole manner
(macume, makumeh, macoome, macomeh, and many other variants), so that the fe-
male connotations of the word are highlighted and those meanings which apply to
males ("a womanish or gossipy man," "a homosexual") are less obvious.
In those islands where Kreol (linguistic term for the French patois) is the first
language, the same term is used for both females and males with the meaning deter-
mined by the context. In islands such as Trinidad, however, where English has over-
lain Kreol, the Creole (linguistic term for the English patois) has incorporated the
redundant my macome and macome man, thus reinforcing both the perceptions of in-
timacy and the female quality of the term.
Interestingly enough, Richard Allsopp in The Dictionary of Caribbean English
Usage (Oxford University Press, 1996) has indicated the possibility that maku in
Belize, with the meaning "midwife," is also derived from macomere. Hence, the word
forces us to recall the continuities and correspondences in Caribbean languages and
cultures, as well as the dynamic, creative, and transforming power of Creoles.
In the purely English-speaking islands, the only comparable term is godmother
(usually the mother's best friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean, there is the simi-
lar comadre, although, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different.
Join us in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of the meaning inherent
in this culturally rich lexical item from the Caribbean.
Hyacinth M. Simpson
From the Editor
Here, for MaComere readers, is an issue that offers an excellent selection of
fiction, criticism, and book reviews on migrant writing by and about Caribbean women.
The theme for this issue was inspired by the Caribbean Migrations: Negotiating
Borders international literary conference, which was held at Ryerson University in
Toronto in July 2005. Several of the articles included here were originally presented
at that event.
The focus on migration then was as timely as it is now. Migration journeys-
forced and voluntary-have irrevocably shaped people's lives in the region and in the
Caribbean diaspora and are arguably the single most important determinant of
Caribbean realities. It is those journeys-both historical and contemporary-in, out,
and within the region that have resulted in the unique mix of ethnicities, languages, and
cultures which characterize Caribbean communities. Whether it is the early journeys
of European "discoverers" and "explorers," the traumatic crossing of the Middle
Passage by slave ships, the hardly seaworthy vessels that transported groups of inden-
tured servants from India and China, the trafficking in slaves between islands and with
parts of the southern United States, the mass exodus of workers from Jamaica,
Barbados and other islands to Panama to build the Canal, the "colonization in reverse"
from the Anglophone islands and mainland territories into Britain, or later waves of
economic immigration into the US and Canada, uprooting and resettlement have been
a mainstay for Caribbean peoples.
Scholarship on the region and its diaspora has addressed and continues to address
various aspects of past and current migration, but a lot of work still needs to be done,
particularly on the gendered nature of such migration experiences. This issue responds
to that need. One emphasis in some of these entries is the important place of female mi-
grants (a significant number of whom left jobs as teachers, civil servants, etc. in the
Caribbean in the second half of the twentieth century to work as domestics in North
America) in ensuring, through remittances, the economic survival of families and en-
tire nations-even as their departure for other lands often resulted in upheaval and
trauma for them and their families. In the fiction of Caribbean women writers, from
Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy to Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here, the mother-
daughter relationship often functions as the nexus for exploring the impact that mi-
gration has in domestic (personal and national) terms. Sometimes the smallest,
seemingly insignificant detail reveals the most, as is the case in Olive Senior's tightly
wrought and poignant poem "Hook," which leads off the contributions in this issue.
The poem captures a moment of loss in the figure of a mad woman yearning for the
daughter who left for "another shore" years before-the connection between mother
and daughter severed through the latter's infrequent letter writing, leaving the mother
"unhooked"/unhinged. In her uniquely fashioned composition, what she terms "a genre
in the making," Alexis Pauline Gumbs blends family memories with a reading of
Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the Moon in her ruminations on the blue
airmail letter as a symbol of the fragile bonds that generations of Caribbean women
have struggled to forge despite the reality of being scattered far and wide. Death fea-
tures prominently in the two poems by Ramabai Espinet. In "Talking Between the
Rooms," the poetic persona mourns as the news of a friend's death in the Caribbean
comes to her as a "message from the place of no return," while "Evening (After Air
India, 1985)" registers the growing discomfort around air travel and airline safety. In
the short story entry titled "Cold Comfort," Pamela Mordecai offers a richly textured
narrative about a morning of job hunting by a Jamaican recently arrived in Toronto.
The scholarly articles provide readings of a number of female-authored texts that
explore various dimensions of Caribbean diasporic experience in Britain, Canada, and
the US, as well as the place of Africa in contemporary Cuban poetry. Andrea
Medovarski's essay on Fruit of the Lemon by British author Andrea Levy is an astute
critique of the construction of British identity and citizenship from the perspective of
"British-born children of Caribbean immigrants" for whom finding "home" often in-
volves complex personal and political negotiations. Paula Sanmartin reads Nancy
Morej6n's and Georgina Herrera's poetry for evidence of the authors' attempts, de-
spite strong discouragement, to "explore the formation of Black Cuban women's iden-
tity" and "inscribe Africa and notions of race and ethnicity within Cuban national
identity." Diana Brydon's interest in "emotional geographies" and the "emotional
resonances of home within urban, diasporic, and national spaces" leads to an exam-
ination of the works of two Trinidadian-Canadian authors-one Afro-Caribbean, the
other Indo-Caribbean-to "raise questions about possible relationships between Black
Atlantic and Asian diasporic subjectivity [and] Canada/Caribbean relations under glob-
alization." Erna Brodber's Louisiana, a fine but underrated work that links the black
diaspora across the Congo, Jamaica, and parts of the US, is given special attention by
Simone Drake, who reads the anthropological methodology at the centre of the novel
as a black feminist strategy for empowering the marginalized migratory subject. The
book reviews branch out into even wider territory, introducing MaComere readers to
Jamaica Kincaid's recent plant-hunting trek to the Himalayas and the political sig-
nificance of that trip; Evelyn O'Callaghan's study of the place of white women and
their writing in the Caribbean and the region's literary tradition; and a critical
analysis of gender in the fiction of two male writers whose works are "deeply
expressive of West Indian diasporas."
That last quotation could, in fact, be used to describe all the contributions in this
issue. In addition to providing much food for though, Volume 8 (2006) presents a "new
and improved" format for the journal which, it is hoped, will make for greater reading
The woman is standing on the pier leaning over.
Her hands trace imaginary lines to the water.
It's become a habit with her, this wandering
off from Bellevue to seek a face that fillets
her eye-water: that of her daughter,
who set out long ago to make her own
big catch. From another shore she sent a line
or two, now and then. Enough to hook her mother
so that absence becomes the present of a dress
she made for that child. Wish you could see it-
white pique polka dots on blue with a swiss lace collar
and a fastener at the back that a mother must unhook
so the child can take off her one good dress before
she lies down to rest. But you see my trial now, ee?
Just look at this don't care girl that wearing
her good dress there in the water when
she must know is still her old mother with
the arthritis who must hackle up herself
so bend over and tackle this rusty ol'
hook and eye fastener.
MaComtre 8 (2006): 5
And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night-
We talked between the Rooms-
Until the Moss had reached our lips-
And covered up-our names-
-Emily Dickinson (ca. 1862)
At the foot of the mountain, we sat
In an open concrete porch, at an iron table.
I sat with her for hours
She, clutching the thin
Metal bars of her walker
Drinking nothing, attempting
A mask for pain, and worse.
She offered beer, senseless sweetmeats
Crab-backs, sorrel, a jade ring
The rubble of the night's bottles in one corer
A wild array of green plants stuck in pots, jars, any patch.
She waved at the junkyard: Circe's garden, she said
Laughing, an upturned trunk, statuary, a marble slab.
My friend, when did you grow old?
MaComere 8 (2006): 6-9
ESPINET TALKING BETWEEN THE ROOMS
Once a lovely woman you, secure
In the splendour of your armour
Shining hair, teeth, bangles
A voice of variegated tones
You invented, signalling difference
From your appointed life.
Some found them false-those tones-
Still, signalling your own determined
Flight from the lies of happily
Ever after, already mapped for you
Your rebel soul, its heedless beauty
Flying from that deadly smallness
Of all that we knew then, and our people.
My friend, did you lose your way?
Dead at fifty and still good-looking
Was what you wished for
When we floated downstream
From the rock pool, those careless days,
Ran down the mountain at a pace
Not even memory can summon now,
A pace pell-mell and yet so languid,
Time enough for wrangling with
Life's questions through long nights
Of wine and argument, nights
Waiting for the dawn-lighting up
Aripo, Morne Wash, the San Antonio
Valley, no cancer, collapsed joints, lungs.
My friend, how did it end, and so quickly?
When it reached me, the news of your death
I shouted, "No! No! No!" over and over
I wanted to clear it away, its finality
That message from the place of no return.
Only then I understood your phone call
Our conversation two weeks before.
How like old times, I kept saying to everyone
Who cared to listen; I was even on my way out
I explained, but did not go.
Instead, I sat and talked, moving easily
With you across the seas of our voices
Talking between our distant tidal shores
Through the Atlantic, the rooms of our waking.
My friend, did you already know?
You left me a trunk full of letters
I may never see these, lost
In the packing, they tell me
Yet what more remains to be said?
We started from the same ground
(These days, such bonds are holy)
Locked behind the family walls
Glimpsing our freedom through dangerous
Routes, the meanness of time, our parents:
Their hopes, our siblings: their disdain
Neruda and Millay and the Beat Poets
Your own poems of despair
Your faded cabbage roses, the sun-stained paper.
My friend, who built us those walls?
ESPINET TALKING BETWEEN THE ROOMS
We earn our lives, our deaths
And all told, yours was as good as any
There was a man, a kind man
With a plain, practical set of mind
At the end, you recognized the time
You said, "Hold me," and he did
You laid your head on his shoulder
I would have wished for you
Nothing less. You, I think, wished
Nothing more, the substance
Of life ebbing, your faint frame sheltered
In the crook of his shoulder, a solid wall.
That day we talked through rooms of water
My friend, did you say goodbye?
(After Air India, 1985)
And I am so frightened.
What if out of nowhere a plane explodes
What if out of its bowels a sweet stink erupts
And haunts the air, what if an obscene trickster
Gamesome, cruel, eloquent,
Prances by, full of his power to stain
To rent into shards
A crush of innocents?
What if I knew
About it prior to the act, and yet
Powerless to stop its secret motion
What if I am complicit; what if this explosion
Its unyielding smell-blood and sandalwood and sweat
What if it's all I have?
MaComere 8 (2006): 10-12
ESPINET EVENING (AFTER AIR INDIA, 1985)
And I am so frightened.
The cat squats nearby
Reluctant to leave me
She too knows all that there is
My body yields to her knowing
I shake and quiver
If so much is known then who am I
To be ignorant of what I do know?
I know nothing, locked inside
My shell, nothing is intact
And yet, it took so many edges
Seamed together, so many stitches
Not even so many stitches
Managed to make a whole
God how frightened, and of what?
Evening once more, only whispers
And I am still so frightened.
What's to fear when all such things
Like a cold hand staining the sheets
Purple and brown, like vomit easing
Through cracks in hardened phlegm
Like all the sadness, imagined and known
Like all the sadness of waste
What's to fear when all this too is right here?
Now the cat sits, silent
Watching darkness seeping through
The drawn blinds, careful of a rustling
In the night, of too much known
Skin colours on the outside, radiant
With light, with fear, hidden and luminous
Eyes shut, tongues cut, the air in splinters.
Evening comes again, nobody asks a thing
And I am so frightened.
No Ma, No Dearma, No Gran. I swear is not swear I swearing. You see that-
allyou make me so nervous me chatting against myself Me NOTswearing. Me
begging. Begging God.
Jesus self know me have to bawl out to Him for me never feel cold so
in my life. Like me don't have on the big sweater. Like me don't have on no
clothes at all. Me cold so till me don't feel it no more on my skin, don't feel
it in my flesh; it gone through skin and flesh and now it sawing-sawing like
them big-big rata that run in cane field, chawing right through me bones,
drilling me joints like the electric hammer the roadworks people them use to
bruck up asphalt and cement when them fixing leaking pipe and thing.
But see here, Dearma, is what crosses this upon me this day?
Big man dress up into three-piece suit and jacket and tie, and him look
me right in me face and hawk and spit the something straight out him mouth,
so if me never step to one side, the load of nastiness land pon my bodice, and
is the one so-so frock me have decent enough to look work in. Talk truth, me
never see a set of people to hawk and spit so. White oh, brown oh, black oh.
Make no difference. Everybody spitting. To the right, to the left, all about.
Summer oh, winter oh-never mind the season. It make not a difference.
Them just gravel down for the catarrh and, whoosh, fling it out anyhow.
MaComere 8 (2006): 13-20
Alleluia, Jesus. I think I see the place. Bear me up, oh my sweet fam-
ily. But see here, Dearma, poor me thinking that the spit miss me, and look at
this mess. Likl most I never notice it sitting here under my breast.
Oh, my Jesus, is home now me got to go home to clean up me frock and
then come out and start out all over again.
Well I set out once more, with me frock fresh and clean, and I praying
to have some success in my search. Me don't want to sound ungrateful, but it
hard to survive in a place where you can't see a bearing tree, or where a hun-
gry body can't beg a turn breadfruit to boil and make a little dinner.
Mama, Dearma, Gran. Just beg you to pray that this little last chance
will work out.
Must be the grocery shop that over there. Risto say I must cross here,
and then turn to the right.
LOOK OUT, GIRL.
Lord Jesus. Father God Almighty. My heart. My one little tired old
heart. Thanks, Gran. If you never call to me, is dead house them would be
taking mejust now. I never see the car at all. Never see it at all, at all. Them
tell me, "Don't walk till the green light stop blink. Me can't make no sense
of that. If the light turn green, and green mean walk, why me can't walk? Red,
stop; green go; yellow, take time. Now me have to deal with this teasing green
that telling me walk and don't walk at one time.
Four month, three week, two day now, me looking, looking work in
this city so till me can't member now how much establishment me enter, much
less how much man and woman me talk to.
Praise Jesus! I find the right place. "Help Wanted" sign big in the
MORDECAI COLD COMFORT
window, just like Risto say. Do, Father God, just help me through. Help me
to talk up good. Help me to show myself like I have a nose upon my face.
You see Gran, me don forgete. Like you always say, "Anoint the enter-
prise with prayers.
Oh my sweet Jesus, touch my tongue, and touch them heart. Do. Touch
them little squeeze-up heart.
"Good Morning. I see a sign out there say you need help. Please if I
could speak to somebody bout working here?"
Me watching the young gyal face. All now me could write one book
long as Old Testament bout how people face look when them have things in
them mind that them think them smart enough to hide from you and all the
time you knowing so clear the very manner of bad-mindedness that them is
contemplating. She prips and prips and make her way back inside of the place
on some heel that so high her winding backside look like it going lift off like
I know, Gran, I know. But the girl could be my daughter and she look
at me so saucy, so careless. After me not no puss nor dog nor no parking meter
God forgive me, but may she know the day a body look upon her so.
I don't know if I too like this place. It so narrow and long that the
little good sunlight from the big window in the front, never mind it stretch out
itself, it don't reach too far.
See the saucy girl coming back now.
These people don't know "please"? Don't know "Would you care to
take a seat and rest your foot?"
All right, Gran, me hear you. Judge not. Who is me to judge, anyhow?
Me not judging, Gran, just taking me time watching the young woman wind
her big bottom on her way back into the back.
But stop. Is who this fancy man? Pink shirt and purple trousers? Gold
watch? And him plenty blacker than me. Well siree. Live long enough, you see
the devil and some.
"Morning, sir. I see your sign. I come to interview. For cook or wait-
ress, sir. The two of them I sure that I can do."
You see Risto, me hear you good good. Me talking up. Looking this
funny man right in him four eye, for the little cut-off glasses is like front line
soldier bodyguarding the next two behind.
"We do traditional dishes here and we do the unusual too. Do you know
"Know about who cousin, sir? Newvel cousin? Me don't know nobody
name 'Newvel' and for sure me don't know him cousin."
Listen me Gran, just kibba me mouth and hold down me two hand be-
fore me fetch him one clap that will separate him brain box and him skinny
neckfrom thefandangle shirt. This pretty man laughing back of him hand like
me don't have two eye to see that him skinning him teeth. Look here bwoy,
don't annoy me today ...
"Oh, it's all right. Never mind."
"What it is I am to 'Never mind,' sir?"
See here, Ma, Dearma, Gran, in two more minute I going to damage
"So what can you cook?"
MORDECAI COLD COMFORT
"What I can cook, sir? Well, ordinary food: meat, chicken, pork, rice
and peas, vegetables, lay out a very nice salad. And I do bread sir. Not so many
can do bread but I learn at prison. Pleasedontmisunderstandmesir! Me wasn't
into the prison. Never do nothing bad in my life. The prison oven is the one
oven in my country part that could bake bread, sir, so is there me learn to
This man annoying me soul case. Me don't care if is own him own the
place, him can't look pon respectable somebody like them come from dungle.
And look my colour-plenty better than him own, no two way bout that.
"Do you have any waitress experience?"
"Waitress experience, sir? Well, no. I never really do that yet. But I
sure I can learn sir. I does learn very fast."
See, Gran. Telling the level truth, honesty being, as you would say, the
wisest policy. God pikni must not lie.
Puss must be hijack this fancy man tongue. Him have one hand
akimbo, the other one locking up him mout. Ah, hand and mouth moving now.
"Would you like to come through to the back?"
Is vex him vex because him blacker than me make this man adding in-
sult to injury? Now, what difference it make if I walk out the front or the back
of him place? You want bet I tell him two bad word?
Okay Gran. Okay Ma. Okay Dearma. I know. Proverbs say, "A soft
answer turneth away wrath. Me not saying one thing to him. Removing me
brown body quiet out through this back door.
"You would like something to drink? Green tea, or cocoa tea?"
But Gran, Ma, Dearma, the man talking change. Him talking bad
now-just like you andjust like me.
"Which part you come from?"
"What part of Jamaica I come from? Gutters, sir; St. Elizabeth. What
"Port Royal born and grow."
"Imagine that. My mother father family come from there, but is not re-
ally a place that I rightly know."
"Look, ma'am. I don't have a job for you. Not now. You look like a
hard worker so I'm really sorry. Why don't you come back in another four
months at the start of the warm weather, that's if you are still free? In the
meantime I'm going to take the liberty of offering you a few little tips, if I
"Well I guess it can't do me no harm. And this is nice warm cocoa tea.
And outside it is cold as the blooming South Pole and in here I enjoying your
heating for free."
"Listen ma'am. Is just this. Is plain you come from decent family, but
the 'please' and the 'sir' and the 'pardon me' not good currency. Not here in
these white people place. You get me? These people navel string cut pon one
thing: money. You have something to sell that them need? That is cool. You
have nose on your face and once you open you mouth them will see you is no-
body fool. But you need to sound crufty-a little bit rough. You name neyga
already. Is no good if you soft. Them will trample on you till your back and
belly meet. Them will work you till you stupid and you falling off your feet.
You have to be ready. You must know to fight. Look civil but hard. Don't
smile till you know that you have them right into the palm of your hand."
MORDECAI COLD COMFORT
Gran, you think I could talk out my mind? You think I could sort of
TRY AND SEE.
"You finish your tea, ma'am? What about a next cup? No, you just sit
right there-don't bother get up, not just yet. Rest there for a bit. Look out-
side. You can see for yourself that the Devil, him wife, and the worst of him
kin having one free-for-all with the snow and the wind."
"Well, I see what you saying, sir. It blowing real bad. But is best I be
going, fore it get plenty worse cold. Is three hard thing to be in this place-a
woman that's black, and that's old."
"That's another thing, ma'am. Not to take liberty and fast with your
business, but it don't do up here to think nor to talk about 'old.' You see all
them pretty grey streak on your head? Them must go under cover till you draw
CPP. Get a wig or a bottle of Clairol, you hear? I myself will confess, I bestow
now and then a small helping hand to what God give me."
"Well I telling you, them things would have to come free till I find a
job. I does have some experience with hairdressing, too. I work in a parlour
one long time ago."
"For true? Well, you see that? What a good thing you talk. Just a block
down that way-a very short walk-a friend with a parlour is needing some
help. A big lady. She white, but she sound as a drum. Drink her hot ginger tea
and take a small rum when it cold. She is one I could quick recommend. You
want to go by? I will call, say you coming. Don't do no harm to try. When you
done, you could pass back and say how you fare."
Well, you see that now, Ma and Dearma and Gran? I guess in this life
we all live and we learn. And I thankyoufor grabbing so hard on my handfor
I little most clap him, you know ... And look how him treat me, no mind him
dress pretty. You would think I should know not to judge by the outward, but
look to the heart.
See me here one more time, with this light teasing green. I going step
when I ready. Any man think him bad, make him touch the Lord's temple.
Must be that parlour there. And you know, I forget to ask the man name. Well,
pardon me, sir. I really feel shame. Anyhow, I going pass back, no mind what's
the news. Is my first real connection that I make, on my own. Praise the Lord.
And enough thank-you, Ma, Dearma and Gran. Like the gentleman say, "Noth-
ing tried, nothing done."
"Good Morning, young miss. My friend up the road make me to know
the lady in charge here is needing some help. And him say he would call her.
Please ask if is so. You don't mind if I sit here till you go and come back?
And just one more thing. Out there it well cold, so please see with me: You
does have a washroom where I could make a small pee?"
Oh, mi Lord! You see that, Ma, Dearma and Gran! Me drop me man-
ners, rights braps pon the ground. Me don't tell the Lord thanks, don't say no
thanks to you three! Lord Jesus save! Look how me reach white people coun-
try and turn bad behave!
JUST YOU WATCH HOW YOU GOING CHILE ... ALL RIGHT?
DEAGELAR MA ..COMERE: DISPERSED
DAUGHTERHOOD AND QUEER DESIRE-
A BLUE AIRMAIL LETTER
ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS
Abstract (for true): This is not exactly a scholarly article. This is exactly not a schol-
arly article. This a blue airmail letter to the women who create my voice by reading this.
This is a prayer to ma, ma, ma, my ... This is a prayer to my primary audience.' This
(girl) is made possible by Dionne Brand's "blue airmail letter." This response is made
impossible by deadlines and lifelines.
This is an exercise in dispersal.
This generically lost piece of writing about diaspora is what I can send to the
women with whom I am associated by blood, by birth, by body, by breaking,
by bravery-if at all. This is literally abstract and may be impos-
sible to publish.2 This is insistence that writing is already an impossible ges-
ture across space and time. The queer desire to make you know what I mean
never migrates properly. It only disperses. Literally, this is a paper, given in
faith at the 10th Conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers
and Scholars, that stubbornly refused to transform into a scholarly article de-
spite months of labour/pain. This is an unplanned commitment to a genre in
the making called "letters I cannot write." This is all of these things, and fails
to be any one. But this is for you. This love is a queer thing.
This is something blue, something deep, something crossed over and
crossed out. This is something blue, something pleading and repeating in the
MaComere 8 (2006): 21-34
key of a loss that cannot be recovered. This is something thin, something that
does not prepare skin for cold weather, even the twenty-third time. This is a
pasted corer, the space between Clarendon and London, between Kingston
and New York, between San Fernando and Toronto, between Fern Gully and
Miami and back and back and back. This is the etymology of diaspora. This
is a study in falling apart. This is an impossible letter home.
In Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the Moon daughters are
sent away, daughters leave, daughterhood is dispersed. That sentence over-
used the passive voice. The first editor would say, "Make it active: 'Dionne
Brand disperses daughterhood."' But no, daughterhood is already dispersed.
From passive to active again: economic inequity, the persistent enslavement
of women of color, the normalization of sexual abuse; the unsafety of being a
black woman anywhere on this planet, coupled with a continual desire by
black women for something else, makes it impossible to be a mother, impos-
sible to have-to be-a daughter. The central violence of an old and contin-
uing capitalist global order means that to be a mother, to be a daughter, to
invoke family at all is to keep on falling apart. To create a girl, to be a girl, to
love a girl is to confront the totalizing logic of a world structured on rape. No-
tice that my verbs have become infinitive. We live in a world in which it is im-
possible to love our mothers, yet we do it anyway. We live in a world in which
it is impossible to love ourselves, but we do it somehow. We live in a world
in which it is impossible for a woman to love a woman, but I love you. That
is the queer thing. This paper reframes diaspora politics as something queer
and impossible. The politics of diaspora is this right here. Dear Mama, I will
fall apart again and again and again out of love for you.
Lest you misunderstand, I should let you know that this letter is not a
rallying cry or a mourning chant for a motherland. This letter says instead that
mothers have no land, so when daughters land it is on borrowed and hostile
ground. This paper says that black diasporic daughterhood marks the impos-
sibility of inheritance and the persistence of trauma. This paper says that queer
desire is everything that we want and everything that the oppressive logics of
GU MBS DEAGELAR MA...COMERE
nation, capitalism, and globalization say that we cannot have. I seek to inter-
vene into the discourses of black diaspora and heteronormative motherhood
by looking closely at the phenomenon of dispersed daughterhood as experi-
enced by black women from the Caribbean. Focussing on gendered ex-
periences of economically compelled emigration, this letter challenges the
underlying masculinism of the narrative of black diasporic movement and re-
veals what a queer thing it is to project a daughter across time and space.
Dionne Brand fundamentally queers motherhood and diaspora (or reveals that
both of these concepts are already queer) when she represents the relation-
ships between mothers and daughters in a temporality and spatiality of collec-
tive and individual trauma. By presenting rival logics of time and space in the
coping strategies and manias of her female characters, Brand both represents
and responds to the violence of dispersal in the figure of the blue airmail let-
ter-that impossible letter home.
Dear Ma . dear Ma ... dear Madame Dionne,
I want you to know that at best I am way beyond help ... because writ-
ing you cannot be writing home. But it comes close enough to trick me into
hope, because you lend me the madness to think I could one day understand
my mother and my grandmother You make me think I may one day be satis-
fied with not knowing what comes before that because my mother survived on
small doses of love in airmailed letters that could only fail.
What I mean is that everything almost makes sense when you say it. The
bare fact is I can only link my mother to my grandmother through a reaching
narrative of difficulty and blue airmail letters sending domestic work wages
to a place that could never again be home; and Madame Dionne, you make
me wonder if these types of links, buttressed only by the coincidence of biol-
ogy, can sustain. Today, Nana can't accept this thin, eager body of mine that
knows envelopes are too thin to hold anything but pocket money. Envelopes
are too thin to hold love. Mama holds my bones for dear life, for dear me,
because circa 1965 those thin envelopes postmarked New York City that Nana
sent were all she could afford to expect; at 1-years old, Mama transubstan-
tiated her Kingston local beatings into Jackson 5 global rhythms because the
next letter might have said, "Dearest Darling Daughter of Mine, This letter
includes no pocket money; this letter is the end of all letters. This has all been
a terrible mistake. I am outside the door. I am here. You are home. I refuse a
world that steals my love from you. I refuse a world in which a little girl can-
not afford the mere presence of her only mother I refuse the inadequacy of let-
ters after this moment. We are home together now. What I witnessed came
after this never quite happened. By 1995 we were all three generations living
precariously in one South Florida house, with three separate 'phone lines,
stuck in the glamour of distance. Mama said Nana never quite understood:
"That wasn't what I wanted. I never wanted the money. I never even spent it.
I just held it and waited. I gave it to my brothers after they wasted theirs. I
never wanted the money. I just wanted my mother. "3
A letter means we cannot afford each other. So Dear Ma, Madame
Dionne, I wanted to thank you for invoking the true fiction of daughters dis-
persed, for saying that diaspora is not merchant ships and scholarship boys.
Diaspora is the secret proofthat the domestic is unworkable, unavailable, un-
affordable; and I want to know why you bother if this economy of loss goes
back hundreds ofyears. Here is the answer I want (so you know): Because we
are not alone in wanting the impossible, the dangerous, the simple unspeak-
able in our tongue. Because we see impossibility in each other and we are
beautiful in our foolishness for loving anyway.
(This) love . is (the queer thing.)
Dear damn, damned, damned diaspora,
We are heavy bodies, performing mobility, drowning in water that we
cannot drink. Salt water here is not the ocean that divides the chosen people
GUMBS DEAGELAR MA...COMERE
from the motherland. Salt water here is the clogged passage of tears in the
bodies of women who cannot mourn the loss because they cannot afford the
maintenance. They are paradoxically drenched and thirsty, which means some
part of the story is missing. Someone fatally forgot to mention the salt, the
state of our bodies, the mythological languages created to normalize abuse,
as if that is what we were madefbr This story is about modern humanism-
undrinkable, pro-creative, reproductive of itself but profoundly infertile.
Diaspora politics is falling apart. Like a wet paper bag. Diaspora the-
ory is falling apart. What use is a term designed to provoke some sort of
transnational solidarity when every time I see the word I immediately dis-
agree, disidentify, and disperse? The term diaspora, like the various peoples
to whom the term would refer, has been misnamed, abused, used for all man-
ner of violent and irresponsible purposes not its own. Or at least not my own,
which is the point, I think. Diaspora, rising into political and academic vogue
as a heritage-specific way to describe the globalization that we-scholars,
activists-rush to say something brilliant, something total, something true
about, has become a hot commodity and has turned us into the same. Thus the
relevance, thus the treachery of the particularity called black or African dias-
pora. Diaspora has become a name to describe the manner in which people
have been scattered such that they become ownable, killable, unmournable.
Diaspora has become a state of absolute dispossession, has-in our desper-
ation for political and academic coherence-become property. Diaspora has
become a way to assign naturalized properties to displaced people, indeed to
own people, containing trauma in a portable transnationalized package.
Articulations of diaspora that only represent transnational exchange
not only do violence to the local particularities of diasporic experience; they
also betray a masculinism that bases modern mobility on the violability of
women. Theorists of black diaspora from Richard Wright to Paul Gilroy min-
imize and feminize the formative experience of black diaspora, the forcing of
Africans onto slave ships, into death, rape, infanticide etc., while emphasiz-
ing and masculinizing diaspora as a black interface with modernity in the fig-
ures of black sailors, black soldiers, brilliant black male artists, and writers
in exile.4 Brand refuses this embrace of the militaristic, nationalist norms of
oppression as misinformed grabs at male privilege by those who cannot
And I cannot afford this. Although the OED suggests some sort ofin-
terchangeability between diaspora and dispersion, I want to insist on the dif-
ferent functions of the different noun forms derived from the verb "to
disperse." Diaspora is an ongoing state of being, an action in the past that we
continue to experience. Dispersal is a specific disruptive and intentional ac-
tion in the present related to a future outcome. Although both diaspora and
dispersal are nouns, it is important that you can see and hear the verb "dis-
perse" in the term dispersal, whereas diaspora seems distant from the action
that it describes and exists within. I am seeking to release the potential for ac-
tion in this experience of diasporic perpetuity by characterizing diaspora as a
continuum of moments of enacted and potential dispersal.
I am distinguishing between diaspora, as an already existing and con-
tinuing experience of falling apart and dispersal, which can be reclaimed as the
potential of the ideological scattering of the fictions of nation state, and repro-
ductive subjectivity through the representation of persistent trauma and terri-
fying desire. In this sense, diaspora is to dispersal what trauma is to terror.
Trauma is an ongoing condition or state that refers back to an earlier
violence, much in the manner of diaspora. I would argue that trauma is the
best descriptor of the ontological experience of diaspora. Although most the-
orists track diaspora through the movement of a group of people from one
place to another, Brand represents diaspora as the ontological experience of
trauma caused by perpetual economic and violence-inflected displacement.
In that sense, an indigenous population that has been economically displaced
and exploited is diasporic. Their lives and their subjectivity have been dis-
persed and they continue to fall apart (think of Native Americans, Palestini-
ans, and black peoples in Africa). So to be clear, in my definition, one is a
GUMBS DEAGELAR MA...COMERE
diasporic subject if one's livelihood has been stolen, and that includes the theft
of one's children and the theft of one's body itself. My definition of diaspora
does not center on movement and heritage; my definition of diaspora describes
an ongoing violence in which heritage is a queer fiction. Although most dias-
pora studies scholars highlight diaspora as an alternative to the logic of nation,
I want to be clear about the way in which dispersal, an intentional act of vio-
lence and diaspora, the state that this violence produces, actually sustains and
reaffirms the power of First World nations at the cost of"other" sites. Military
coups, economic sanctions, resource grabs and imposed debt are all methods
of dispersal, the means through which First World nations cause diaspora as
an ongoing condition. They cause sites in the Caribbean, Latin America,
Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East and so on to fall apart in order to in-
crease their own national capital, credit, and labour leverage. This is not new.
This has been called the transatlantic slave trade; this has been called colonial-
ism; this has been called neoliberal globalization; and this is the precondition
for the diaspora that I am most interested in: the falling apart of daughters
away from and into mothers from the Caribbean into the global north and
back. If diaspora politics is falling apart, this scattering produces queer de-
sires on the level of our individual bodies. We want our particular falling apart
to be recognized. We wish we could agree to love each other for who we are.
This (love) is the queer thing.
According to Eula's blue airmail letter to a woman who is only identi-
fied as "Dear Mama" in Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the Moon,
mothers send daughters "somewhere beyond where anything you knew could
harm them" (228).5 This process works up and down the Americas. In Brand's
case, a Trinidadian mother sends her daughter to Toronto for education and
work. This daughter has an unplanned pregnancy and sends her own daugh-
ter to Trinidad to be raised by her mother. In each case, mothers send
daughters away from the oppression that they know and into an oppression
that they cannot even imagine. In and beyond the novel, Caribbean daughters
sent away face sexual abuse, labour injustice, tenuous immigration status, ha-
rassment on and off the job, and susceptibility to HIV and mental illness.
Dionne Brand uses the "blue airmail letter" as a dominant genre of "writing
home" that reveals a persistent homelessness and the trauma of diaspora. The
greeting "Dear Mama" becomes a form of melancholic connection that dis-
rupts logics of progressive time and inheritance. The orality of these letters,
which must be read aloud due to the literacy gap between generations of
Caribbean women, reveals a mode of same-sex co-production that replaces
the assumed reproductive function of patriarchal family structure; and the let-
ter, wrapped in the blue airmail envelope, itself comprises a Middle Passage
and models a resistant logic of time, space, and connection that refuses to re-
produce a violent status quo and insists instead on radical accountability.
Because she seeks to articulate something that is not articulable within
the existing narrative, Brand must employ what Edouard Glissant would call
a "forced poetics," a mode of writing in which the violence of dispossession
appears in order to protest the structures that silence the desired articulation.
The desire, however, is present regardless of how inarticulate the articulation.
For Glissant, the "situation of the spoken" is characterized by the violence of
reproductive theft. The use of reproductive labor to produce profit for the slave
master is the epitome of dispossession.6 However, whereas for Glissant
"forced poetics" is a provisional and subordinate form that may lead to a "nat-
ural poetics," I want to assert that what Glissant is calling "forced poetics" is
actually a queer positioning in which reproductive family is impossible and the
"natural" is revealed as a desired fiction that perpetuates the theft of subjec-
tivity and reproduces a relationship of exploitation and subjugation. The "nat-
ural" relationship between language and colonized peoples that Glissant
imagines is still a procreative language, described through metaphors of bio-
logical reproduction in which men are properly national not only because they
can own the products of their speech, but also because they can predict and
claim the products of the formerly unpredictable, feminized bodies of women.
GUMBS DEAGELAR MA...COMERE
The "natural" in this sense is forced to reproduce masculine power over vio-
lable feminized bodies with no more than a change in positions.
Glissant's stated desire in his exploration of "natural" and "forced po-
etics" is national consciousness and self-determination, a future moment in
which "the Martinican community is able to really speak for itself' (134). In
order to argue for the somewhat messianic possibility of this future moment
of natural poetic alignment, he deploys a sustained analogy between the de-
velopment of natural consciousness and reproduction and birth in nature. He
tells us that "in the pace of Creole speech, one can locate the embryonic
rhythm of the drum" (124). This reference to a pre-natal rhythm implies her-
itage and reproduction, backwards and forwards. Not only does this phrasing
predict the eventual birth of a "natural poetics," it also contextualizes that
birth as part of a naturalized African heritage. Glissant goes on to explain that,
in regard to the oral genre of the folktale, nationalnl consciousness is budding
in the tale, but it does not burst into bloom" (125). He thus appropriates nat-
ural imagery to illustrate the absence of landscape in the folktale, which he de-
scribes earlier as "a place you pass through, it is not yet a country" (130-31).
Thus, Glissant creates a natural progression from crossroads to nation as from
bud to flower. This reproductive analogy exceeds itself and reveals a mas-
culinist heritage-based teleology that is a hidden desire within the logic of
The "natural poetics" that Glissant argues for as the goal and the ap-
paratus of national consciousness and self-determined community expression
is biological heritage itself. "Natural poetics" can only be derived from a
fecund (and imaginary) past, and will manifest itself as the ability of a com-
munity to reproduce itself through words. The example exceeds its exem-
plarity. In Glissant's analysis, the ability of the community to express itself and
articulate its own destiny is conflated with the ability to participate in the
process of biological reproduction. In this case, a "natural poetics"-this logic
through which community voice would emerge-exists within the context of
a masculine subject who must produce a legitimate line (in the verbal,
written and genealogical sense); and the ability of masculine subjects to repro-
duce legitimate offspring requires the containment and control of women.
The problem of "forced poetics," then, is a problem of infertility.
Glissant's explanation of this infertility, through its subsumption of the femi-
nine subject and the female body, reveals his nationalist vision as a familiar
negotiation of force. For Glissant, alienation from reproductive self-
determination is the precondition for "forced poetics." He explains the situa-
tion of enslaved speech: "Self-expression is not only forbidden, but impossi-
ble to envision. Even in his reproductive function, the slave is not in control
of himself. He reproduces, but it is for the master" (122; emphasis added). In
simple terms, this scene of reproductive abjection is rape. I would agree with
Glissant that the theft of bodily autonomy through reproductive exploitation
is central to a capitalist framework that violently silences the oppressed. How-
ever, an important figure in this scene of reproductive theft, rape, and the trans-
formation of children into vessels of forced labour is missing. Glissant stalls
on the figure of the shamefully feminized Martinican man and articulates a vi-
sion through which this feminized, colonized, enslaved man can become prop-
erly masculine. He does not address the trajectories of women, and indeed
femaleness can only be a liability in his analysis. The absence of the female
subject within the context of foreclosed self-expression here is also significant
because in Glissant's utopia, a nationalist framework in which heritage is in-
tact and male subjects have the ability to speak and to own their procreation,
the woman is still in the position of reproducing for the master. The difference
is that in this case the "master" is the black nationalist patriarch. This patri-
arch's self-expression still depends on the profound bodily and vocal alien-
ation of many Martinicans. Not all Martinicans will be able to speak for
themselves in this model. Therefore, the terms of Glissant's vision disable the
possibility of his vision. This is the typical case of the situation of "forced
poetics." Capitalist rape forces Glissant to articulate his vision in a language
that reproduces this situation of rape in another form.
Brand, however, applies a counterpoetic strategy as an end in itself.
GUMBS DEAGELAR MA...COMERE
Instead of progressing towards the properly natural (or national), her use of the
"blue airmail letter" and the alternative relationship to time, family, and lan-
guage it implies reframe diaspora through the representation of trauma. Both
Eula (the daughter sent to Toronto) and Bola (the daughter that Eula sends
back to Trinidad) refuse to respect the logic of time. Eula writes a letter to her
mother after her death with the queer greeting: "Dear Mama, hope you are
well and enjoying the best of health." This greeting is not only queer because
obviously the mother is dead and beyond the possibility of health, but also
because the traumatic content and form of Eula's letter suggests that even dur-
ing life health is something that has been foreclosed. In this case, maybe death
itself is the ironic "best of health." Eula, who left home to escape both the
economic despair of Trinidad and sexual abuse by her older brother, writes in
her letter that she experiences the world (via Toronto) as sickeningly wet and
constantly decaying. She is reliving and responding to the perpetual Middle
Passage by creating her own deep blue space to pass through-the airmail let-
ter home. However, Eula's desire to write home is impossible. Not only is the
mother she writes to dead and the house she was raised in abandoned, but on
the collective level home does not exist for diasporic subjects. She cannot
write home as a place to return to. She can only imagine home as a queer and
Later on in the novel, Bola, Eula's estranged daughter, refuses to accept
the death of the same "Dear Mama," who she assumes is her own mother.
Bola demonstrates an extreme denial that progresses to mental illness when
she refuses to acknowledge the movement of time and becomes a grown mad-
woman who continues to wear her schoolgirl uniform. Despite aging and
growing out of the uniform, she continues to speak to the ghost of the bio-
logical grandmother whom she calls "our mother," unknowingly referring to
the fact that she and her birth mother have been repetitions of each other,
raised by the same mother and subject to the same melancholia. Bola, who is
also a repetition of her great grandmother-also named Bola, and whose
mother, the slave rebellion leader Marie Ursule, sent her into solitary mar-
roonage almost a century earlier-appears to me to be Brand's representation
of the queerly ethical approach to diaspora. Bola refuses to mourn, refuses to
exchange one moment for the next and so stops time. Whereas another "sis-
ter" raised by "Dear Mama" repeats over and over again, "Well that is the end
of that" (265) at "Dear Mama's" deathbed, funeral and interment, Bola says,
"I never believed that that was the end of that" (266). She stays true to this be-
lief by inhabiting both the gravesite of her mother and the empty house that
her "sisters," probably biological aunts, are selling. Bola is the ridiculous but
compelling embodiment of a diasporic desire to cover over the irrevocable
rupture with any mother/land. Whereas Sophocles' Antigone (that other model
of impossible ethics) is buried alive for choosing the burial laws of the gods
over the tyranny of Kreon, Bola is entombed within her own psyche, simul-
taneously living a fantasy of eternal life and eternal connection to an ubiqui-
tous mother and embodying stasis and death, never progressing towards
reproductivity, instead become a disturbance, an exception that makes logic
fall apart-a queer girl.
Bola's relationship to language demonstrates this denial and discon-
nection. While reading the posthumous blue airmail letter that Eula has sent,
Bola insists that many "g's" and "l's" are missing. She reads aloud a garbled
version of the letter's queer greeting, further revealing its queerness and im-
possibility: "Deagelar Magalama, Hogolope yogolo argarla wegelell" (284).
This hope that Mama is well takes its proper place outside the logic of the
world that we know, the world that overworked her until she just got so tired
she died. Bola's case reveals the temporality of trauma through which diaspora
manifests in the contemporary world. We, dispersed daughters, experience di-
aspora as the collective, traumatic, everyday renewal of a violence that has
been repeating in different forms (start anywhere: the crusades, the slave trade,
colonialism, rape and rape again), much in the way that individual survivors
of sexual assault repress but relive everyday the violence they experience.
By representing diaspora through specifically gendered experiences of
trauma, Brand demands that we imagine non-violent ways to connect to each
GUMBS DEAGELAR MA...COMERE
other, even if it means violating the logics of space, time, inheritance and
progress that keep us in (our) place. The blue airmail letter, or the imaginative
process of writing/creating home, is a model for how this connection might
occur. The blue airmail letter is a mode of connection that inherently rejects
and reverses inheritance. It is the economic means through which grown up
daughters send money home for their mothers, and for the daughters that they
have sent away. It is the communicative means though which daughters repro-
duce love backwards through language. Remedially educated young daughters
and granddaughters embody the projected voice of the older daughters, or
their own mothers, by reading these letters to their illiterate addressees.
Dear literate lover, MaComere,
In my view, these blue airmail letters are always poetic because they
reach towards an impossible connection; they seek to defy the absolute
separation imposed by capitalist time; they even refuse to be limited by death,
reminding us that to live is to fall apart, to break pieces of ourselves off and
send them in the direction oflove. And the queer politics ofdiaspora is the way
we insist on loving each other the way we keep demanding a world that loves
1. Dear Ifeona Fulani: Thank you for reminding me that I have a primary
2. Dear Hyacinth Simpson: Thank you for even taking the time to consider
3. Dear Ivy Wilson: Thank you for encouraging me to weave my personal
history into this attempt.
4. Dear Donette A. Francis: Thank you for pushing me to think about the
distinctions between exile and diaspora. For further discussion on this topic,
see Richard Wright's Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of
Pathos and Paul Gilroy's The BlackAtlantic: Modernity and Double Con-
5. Dear Madame Dionne: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. All
paginated citations are from Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the
Moon. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
6. Dear Mara DeGenarro, Maleda Belilgne, Anne Gulick, and Erin
Feshkens: Thank you for sustained discussions about the complexity of
Brand, Dionne. At the Full and Change of the Moon. Toronto: Grove Press,
Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.
Glissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Trans. J. Michael
Dash. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1989.
Wright, Richard. Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land ofPathos.
New York: Harper, 1954.
"I KNEW THIS WAS ENGLAND":
MYTHS OF RETURN IN ANDREA LEVY'S
FRUIT OF THE LEMON
IfEnglishness does t define me, then redefine Englishness.
Andrea Levy, qtd. in Maya Jaggi, "Redefining Englishness"
The desire to make art out of being both black and English...
should be seen as part of the long, micro-political task of
recoding the cultural core of national life.
-Paul Gilroy, Small Acts
Fruit of the Lemon (1999) occupies a significant place in Andrea Levy's body
of writing. Like her earlier novels, Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994)
and Never Far From Nowhere (1996), it focuses on a second generation
female protagonist whose parents migrated to England from
Jamaica. But, while her first two novels are set almost entirely on council es-
tates on the outskirts of London, her third novel explores the ambivalent re-
lationships black Britons may-or may not-have to an elsewhere, and as
such it anticipates some of the migratory concerns she takes up in her most re-
cent novel, Small Island (2004). Fruit of the Lemon focuses on a young black
Englishwoman named Faith Jackson and her struggles to situate herself within
hegemonic constructions of the British nation. The first of the novel's three
sections is set in England, while the second section centres on her first trip to
Jamaica, the country her parents continue to call home. Through Faith's travel,
Levy tests the myth of "return" and finds it an inadequate paradigm through
MaComere 8 (2006): 35-66
which to frame the experiences of second generation black Britons. Demyth-
ologizing the notion of a Caribbean "homeland," Levy also rejects this prem-
ise as a route to belonging or identity for British-born children of Caribbean
migrants. Faith's trip demonstrates that she must learn to inhabit England in
complex ways, and the novel works instead to "redefine Englishness," not
only for migrants and their descendants, but also for the nation as a whole. In
Cartographies ofDiaspora, Avtar Brah articulates the UK as a diaspora space,
arguing that this concept "foregrounds the entanglement of genealogies of dis-
persion with those of staying put" (16). Only once Faith acknowledges these
messy entanglements can she begin to come to terms with England's colonial
legacies and attempt to negotiate a place for herself within the nation.
The novel is set in the early to mid-1980s, a period of "rediscovered
nationalism" (Golbourne 59) in Britain that drove the conservative
Thatcherist politics of the decade. At the outset of the narrative, Faith, a uni-
versity-educated woman in her early twenties, lives an unquestioningly as-
similationist life, insistently asserting her Englishness in a highly charged
political context wherein blackness was actively written out of the nation. She
appears uninterested in her family's Jamaican background, and has just moved
in with three white flatmates while pursuing a career at the BBC in London.
After a brief prologue which narrates the early life of her parents, Wade and
Mildred, in Jamaica, and their arrival in England in 1948, Part I opens with
Faith's reference to their unusual obsession: "My parents' hobby was collect-
ing empty boxes. They'd been doing it for years" (15). Their unending con-
versations about the merits of various types of boxes speaks to their sense of
unsettlement in London, even after living there for over thirty years and own-
ing a home for nearly twenty. They are a sharp contrast to Faith's friend and
flatmate, Marion, whose entire extended family of "indigenous" white Britons
"had all lived in the same street for generations" (93). While Marion's family
have not always owned their own homes either, they feel a sense of entitlement
to their neighbourhood and to the nation that eludes Faith's parents. But at the
beginning of the novel, Faith, perhaps surprisingly, shares in this sense of
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
being "settled" in England despite her parents' migratory history. When her fa-
ther explains the reason for their box collection by announcing, "Your mum
and me are thinking of going back home" (44), Faith is confused: "I thought
of our old council flat where Carl and me had grown up. Although we had
lived in Crouch End for years, it was the crumbling flat in Stoke Newington
that I thought of as home" (44). Her inability, or unwillingness, to understand
persists through several more miscommunications. She first believes her par-
ents have lost all their money, then assumes that they plan to go back to
Jamaica only for a holiday. When she finally comprehends that they intend a
permanent return, Faith is angry and confused by what she perceives to be
their sudden nostalgia. Wondering repeatedly "Why Jamaica? Why is Jamaica
home?" (45), she asks this of herself as much as of her parents. Faith's anger
reflects her refusal of a familial narrative in which she is, by association, also
cast as an outsider to the nation of her birth. But her denial of her family's
connection to any place outside of England also indicates her complicity in a
national narrative that can only understand belonging in singular terms.
Seemingly unaware of the global forces that have brought her and her
family to this place, or of the extent to which the nation's colonial history im-
pacts nearly every facet of her life, Faith must learn to question her compla-
cency. Her understanding of her place in England undergoes a significant shift
in the first section of the novel; her employment at the BBC, her visit to the
country house of her flatmate, Simon, and her witnessing of a violent, racially
motivated attack on an alternative bookstore all reveal Faith's increasing dis-
trust of both unofficial and institutionalized narratives of the nation. Together,
these events force her to confront dominant constructions of "Englishness"
and the ways they operate in both tangible and symbolic ways to exclude her.
Whereas she begins the novel appearing to be as "settled" as Marion, each of
these three episodes works to un-settle Faith, gradually forcing her to realize
that she cannot occupy the nation on the same terms as her white friends. As
Paul Gilroy observes in Small Acts, "blackness and Englishness are con-
structed as incompatible, mutually exclusive terms. To speak of the British or
English people is to speak of the white people" (27). Because Faith is unable
to fit herself into this racialization of nationality, she must instead work to un-
pack the implications of such singular constructions. This pluralized reartic-
ulation of national identity has been one of the guiding premises of Levy's
corpus. As she argues in "This is My England," an article she wrote for The
Guardian in the same month Fruit of the Lemon was published, "Englishness
must never be allowed to attach itself to ethnicity."
When Faith begins working at the BBC, she is, initially, unconcerned
that she is merely a cog in the wheel of one of the nation's most powerful cre-
ative institutions and most public arbiters of British culture. Few other cultural
institutions play as significant a role as the BBC in scripting national hege-
monies. But, as Baror Hesse observes, "Part of the difficulty with dominant
cultural formations of Britain is the inability or reluctance of its institutions to
accept that European racism was and is a constitutive feature of British nation-
alism" (18). This racism, immediately evident in Faith's treatment and inter-
action with colleagues and supervisors, is also a significant aspect of the
BBC's history as one of the ideological tools of Empire. In its role as an ex-
porter of British culture, tastes and values in its broadcasts to the outposts of
Empire during colonial and postcolonial times, the BBC, as Dionne Brand
recollects in A Map to the Door ofNo Return, was also a means through which
to remind its overseas subjects "that you are living elsewhere" (13); and that,
in the case of the Caribbean, "[y]ou are living on an island, banished or un
inhabited" (13). Levy comments on the links between the BBC's current prac-
tices and the nation's colonial history through the imagery used to describe the
building itself and Faith's experiences there. The novel's construction of set-
ting and event comprises a richly symbolic critique of the BBC's centrality to
the cultural processes and significations that marginalize Faith.
The building is portrayed as a microcosm of the nation, a "citadel of
entertainment" (30), its borders carefully guarded from outsiders by security
guards at the gates. Those who wish to enter must carry a pass or other form
of official identification. In her first position as a wardrobe assistant, Faith's
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
supervisor, Henry, makes several passing references that gesture to a long his-
tory of racialized servitude. When Faith arrives at the wardrobe department on
her first day, Henry inquires, "Are you for me?" (34), a framing of the ques-
tion that evokes connotations of ownership-not just of Faith's labour but also
of her entire person. She is immediately cast as both invisible and hyper-
visible when Henry promptly forgets she is in the room, and then, upon re-
membering her presence, carefully controls the way she is allowed to occupy
space by only allowing her to sit in one specific chair. He also tells her, "We're
like a family here, Faith" (36), evoking historical rhetoric of the plantation
"family." When she eventually moves to another department to be a dresser,
her brother Carl is unimpressed with her new job description, telling her, "A
bit like being a servant I couldn't do that" (139). These echoes of servitude
prey upon Faith, gradually melding into her memories. The images are remi-
niscent of Faith's first reference to her parents' arrival in Britain in which her
classmates' cruel taunting of "Your mum and dad came on a banana boat"
(3) gradually blurs in her mind to "your mum and dad came on a slave ship"
(4). In both instances, the references draw attention to legacies of forced mi-
gration, slavery and colonization which have been submerged by mainstream
discourses, but which nonetheless haunt her daily personal interactions. Dur-
ing the first section of the novel, such historical erasures become increasingly
evident to Faith, contributing to her growing unease within the English
Faith's move from the wardrobe department to her job as a dresser in-
vokes some of the crudest examples of racial prejudice in the novel, yet Faith
is initially reluctant to accept that such behaviour can take place at the BBC.
She applies for the position amidst warnings from her colleagues that no black
dressers have ever been hired. During her job interview, she is rendered in-
eligible, her two male interviewers arguing that she is simultaneously
overqualified yet lacking in experience. After a ridiculous exchange in which
she is told that her job evaluations indicate she walks too slowly, Faith con-
fronts them and is told repeatedly, "There is no discrimination going on in this
department" (109). Reluctant to face their complicity in racialized power
structures, the two men are much more interested in where Faith heard the
"rumour" that there are no black dressers than in Faith's concerns. As Paul
Gilroy points out in Postcolonial Melancholia, racial nationalism too often
goes unrecognized in "the anonymous, pin-striped indifference of those who
might not profess their commitment to race hierarchy...but whose actions in-
stitutionalize it nonetheless" (124). After the disturbing events of her job in-
terview, Faith is nonetheless awarded the position as dresser. But, whereas
black female slaves and servants historically engaged in extensive corporeal
interaction with white women, nursing and dressing them and providing other
forms of physical caretaking, Faith instead contends with twentieth century
segregationist attitudes which have striven to maintain spatial distance be-
tween black and white bodies. After weeks of waiting for a show call, the un-
spoken assumption that she should not be allowed to dress the white actors
culminates in her being awarded a job dressing puppets for a children's pro-
Partly because of the anxieties she encounters at work, Faith agrees to
go away for a weekend with her flatmate, Simon, to his parents' house in the
country, where they both hope for "some peace and quiet" (114). This lan-
guage of restful relaxation reflects their desire for escapism; however, their
countryside destination, widely regarded as the epitome of "true Englishness,"
ensures that this is impossible. As Katherine McKittrick points out in Demonic
Grounds, "the idea that space 'just is,' and that space and place are merely
containers for human complexities and social relations, is terribly seductive"
(xi). But, following Lefebvre, she goes on to argue that, "Geography is not...
secure and unwavering; we produce space, we produce its meanings, and we
work very hard to make geography what it is" (xi). Levy's portrayal of the
English countryside is an examination of the spatial processes through which
the landscape of rolling green and meadows has become iconic of a racial-
ized notion of Englishness. The trip, although it occupies only a single chap-
ter of the novel, is her most extended engagement with dominant constructions
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
of nationhood and what they might illuminate, or, more significantly, obfus-
cate, about English histories and geographies.
Growing up, Faith has always longed to visit "the countryside," an
iconic landscape that bears the burden of representing the literal and concep-
tual geographies of an entire nation. The trip with Simon is the first time she
has access to this landscape. When she recalls the road trips she and Carl took
as teenagers, "the country always looked so charming" from his van (56). But,
as she further recounts, "Occasionally we used to stop, to get out of the van
with the aim of running through a field or paddling in a river. But we were al-
ways greeted with fences and gates and barbed wire. And we never knew how
to actually get onto 'that green and pleasant land'" (56). Levy's references to
fences, gates and barbed wire, and to William Blake's poem, "Jerusalem,"
might be read as an intertextual conversation with Caribbean-descended visual
artist Ingrid Pollard's photograph series entitled Pastoral Interludes (1984).
Pollard's five photographs depict lone black figures in the English countryside;
in two, men are fishing in streams while the other three feature Pollard herself
looking through a gate, peering over a stone fence, and sitting in front of
barbed wire while she contemplates the hills and pastures beyond. The cap-
tions below the photographs similarly quote "Jerusalem" and Wordsworth's "I
Wandered Lonely As a Cloud." Just as Pollard "wander[s] lonely as a black
face in a sea of white," so too does Faith experience moments of crushing
alienation and otherness when she visits Simon's countryside retreat. Pollard's
captions also relate her feelings of unease in what she perceives to be a hos-
tile rural landscape, drawing attention to dominant discourses that racialize
the countryside as a white space so that it appears, as she puts it, "as if the
Black experience is only lived within an urban environment." James Procter
argues that, "[S]tylized and 'artificial,' these images are 'posed' in a way that
denaturalizes both the English countryside and the black subject's relation-
ship to it" (181).
Pollard's photographs, through both their form and content, also work
to historicize the landscape, drawing attention to the literal and discursive
processes of all landscape construction. Formally, Pollard makes use of the
nineteenth century photographic technique of hand-tinting, which was con-
sidered "a rank perversion of photography" (Mason et al. 228) by many
conventional photographers when first introduced. According to Robert
Mason et al., this technique, when used effectively, results not in an imita-
tion of nature but an artifice that adds a new dimension to the print" (228). Pol-
lard's use of hand-tinting, coupled with her subject matter, similarly adds a
"new dimension" which comments on the artifice of the idealized English
countryside. Don Mitchell, in Cultural Geography, observes that most land-
scape representations, such as paintings, photographs or gardens, "erase or
neutralize images of work. More particularly, landscape representations are
exceptionally effective in erasing social struggle that defines relations of
work" (103). Pollard's images of men fishing in streams, rather than erasing
processes of labour, foreground the work of black bodies within the landscape
by referencing the history of slavery and exploitation on which English wealth
was acquired. These images are paired with captions reminding the viewer
that England "is founded on the blood of slavery, the sweat of working peo-
ple." Her textual commentary connects the countryside to what Stuart Hall, in
"When Was the Post-colonial? Thinking at the Limit," calls the "constitutive
outside ... of Western capitalist modernity" (249), the colonial foundation of
labour and exploitation through which European wealth was maintained.
Pollard's images work to point out that while this constitutive outside
has historically been rendered both geographically and conceptually distant,
it has nonetheless played an important role in the maintenance of the English
countryside's "green and pleasant land." Levy's textual representations of the
landscape operate in a similar manner as Pollard's visual ones, drawing atten-
tion to the manner in which, in Mitchell's terms, landscapeae is ... a form of
ideology ... a way of carefully selecting and representing the world so as to
give it a particular meaning . [and] constructing consent and identity in
organizing a receptive audience for the projects and desires of powerful so-
cial interests" (100). Levy's literary representation of the countryside, like
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
Pollard's photographs, troubles the assumption that space "just is," drawing at-
tention to complex social and economic processes through which it is con-
structed. Similarly, Faith's experiences work to historicize the landscape,
making visible a legacy of racialized and class-based power dynamics that
many of its white inhabitants wish to erase or deny.
Unlike Pollard's subjects who are barred from entry into the pastoral,
Faith can step beyond the barbed wire because she is escorted by her white,
upper-middle-class friend. Simon describes his parents' village as "Quintes-
sentially English" (115), yet it is neither named specifically nor linked to a
particular region or geography. Faith only observes that it is "off the main
road" (115), suggesting that "the countryside" could be nearly anywhere that
is outside of London. This descriptive absence is noteworthy in a realist nar-
rative in which specific London streets and neighborhoods are consistently
named throughout Part I. To this extent, Simon is correct: the village is "quin-
tessentially English," represented as an imagined geography and not a literal
one. According to lan Baucom, definitions of Englishness have, particularly
since the rise of Empire in the eighteenth century, been closely intertwined
with the dynamics of place and geography. He argues that spaces such as the
cathedral, the cricket pitch, and-most significantly in the context of Levy's
novel-the country house are "locations of identity," places "where an iden-
tity-preserving, identity-enchanting, and identity-transforming aura lingers,
or is made to appear" (19). Levy explores these formative processes through
Faith's visit, during which the country house becomes a metonym for a par-
ticular vision of the nation.
Simon's house also exists within an imagined temporality, a vague and
indeterminate vision/version of the past. It is introduced with no specific ar-
chitectural descriptors that would allow the house to be linked to a particular
[The house] was made of brick with doors and windows and a roof like
most houses. But it was big a mansion to anyone from a terraced house.
And perfectly symmetrical. . There were pillars on either side of the
door and a large long stained-glass window above it. There were no build-
ings to the left or to the right. Only trees, flowering bushes and variegated
shrubs that seemed to cradle the house like a cupped hand. (117)
The wealth of Simon's family is immediately apparent to Faith, but her impre-
cise description of their home is surprising. While their own ramshackle,
rented house in London is immediately periodized as "Georgian" (24), this
home is much more vaguely described through common architectural features
which cannot be easily dated. Its order and mastery over the natural landscape
are revealed through the surrounding vegetation, which protectively enables
its seamless integration into the surroundings. Its occupants are described in
similarly indeterminate gestures to an earlier time. Simon's mother, Margaret,
has "grey hair waved into a neat style, reminiscent of WRAFs in Second
World War films" (118), while his father, Guy, looks like "he'd just stepped
out of the plains of Africa during a hunting trip. ... He was even wearing a
safari jacket" (120). Baucom points out that, particularly since the nineteenth
century, "even when it was conceived as something spatially local, or near at
hand, Englishness defied its suitors by greeting them across a temporal chasm.
Only ever confidently located in the past, it manifested itself in the auratic lo-
cale only at the expense of displacing itself in time, rendering itself recol-
lectible, but, finally, ungraspable" (37).
Together, these features of the "quintessentially English" village, with
its imagined geography and indeterminate temporality evoking "how England
used to be" (116), signal a broader analysis of questions of "heritage" and
what, in recent decades, has come to be known as the "Heritage industry" in
the UK. As a racialized subject, Faith grapples with some of the specific is-
sues Stuart Hall raises in his essay, "Whose Heritage? Un-settling 'The Her-
itage,' Re-imagining the Post-nation." Hall argues that the Heritage industry,
which emphasizes the conservation of items, buildings, and historical sites
rather than the support of new forms of cultural production, is used to validate
"a 'national story' whose terms we already know. The Heritage thus becomes
the material embodiment of the spirit of the nation" (3-4). He claims that the
Heritage is only "intended for those who 'belong' a society which is imag-
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
ined as ... culturally homogenous and unified" (6). During her visit, Faith is
forced to confront the ways she has been written out of these hegemonic vi-
sions of the nation as she struggles to situate herself within both the land-
scapes and the historical narratives that epitomize the nation of her birth, yet
which are largely foreign to her.
The country house is a significant location within Heritage tourism.
Baucom points out that "country house fetishism" (21) is "a privileged insti-
tution of a discourse of cultural discipline" (167). One of the principal means
through which the nation constructs its identity, complicity in this discourse
becomes a necessary element of social citizenship. As Robert Hewison
argues, "By a mystical process of identification the country house becomes the
nation, and love of one's country makes obligatory a love of the country
house" (53). This slippage between the domestic and the national is best ex-
emplified in Simon, whose excitement about returning to his childhood home
is evident in his repeated assertion that both the house and the village are
"beautiful" (115, 117). He is convinced that Faith shares in his sense of
adoration. Instead, she tells him, "It doesn't look real" (116). Her mental com-
parison between Simon's house and one she recalls from a model village in a
park near her childhood home suggests that both may well be only deceptive
simulacra. While Simon reads her comment as a compliment, assuming Faith
feels the house and the village are a praiseworthy ideal, as he believes they are,
her reaction instead sheds light upon the possibility that the national discourse
in which they participate is perhaps wholly imaginary.
When they enter the house, Simon and Faith also enter the tradition of
the country house tour, which dates back to the late eighteenth century, a time
in which homeowners became "increasingly interested in displaying [their
homes] to a genteel traveling public" (Helsinger 105). Simon displays his par-
ents' home to Faith in a manner befitting of this practice, paying particular at-
tention to specific architectural features. But their very different class positions
are evident in Faith's surprise not at the details, but at the numerous rooms, all
of which have designated single uses, often for leisure pursuits. The bound-
ary between home and museum is increasingly blurred as Simon continues
his tour by pointing out the portraits of esteemed family members, telling
Faith, "[W]e sometimes have to lend the pictures out for exhibitions" (121).
Next, she learns that "[t]he house was also furnished with antiques. Old fur-
niture passed down from generation to generation. Everything seemed to have
been somebody else's once. And most things, Simon would tell [her], were
'priceless'" (121). This collection of heritage items is not only a tangible sym-
bol of the Wyndhams' wealth; it provides a material route through which the
family can confirm its already well established genealogy and pass on to suc-
ceeding generations the privileges that accompany property ownership. When
he and Faith arrive at his old bedroom, the discourses of the domestic, the fa-
milial, and the national again become explicitly intertwined. Faith is fasci-
nated with the family tree permanently etched on one wall-not of Simon's
family, but a meticulous copy of England's royal family. This family tree pro-
vides the symbolic context for the Wyndhams' collection. While Simon's an-
cestry can be easily correlated to the paintings and furniture in the house, his
reproduction of the royal family is a means for him to interpolate himself and
his ancestors into the national family. His inheritance of the home and its treas-
ured items, and also of a place in the nation, is easily legitimate. By contrast,
Faith has neither the material record of her ancestry, nor even the most basic
knowledge about her family that might provide her with the same sense of se-
curity. As a result, she is unable to make the same correlations between fam-
ily, place, and nation that Simon does.
When the tour is over, Faith shifts from viewer and spectator to be-
come an active participant in what Hewison calls "the cult of the countryside"
(57). Simon and his mother take Faith for a walk, but before they leave, Faith
must be appropriately attired in English ethnic costume. They find her "a
brown anorak," a pair of wellingtons, and "a blue woolly pom-pom hat" (124).
She begins her walk optimistically, pleased to have finally reached the site of
her lifelong pilgrimage. In a reference that again gestures to Pollard, Faith
longs to share this moment with her brother, wanting to show him "that at last
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
[she] had finally found the countryside and that the land was indeed green and
pleasant" (125). Her recitation of Romantic poetry suggests that she tries to
use this familiar literary discourse to guide her through unfamiliar geograph-
ical territory, an act that will only overdetermine the ways she reads the land-
scape. At times, Faith is unable to read the landscape at all, and this lack of
knowledge prevents her from participating fully in the experience Simon and
Margaret stage for her. As Margaret points to birds in the trees, Faith "would
look up to where she was pointing and say, 'Oh, yes,' at nothing at all" (125).
Faith's attenuated experience speaks to broader dynamics of power/
knowledge in that she is unable to access the cultural codes that might enable
her to share in Margaret's enjoyment of the countryside. Elizabeth Helsinger
points out that, historically, "[t]he aesthetics of landscape, and the activities of
viewing and displaying English places through which it was experienced, cre-
ated for those who could participate in it a claim on England as their national
aesthetic property" (105). While Margaret and Simon, in both viewing the
landscape and displaying it for Faith's enjoyment, can make such a claim to
the nation, Faith clearly cannot. Instead, Margaret puts a flower in Faith's hat
and says, "Doesn't she look exotic?" (125). With this, she puts Faith on dis-
play, rendering her an object to be seen rather than a knowing subject. Faith's
already tenuous access to the landscape is even further complicated by this
attempt to exoticize her, which entangles her in a series of contradictory dis-
courses. Linda Peake and Audrey Kobayashi argue that landscapes are sites of
genderedd and racialized relations" (239) in which both women and those of
"other races" have, through post-Enlightenment binaries, been constructed as
closer to nature than to culture. Faith is ambivalently marked as an "exotic,"
partly through this readily available ideology, but also because by wearing an
English flower she has been rendered out of place within the countryside.
Margaret's comment, which casts her as simultaneously closer to nature and
impossibly distanced from it, leaves Faith with no available subject position
The landscape she initially perceived as welcoming soon begins to
consume Faith, both literally and metaphorically. Unused to the regular, brisk
walking, she tires quickly and begins to lag further behind her hosts:
I was breathing too heavily to call back but I managed to wave away their
concern. But my feet were sinking. With every step the mud seemed to
reach further up my wellington boots. I was making very slow progress.
The dog had given up on me and decided to stay with the fittest. And
Simon and his mother talked while they waited. (126)
As she sinks into the mud, which does not seem to hinder Simon or Margaret,
Faith's inability to move reflects the figurative distance between her experi-
ence of the countryside and theirs. While their movements are unencumbered,
Faith's ability to occupy this space is substantially compromised, particularly
once she is left alone without the benevolent protection of her hosts. The Dar-
winian language of natural selection evoked in the dog's "staying with the
fittest" also illuminates the ways space is inscribed by cultural power and ide-
ology. Here, only the "fittest," not only the best able to adapt but the best able
to "fit" themselves into the idealized, nostalgic image of the English country-
side and the racialized nation it represents, have genuine access to the land-
scape. As Faith struggles in the mud, she is passed by several other walkers
who neither greet her, as per custom, nor stop to help. Perceived not as a friend
but as a threat, Faith is an unwelcome presence whose race marks her as an
outsider. As Gilroy argues in The BlackAtlantic, black settlers to the UK "are
perceived ... as an illegitimate intrusion into a vision of authentic British na-
tional life that, prior to their arrival, was as stable and peaceful as it was eth-
nically undifferentiated" (7). Faith's mere presence in the countryside disrupts
hegemonic constructions of rural spaces as white spaces, and no matter how
she behaves in an attempt to legitimize herself, the other walkers who stop to
stare can only perceive her as an interloper. Just as Pollard recognizes that
"the owners of these fields ... want me off their GREEN AND PLEASANT
LAND" (capitalization Pollard's), so too does Faith encounter the hostility of
those who read her very presence as an affront to dominant discourses of rural
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
Faith's marginalization culminates in an unpleasant encounter with a
family friend of the Wyndhams,'Andrew Bunyan, at a local pub. When Faith,
Simon, and his mother enter the pub, Simon gives Faith a tour, as he did with
his house, pointing out the photographs taken during various periods. "It's
fascinating the place is absolutely steeped in history. That's what's so great
about these old English pubs" (129), he tells her, echoing his comments about
his family home. But Faith cannot find herself reflected in the pub's history,
nor do the other patrons wish to admit her into its local community. This atti-
tude is epitomized in Andrew Bunyan whose question, "And whereabouts are
you from, Faith?" (130), emphasizes her outsider status to both the region and
the nation. Learning that her parents are from Jamaica, he tells them of his
most recent trip there, during which he encountered a "Winston Bunyan,"
laughing uproariously at the fact that a black man shares his last name. When
he ends with, "What do you think of that, Faith?" (130), she takes the oppor-
tunity provided by his rhetorical question to recount an historical narrative
that has been forced into silence on this trip: "And because he asked me I said,
'Well, the thing is, that would have been his slave name, you see.' Then be-
fore I really knew what I was saying I'd said, 'Your family probably owned
his family once'" (131). Her response, which insists on an alternate reading of
both their immediate exchange and of Bunyan's larger erasure, operates in a
similar manner to the captions under Pollard's photographs, which also disrupt
the nostalgia of pastoral English gentility. Stunned, Bunyan responds angrily,
"No! My family never had connections like that in Jamaica. My family were
not in that sort of business. I have no family connections to that part of the
world at all" (131). His refusal to entertain a plausible explanation for both
Winston's last name and his own family's prosperity denies the violent history
of an entire region. This denial is necessary in order to maintain his own fam-
ily's reputation, as well as a larger image of "civilized" Englishness. Bunyan's
strategic amnesia presents a highly selective narrative which disallows the
possibility that his family, and the nation, are culpable for past injustices.
Faith's comments, however, force Bunyan to consider this other narra-
tive of slavery. Engaging in what Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism
calls a "contrapuntal reading" (66), Faith's interpretation of Bunyan's story in-
stead foregrounds the colonial history of the Caribbean, the constitutive out-
side of the English history he wishes to both isolate and sanitize. His strategic
forgetting, however, is soon fuelled by an act of speculation. He tells her, "No.
You know what it was? A wayward vicar. That's what we all think. We had a
lot of vicars in our family. Some vicar just going around sowing his seed. Pro-
ducing lots of little dark babies. That sort of thing happened all the time"
(131). Bunyan prefers to fabricate an explanation of his family's presence in
the Caribbean, which immediately belies his insistence that he has no family
connections to Jamaica. He also does not specify who the "we" are in his col-
lectivity, again suggesting a slippage between the familial and the national.
Both speculations allow him to excuse as an aberration the immoral behaviour
of an isolated individual rather than come to terms with the deep-rooted vio-
lence of an exploitive system. He does not realize that, like the pub in which
they all sit, Jamaica is also "steeped in history." But it is a history that Andrew
Bunyan cannot bear to hear so he must construct other narratives to placate his
own, and the national, conscience.
The disturbing events of her weekend actively trouble Faith's sense of
social citizenship. But once she returns to London, the violence she confronts
at the alternative bookstore is perhaps the most terrifying reminder that Eng-
lish racism is as prevalent in urban settings as in rural ones. Faith and Simon
witness the aftermath of a racist attack by the National Front' in which a black
woman working at the bookstore is struck in the head and left bleeding pro-
fusely. When she enters, Faith sees that "[t]he shop had been sprayed with
angry red paint. And all over it said NF, NF, NF" (151). Some books have
been targeted with further vulgarity. The gay and lesbian section has had ex-
crement thrown on it, while "the black and Third World fiction section was
spray painted with 'Wog'" (152). This episode precipitates Faith's emotional
breakdown, which begins in the store as she tries to help Simon deal with the
situation. The episode demonstrates a correlation between extreme acts of
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
racist violence and their supposedly more moderate manifestations. The dis-
crimination she faces at the BBC, her exclusion from the countryside, and this
act of vandalism all bear striking similarities. The National Front attacks a
leftist bookstore, which disseminates alternate perspectives that make visible
the racism, sexism and homophobia on which all nations are based. This act
of censorship is not unlike Bunyan's comments in the pub. Under the guise of
civility and cordiality, Bunyan too invalidates other narratives that might draw
attention to the violent processes which are the foundation of England, but
which are strategically erased. Further, the title "National Front" suggests that
its members believe the nation can accommodate their attitudes, even while
publicly denouncing their behaviour as reprehensible.
After the attack, Faith faces the epistemic violence of watching others
both deracialize and minimize the episode. When the police arrive, they try to
disassociate the perpetrators' actions from the systemic racism they have ex-
hibited, telling Simon and Faith, "They say they're National Front but they're
not, they're just a bunch of thugs" (154). Although Simon points out that the
two are interchangeable, the police prefer, as Bunyan does with his wayward
vicar, to lay blame on a few individuals rather than confront a more perva-
sive, and organized, structure of power. When she and Simon return to their
flat, Faith listens to her flatmates minimize the racial implications of the oc-
currence, reminding them three times that the victim of the attack was not just
a store clerk, but a black woman. Mick is particularly dismissive, repeating the
police's claim that "they're just a bunch of thugs" (157). Immediately follow-
ing this refusal to name the act as racism, Faith begins to self-identify racially:
"Mick put four mugs of tea on the table and three white hands and one black
stretched forward to take them" (157). In Welcome to the Jungle, Kobena Mer-
cer observes that "identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when
something assumed to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the ex-
perience of doubt and uncertainty" (259). As Faith's experiences in the first
half of the novel culminate into a crisis of identity, she confronts, perhaps for
the first time, the possibility/reality that there is no room for her in the
dominant discourses of Englishness.
Faith's breakdown accelerates to the point that she cannot get out of
bed, eat, or talk to her flatmates. Her illness might be understood as a Fanon-
ian "nervous condition," one Sartre observes in the preface to The Wretched
of the Earth as a condition which is "introduced and maintained by the settler
among colonized people with their consent" (20; emphasis Sartre's). Unable
to bear what Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks would call the "fact of [her]
blackness," she realizes she has consented to her own mental colonization in
a nation that largely resents her racialized presence. Discovering the extent of
her internalized racism, Faith shuts down emotionally and locks herself in her
bedroom. She covers all her mirrors, refusing to look at herself because, as she
puts it, "I didn't want to be black any more" (160). Learning that she is not
allowed to be "English" according to dominant paradigms, she also refuses
"black" as an identity marker when the two are perceived as incompatible,
and when this subject position means she is overdeterminedd from without"
(Black Skin, White Mask 116). The narrative does not indicate how long she
remains locked in her room, and this temporal indeterminacy signals a signi-
ficant rupture in Faith's psyche now that she has, to borrow from McKittrick,
been "reoriented on strikingly racial terms" (25).
When her parents learn about her condition, they come over immedi-
ately with what they perceive to be a solution to her problem. Her mother tells
her, "We have been thinking, me and your dad... that what you need is a lit-
tle holiday .... We have been thinking that your auntie in Jamaica would like
to know you. And we have been thinking that now might be a good time for
you to go and visit with her" (162). Their response is well meaning but prob-
lematic. Faith's mother describes this trip as a restful "escape" to the
Caribbean, and also as a potential return to her lost familial and cultural ori-
gins. Both "escape" and "return" are troubling given that Faith's anxieties are
caused by her struggles to find a place for herself in England. Removing her
from this space will not help either Faith or the nation to come to terms with
England's postcolonial history or its black citizenry. Her parents' plan
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
positions Faith as both a tourist and a prodigal daughter of Jamaica, but
neither role will help her understand what it means to be a black English-
woman. If she is to be a tourist, destinations are interchangeable; Faith tells
her parents, "1 don't want to go to Jamaica. It's too far. What's wrong with
Spain or somewhere?" (162). Her mother's response, the final line of this first
section of the novel, reveals the extent to which their sense of "home" differs
from Faith's: "Child, everyone should know where they come from" (162).
Her parents assume that Faith should have an attachment to the place in which
they were born, and do not understand that she must negotiate multiple places,
both real and imagined, which have shaped her life as a second generation
child. Their insistence that Faith has some inherent connection to "back home"
suggests they have dramatically misread their daughter's breakdown.
The second part of the novel, entitled "Jamaica," begins in that island's
Kingston airport. The first chapter recounts, through recollection and intro-
spection, the process through which Faith has arrived at this destination. Her
journey is contextualized through a mental flashback to her stopover at the
Miami airport. The prominence of both airports suggests Levy's interest in
exploring this space to understand Faith's shifting identifications and her at-
titude toward the community into which she is about to be placed. In Miami,
she is situated within a substantial collectivity of Jamaicans for the first time
in the novel, possibly for the first time in her life:
I was halfway through the lounge making my way to the Jamaican Air-
lines check-in when I saw them. Shabby-looking people . There were
only about twenty of them but they looked so out of place in the plush set-
ting of an American airport. They looked too poor to fly. And they were
checking in cardboard boxes onto the airline's weighing scales. Boxes that
my parents would have discarded as too flimsy and thin to have been any
use. They talked in patois. A language all of its own but with the occa-
sional word that a woman like me who had grown up around the Jamaican
accent with its 'nah man's' and 'cha' and sucking of teeth could be lulled
into thinking I might understand if only I listened harder or they would
speak slower. (166-167)
Faith is situated as an outsider to this group, who, displaced from what she
would expect to be their usual surroundings, appear to her to be out of place
in the airport. Yet it is Faith herself who is out of place beside this microcosm
of a Jamaican community. Her remark that they look "too poor to fly" suggests
her first world perception of airline travel. For her it is a choice based on in-
come rather than a necessity people must engage in if they live far from
"home." Her marginal understanding of patois highlights her conceptual dis-
tance in that she comprehends neither their language nor their mindset. Their
boxes, perhaps filled with goods to take to family members or to sell, indicate
that they have a system in which using every opportunity presented by the
baggage allowance is far more essential than spending money on luggage.
Their resourcefulness suggests that, despite class differences, they are far more
experienced travellers than Faith. As they visually and aurally signal their
Caribbean identifications, Faith recognizes a Jamaican collectivity for the first
time in the novel, while also realizing her inability and unwillingness to inter-
polate herself into this community.
Levy's extended meditation on the airport is significant given that very
little critical attention has been paid to this space, a surprising omission within
the substantial body of theoretical work on migration, diaspora, transnation-
alism, and other forms of border crossing. One exception is anthropologist
and philosopher Marc Auge who discusses such spaces in his book Non-
Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995). Levy's
understanding of the significance of the airport is a notable departure from
Aug6's. Aug6 argues that in the contemporary conjuncture of "supermoder-
nity," highways, railways, and airports are "non-places," which exist "in op-
position to the sociological notion of place, associated . with the idea of a
culture localized in time and space" (34). Distinguishing between places and
non-places, he argues: "If a place can be defined as relational, historical, and
concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or
historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place" (77-8). Because of
these absences-history, relationality, identity-he also claims that "a person
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
entering the space of non-place is relieved of his [sic] usual determinants. He
becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger,
customer or driver" (103). The masculinism of Auge's language is perhaps
not accidental. The example through which he illustrates the airport as a non-
place is of a single, upper-middle class white male business traveller. His
analysis is unable to account for the very different ways this space is occupied
by those who fall outside his hegemonic construction.
For the people at the gate in Miami, including Faith, the airport is ex-
perienced in ways that negate Aug6's postmodern understanding of non-place.
A site of arrival and departure, family reunion or painful separation, migration,
immigration or deportation, within a diasporic context an airport is not a non-
place but a highly overdetermined place. The airport Levy depicts is concerned
with identity if Faith can recognize within it a linguistic and sartorial perform-
ance of "Jamaican-ness." The determinants through which this recognition
happens-language, dress, boxes-become more visible to her in the airport
setting, wherein a dispersed ethnic collectivity is often reconstituted as they
assemble at the gate to their common destination: "back home." To this extent,
the airport, rather than being absent of identity, becomes a site of heightened
ethnicity in which cultural performances may take on greater meaning than
they might in other settings. Further, Auge does not address diasporic popu-
lations' historical realities of travel when he asserts that the airport, as a non-
place, is devoid of history. For Faith and the group of Caribbean travellers, a
plane trip in the early 1980s cannot be understood in isolation from a 500-
year history of both forced and voluntary migration. The ship on which Wade
and Mildred travel to England, which for Faith evokes the Middle Passage,
would likely not, in Aug6's articulation, be considered a non-place. Decades
later, the airplane, which has largely replaced the ship as the predominant
mode of travel in Europe and North America, cannot be evacuated of these
previous meanings. In Levy's novel, the presence of diasporic bodies in the
airport transforms this ostensibly "non-place," drawing attention to the tur-
bulent historical realities and exigencies of travel in the Americas. They, and
their cardboard boxes, do have a history of both roots and routes, and their
complex identifications might be at least partially constituted by these places.
As the narrative shifts from Miami to the Kingston airport, Faith is
again distanced from her fellow travellers in that she does not share their mi-
gratory subjectivity. Her arrival immediately undercuts any ethno-nationalist
assumptions her parents may have had in sending Faith back to her "roots,"
as it brings Faith back to the anxious confusion she felt during her breakdown.
Her arrival is neither a glorious return to lost origins, nor is it, as Mark Stein
argues, "a sort of birth of Faith's Jamaican self' (71). Faith is never identified,
by herself or others, as "Jamaican," and her encounters at the airport confirm
her own sense of "Englishness." Worried that she will not survive the ordeal
of collecting her luggage and finding her relatives, Faith breaks down again,
thinking, "I felt out of place everything was a little familiar but not quite.
Like a dream. Culture shock is how the feeling is described. A name made up
by someone with a stiff upper lip who wanted to deny the feelings of panic and
terror. The feelings that made me want to run for a corner and cover my head
with my arms and scream for my mummy" (169). Her description is laden
with images evoking the place from which she has come. The stiff upper lip
evokes a common English stereotype, while the "mummy" for which Faith
longs might be read in multiple ways. Her mother likely possesses the cul-
tural knowledge Faith lacks, but the reference might also be read as a metaphor
for the "Mother country," which Faith can easily navigate. When she is hus-
tled by a man who steals her money, she succumbs to this sense of culture
shock: "It was then that I cried. In the middle of the arrival lounge at Kingston
airport, clutching my open purse and thinking of Mum's words: 'Everyone
should know where they come from'" (171). Her mother's aphorism is ironic
given that this stranger, who easily identifies Faith as an outsider, has a better
sense of where Faith "comes from" than Mildred. Levy thus immediately trou-
bles a narrative of return, rejecting the notion that Faith can seamlessly insert
herself into Jamaica simply because of something "in [her] genes" (173).
Faith is never comfortable or "at home" in Jamaica, shifting ambiva-
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
lently between pleasure, desire, longing, discomfort and even revulsion. She
consistently experiences Jamaica as simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar,
and feels perpetually unsettled. As her Aunt Coral and cousin Vincent drive her
from the airport, Faith is struck by the "astonishing strangeness" (178) of the
world outside the car window. But when she gets to Aunt Coral's she is sur-
prised to find "a bungalow like something you would retire to in Bexhill-on-
Sea" (180). The front room "looked so familiar" (180) that Faith concludes,
"[I]t reminded me of home" (180). However, rather than finding comfort in
such similarities, she realizes that "[a]ll the familiarities made everything more
strange" (181). Having been jarred out of her ignorant first world assumption
that her aunt lives in a mud hut and cooks goat in a boiling cauldron, the cul-
tural boundaries between England and Jamaica become indeterminate, pro-
viding Faith with no framework through which to read her surroundings. She
has a similarly contradictory experience at a wedding she attends where those
she encounters cannot read her through any single cultural narrative. Strug-
gling to "pass" as Jamaican for two weeks, she briefly succeeds: "No one no-
ticed me. I smiled at anyone who looked in my direction. But no one did. I was
blending in. I was just one of the crowd. I was just another guest. It was won-
derful" (293). Beginning to contemplate moving to Jamaica with her parents,
she enjoys the slow-paced walk to the church, thinking, "Ah my, but you look
like a Jamaican now, Faith" (294). The dissonance between "being" a
Jamaican and merely looking like one is revealed at the church where the min-
ister and the entire congregation turn to "get a better look at the foreigner"
(295), recognizable as such because she wears pants, not a dress as per
Jamaican custom. On her trip to the English countryside, Simon and Mar-
garet's attiring her in suitable dress does not allow her to pass as an English
country dweller because her body is racially marked. In Jamaica, marvelling
that there are "black people ... everywhere" (177), Faith is still unable to pass
as Jamaican because her sartorial choices also mark her body in unexpected
Most of Part II focuses on the gradual reconstruction of Faith's family
tree gleaned from stories told by family and friends, and bits of her genealogy
emerge on separate pages interspersed throughout these chapters. As her fam-
ily histories are revealed, Faith grows increasingly able to situate herself
within a familial context and within the historical context of Empire. The fam-
ily tree, while largely linear in its generational tracing, must also account for
a complex history that includes slavery, multiple liaisons, "outside" children,
infidelities, and unknown paternities. Only a few people on the tree are iden-
tified by last name, while some entries attempt to account for entire collectives
of unknown family members: for example, "Dr. Jackson's wife and family in
England" (340). When fathers are not known, particularly during slavery,
question marks emphasize this parental ambiguity on the tree. Dotted lines
account for men's multiple long-term partners. While dates of birth and death
are absent, other descriptors include family members' slave or free status, the
geographical locations from which they originated, their ethnicities, and other
details: for example, Muriel, who "died young" (340). These elements speak
to the difficult family history Faith unearths, which includes the sexual vio-
lence of slavery, incest, domestic violence, secrets of paternity, illegitimacy,
racial passing, and disappearances. She not only learns that her familial nar-
rative goes back earlier than 1948, she also learns that she and her entire fam-
ily have been shaped by centuries of global forces. Her tracing involves what
Catherine Nash in her article "'They're Family!': Cultural Geographies of Re-
latedness in Popular Genealogy" calls a "critical genealogy." Nash argues that
these types of projects "explore the relationships between family history and
wider structures of power and patterns of inequality" (188).
Nash further observes that some genealogies can be counterdiscursive
in their ability to disrupt assumed correlations between identity and place. She
argues that "genealogy is not necessarily tied to political conservatism and
cultural defensiveness. Nor does it always foster ideas of simple ancestral
roots or pure cultural categories. The empirical imperative of genealogy can
create family trees which reflect family connections across ethnic groups"
(186). She states that these genealogies "sometimes reproduc[e], sometimes
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
[subvert] the language of cultural purity, fundamentalism and essentialism.
Tracing the dynamics of identity and belonging within the practice of geneal-
ogy involves considering different spatial imaginations of culture and location
- local, national, transnational, global, diasporic and different ways of imag-
ining human relatedness" (180). These other considerations are at work in
Faith's genealogical project, which offers no simple correlations between
place, race, identity or ethnicity. In this regard, her mother's comment about
"knowing where she comes from" is further problematized. Nothing in her
genealogy can link Faith specifically or solely to Jamaica, given that it bears
witness to diasporic journeys between various locations in Europe and the
Americas. Instead, she is shown to "come from" many different places as her
family tree maps a series of migrations and settlements that range between
England, Ireland, Scotland, Cuba, Panama, Martinique, Costa Rica, Canada
and the United States. Even her family's presence in Jamaica cannot be ho-
mogenized, since it reflects histories of migration from continental Africa and
possibly India, as well as the indigenous Arawak presence. Given that Faith
learns about maternal and paternal connections to England, she confirms that
England is also one of the many places she "comes from." Her family's expe-
riences are shaped by arrivals as well as by departures, demonstrating that
"roots" in England, as well as "routes" between many other places, are equally
important in understanding the complexities of Faith's project.
Faith's genealogical (de/re)construction also forces her to reconsider
her assumption that thereee was no 'oral tradition' in [her] family" (4). This
oral tradition, which she discovers while listening to Aunt Coral and other rel-
atives, allows her to piece together the various confusing fragments she hears
growing up, and she fills in many of the ellipses in her parents' meagre nar-
ratives. Her newfound ability to situate herself might be directly comparable
to Simon's in that she now has a familial record through which to contextual-
ize her life in England, just as he does. But Faith's oral diasporic history makes
a very different commentary on hegemonic historical processes than Simon's
material record of family inheritance. In "The Local and the Global," Hall
argues that marginalized subjects "can only come into representation by ...
recovering their own hidden histories. They have to try to retell the story from
the bottom up, instead of from the top down. And this moment has been of
such profound significance in the post-war world that you could not describe
the post-war world without it" (35). Thus, Faith's discussions are not simple
acts of discovery, nor do they constitute a search for the "facts" of her family's
lives; instead, they are a rearticulation which suggests that all narratives are
partial, provisional, and shaped by the speaker's positionality. Faith also learns
many family stories from women whose knowledge of domestic intricacies in-
forms their perspectives. She realizes that family members only have partial
narratives: some know of details or events that others do not, and some of
their information is gleaned through gossip or rumour. These historically fem-
inized modes of communication extend Hall's argument regarding "histories
from below" in multiple ways. Levy does not merely validate them as legiti-
mate sources of knowledge in Faith's search for familial information; she also
makes an important commentary on the role these female perspectives play in
the sustenance and development of diasporic histories, and in the rearticula-
tion of diasporic spaces.
Levy's novel recognizes the radical potential in this historical rein-
scription, as Faith's family's story repeatedly gestures to the colonial narratives
that the English nation refuses to acknowledge. These narratives "from
below," which are consistently traced back to England, Ireland or Scotland,
deny Andrew Bunyan's assertion that wealthy British families had "no connec-
tions" to "that part of the world." Tracing family history in this manner also
speaks to an exigency resulting from Faith's family connections to the Amer-
icas. As Levy points out, "It is hard for anyone to research their genealogy, but
it is even harder... for someone with my background. Most of the records are
incomplete or unavailable at best; destroyed or nonexistent at worst" ("This
is My England"). Given that other documentation may not be available to her,
particularly about her enslaved descendants, Faith has no other choice but to
turn to this history from below to reconstruct her family.
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
Faith's genealogical project is never meant to draw any simple corre-
lations between identity and place, nor is it a route to pedigree or social legit-
imacy, as is the case for Simon. Instead, Faith recognizes, ultimately, her own
illegitimacy when she claims proudly, "I am the bastard child of Empire and
I will have my day" (327).2 For her, this illegitimate status is not a source of
shame but a new lens through which she can understand her place in England.
"Bastards" disrupt linear genealogies of descent and challenge the notion that
families are ordered and enclosed within neatly defined boundaries. As the
bastard child of empire, Faith can similarly destabilize the assumptions of ho-
mogeneity on which the nation is based. She may not have access to the ma-
terial inheritance that Simon does, but her multiple cultural inheritances
reimagine the boundaries of"Englishness" and enable her to lay claim to the
nation on different terms than she did during previous encounters in the Eng-
lish countryside. When she struggles for admittance on the terms established
by the nation, she is perceived as an "illegitimate intrusion." Now that she has
refused to be an outsider and embraced her "bastard" status, she establishes her
own terms for admittance into the national family. But, as the bastard child of
empire, Faith appears far less interested in rearticulating the boundaries of
"Jamaican-ness" in the same way. She does not turn to Jamaica as a source for
identity, and even at the end of her trip she is situated as an outsider to her par-
ents' birthplace. Faith's tourist status is reinforced when she buys T-shirts for
her friends while being followed along the beach by vendors who recognize
her as someone who "did not belong" (321). As she prepares for her return,
Faith still only ever names her birthplace as a site of identification: "I was
going home to England" (320). Her understanding of England in the wake of
this trip, however, is very different than the perception she had before she
travelled away from it. Newly critical of those who are "unaware of our shared
past" (326)-as she was only a short time ago-Faith can now read a differ-
ent narrative in which the nation is situated globally, inextricably linked to its
former colonies. She can now articulate, in Stuart Hall's words from "Old and
New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities," "the outside history that is inside
the history of the English [as] theree is no English history without that other
history" (49). Faith's newfound realization further destabilizes the arbitrary di-
vision the nation tries to draw between the English "here" and the colonial
Part III of the novel, like Part I, is again titled "England," and while it
is only half a page long, the section re-situates Faith, preventing the novel
from being read as an oversimplified narrative of return to lost Caribbean ori-
gins. The section is a rehearsal of her parents' arrival in 1948, but with some
notable differences, which ensure that Faith is not cast as an immigrant or an
outsider like they were. Perhaps the most significant difference is that Faith
is "placed" in this section through its title, which situates her within a specific
geography. By contrast, Wade and Mildred are not "placed" anywhere in the
opening section, which has no title or referent. Their arrival in England is nar-
rated in the unlabelled section which immediately follows the title page of the
novel, but which appears before Part I, "England." Is this opening section
meant to be a preface? A prologue? Some liminal space? The section's lack of
geographical determinant emphasizes Wade and Mildred's sense of confusion
The final section of the novel also repeats some key lines, nearly ver-
batim, with alterations that highlight Faith's newfound sense of awareness.
When the Empire Windrush arrives on Guy Fawkes Night, Wade and Mildred
see fireworks lighting up the sky. Mildred explains, "At first we didn't know
what it was for. In Jamaica you only get fireworks at Christmas. Your dad
thought it might have been a welcome for us, having come so far and England
needing us. But I didn't think he could be right. And he wasn't" (8). On the
last page, after her plane lands, Faith also sees fireworks in the distance and
her remarks echo those of her parents: "I thought it may be a welcome for me
having traveled so far and England needing me.... I knew I couldn't be right
and I wasn't. ... No. I knew this was England, November the fifth. There are
always fireworks on November the fifth. It was Guy Fawkes Night and I was
coming home" (339). For Faith, the nexus of power/knowledge has now
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
shifted. She "knows" England in a way that her parents did not, in a way the
Wyndhams or Andrew Bunyan do not, and in a way she herself did not before
her journey to Jamaica. Her return home on Guy Fawkes Night, a nationalist
holiday that celebrates the maintenance of English religious and cultural pu-
rity, is rearticulated through Faith's recent confirmation of the nation's impu-
rity and creolization. Thus, in an unexpected way, Faith does learn the lesson
her parents set out to teach her when they send her on this trip to Jamaica:
"everyone should know where they come from." But Faith learns that lesson
in a very different way, and about a very different geography, than her parents
intended. Now she also knows that she "comes from" England. But she also
knows England to be a place that is situated in a wider diaspora, and that has
been shaped by its role in a centuries-long process of global expansion.
Armed with this newfound and much more thorough understanding of
colonial history and its implications for her and for her family, Faith returns
to England on more informed and more politically engaged terms. While as a
child she struggles to keep her parents' immigrant status a secret, in the last
line of the novel she states that she is now ready "to tell everyone . [m]y
mum and dad came to England on a banana boat" (339; ellipses Levy's).
Whereas in the opening line of the novel bullies ignorantly hurl this phrase as
an insult, Faith can now reclaim the indisputable fact of her parents' arrival as
a starting point for a different narrative. The enunciatory act with which the
novel ends provides a means through which Levy can self-reflexively com-
ment on the act of fictional narration and its strategic use as a tool through
which she can redefine Englishness. Just as Faith now longs to tell her story,
so too does Levy move beyond the attenuating nature of hegemonic discourses
in order to articulate and disseminate a different conceptualization of the
I am grateful to Leslie Sanders and Terry Goldie of York University for their
thorough commentary on earlier drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank
the anonymous journal reviewers for their detailed suggestions. Any errors or
omissions in developing their ideas are solely my own.
1. The National Front is a far-right, white supremacist neo-Nazi organization
founded in Britain in 1967. Their notorious anti-immigration stance and their
violent actions fueled racial tensions in the UK throughout the 1970s and early
2. This term might have been borrowed from John Solomos, Bob Findlay,
Simon Jones and Paul Gilroy's article, "The Organic Crisis of British Capital-
ism and Race: The experience of the seventies" (The Empire Strikes Back:
Race and Racism in 70s Britain. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies,
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that by the early 1980s, "the bastard children of Empire set up 'camps' in the
heartlands of the mother country" (30).
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Baucom, Ian. Out ofPlace: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of
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Blake, William. "Jerusalem" (1818). English Romantic Writers. Ed. David
Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 156-60.
Brah, Avtar. Cartographies ofDiaspora: Contesting Identities. London:
Brand, Dionne. A Map to the Door of No Return. Toronto: Vintage, 2002.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks (1952). New York: Grove Press,
--. The Wretched of the Earth (1961). New York: Grove Press, 1963.
Gilroy, Paul. Postcolonial Melancholia. New York: Columbia University
ANDREA LEVY'S FRUIT OF THE LEMON
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Goulbourne, Harry. Race Relations in Britain Since 1945. London:
Hall, Stuart. "Whose Heritage? Un-settling 'The Heritage,' Re-imagining
the Post-nation." Third Text 49 (1999-2000): 3-13.
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Helsinger, Elizabeth. "Turner and the Representation of England."
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Chicago Press, 1994. 103-125.
Hesse, Barnor. "Un/Settled Multiculturalisms." Un/Settled
Multiculturalisms: Diasporas, Entanglements, Transruptions.
Ed. Baror Hesse. London: ZED Books, 2000. 1-30.
Hewison, Robert. The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate ofDecline.
London: Methuen, 1987.
Jaggi, Maya. "Redefining Englishness." Waterstone's Magazine 6 (1996):
Levy, Andrea. Small Island. London: Headline, 2004.
--. "This Is My England." The Guardian 19 Feb. 2000
--. Fruit of the Lemon. London: Review, 1999.
--. Never Far From Nowhere. London: Review, 1996.
--. Every Light in the House Burnin'. London: Review, 1994.
Mason, Robert, et al. The Print. New York: Time-Life Books, 1970.
McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the
Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
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Mitchell, Don. Cultural Geography. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
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Crisis of British Capitalism and Race: The experience of the seven-
ties." The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain.
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Birmingham. London:
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Ohio State University Press, 2004.
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Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1967. 293-294.
DIASPORA AND/OR TRANSCULTURATION
IN THE REPRESENTATION OF NATIONAL
IDENTITY IN THE WORK OF
BLACK CUBAN WOMEN POETS
Before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, there were few black-authored works in
Cuban literature, even though literary representations of blacks were abun-
dant because, as in many Latin American countries, the discussion over race
and nation has been constant in Cuba. Throughout the nineteenth century,
novels and poems denounced the hardships of slavery and the effects of the
system in the colony.' A more widespread presence of blacks in Cuban texts
was evident in the 1920s and 1930s, when the so-called negrista poets, in their
search for the roots and identity of Cuban people, emphasized the influence
of Africa in the construction of national identity. Written by male authors
(many of them white, some black or mulatto), the poems of this period often
presented black women as the symbolic objects of the poetic voice. The ap-
pearance and recognition of poetry by Black Cuban women is mainly a post-
revolutionary phenomenon through which black and mulatto Cuban women
position themselves, as Catherine Davies observes, as "the lyrical subjects of
their discourse" (Place 170).2
Thus, with Fidel Castro's Revolution came the formal and thematic
revolution of Black Cuban women's poetry, which we could call, in an appro-
priation of the title of Julia Kristeva's homonymous work, a "revolution in
poetic language." These black female writers exemplify Richard Jackson's
image of black authors "seizing the tools" of power, language, and literature,
MaComere 8 (2006): 67-93
opening up and radicalizing the traditional canon (25). Since Black Cuban
women as authors of poetry with black themes have had few predecessors,
their work becomes an interesting document of their position regarding issues
of race, class, gender, and national identity. In this essay, I will study a selec-
tion of poems by two of the best known Black Cuban women poets, Nancy
Morej6n and Georgina Herrera. Even though the complexity of their them-
atics cannot be simply subsumed under the single heading of "the racial
theme," we can see in their work elements of a new black female conscious-
ness that rewrites themes of slavery and racial discrimination to include a dis-
cussion of gender. Through an analysis of some of the poems where the
authors explore the formation of Black Cuban women's identity within the
framework of a poetics of resistance and self-recognition, it is possible to de-
termine the authors' use of dialogical relationships to inscribe Africa and no-
tions of race and ethnicity within Cuban national identity.
Nancy Morej6n, 2001 recipient of the Cuban National Prize for liter-
ature, is the most celebrated Black Cuban woman poet today. A graduate in
French language and literature from the University of Havana, she is also re-
cognized as a linguist, translator, and cultural critic who has travelled fre-
quently outside of Cuba to discuss her writings. Some of her most famous
works are Richard trajo su flauta y otros arguments (Richard Brought His
Flute and Other Arguments; 1967), Parajes de una epoca (Places in Time;
1979), Octubre imprescindible (Essential October; 1984), and Baladas para
un suenfo (Ballads for a Dream; 1989). Morej6n has also written and edited
several volumes studying the work of Cuba's national poet, Nicolas Guill6n,
the famous mulatto author who was her friend and mentor. Currently, she oc-
cupies an official position as the director of the Center for Caribbean Studies,
connected with the cultural institution of Casa de las Americas.
When discussing her poetry, Morej6n has mentioned her dual interest
in both politically and socially engaged themes and intimate and lyrical con-
cerns. Indeed, criticism on the poet's work has analyzed her exploration of
the interconnections between race, gender, and national identity in several
poems, as well as her use of an introverted personal voice in a more meta-
physical and aesthetic poetry. In descriptions of her poetic style, Miriam
DeCosta-Willis has written of Morej6n's "aesthetics of restraint," pointing out
the author's restraint from passionate involvement as a key element in her po-
etry ("Meditations" 5).
Georgina Herrera's career offers many contrasts with that of Morej6n:
she holds no official post and lacks Morej6n's academic training, and she has
never been outside of Cuba. Herrera is mainly a self-educated writer whose re-
lationships with other authors have often taken place through the National
Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC). She has published five books
of poetry: GH. (1962), Gentes y cosas (People and Things; 1974), Granos de
sol y luna (Grains of Sun and Moon; 1978), Grande es el tiempo (Great is
Time; 1989), and Gustadas sensaciones (Enjoyed Sensations; 1996). Since
1962, Herrera has worked in radio, writing stories and plays, and she has also
sometimes disseminated her work through television. The author is currently
the director of the radio section within the Association of Radio, Television,
and Film in Havana. Like Morej6n, Herrera has explored in her poetry both
intimate issues, especially those regarding her family and her role as a mother,
and political and cultural issues dealing with African ancestry, women's his-
tory, and national and cultural self-definition. Herrera's intimate poetry is eas-
ily accessible due to the clarity and precision of her language, the concision
in thought and image, and her simple lyrical style.
As examples of the present role of the poet in Cuban society, Morej6n
and Herrera are inevitable participants in discussions over contemporary
Caribbean theories on race, gender, and nationalism. The complexity of their
postures should help us understand the importance of interrogating the criti-
cal and theoretical strategies we use to interpret their writing. Scholars such
as Catherine Davies have commented on the limitations discernible in dis-
cussing these texts, by signalling the "fine adjusting" that is needed "to take
into account Cuban singularity" ( "Writing" 32). In agreement with these opin-
ions, I will apply multiple theoretical prisms in my analysis, placing special
emphasis on concepts of Caribbean cultural theory the writers themselves
refer to, such as diaspora, transculturation, and mestizaje. In addition to pay-
ing close attention to the sociopolitical context in which they create, getting
the authors' own critical insights on their poetry plays a valuable role in my
analysis. In her study of Morej6n's poetry, DeCosta-Willis has cautioned crit-
ics against ignoring the "implied or stated intention of the poet" ("Orishas"
97). In order to support the argument that the critical voice does not reside
"solely in the purview of the academic scholar-critics" ( Boyce Davies 12), this
essay will include comments from critical and expository writings by
Morej6n and Herrera themselves, as well as quotations from interviews with
both of these writers.3
Nation and Diaspora:
Cultural and Theoretical Crossings in Black Cuban Women's Writing
Merle Collins points out that Caribbean women writers show "an irritation
with questions which seek to effect a neat pigeonholing of their writing" (8).
Looking at how these two poets construct the process of identity formation to
express a black female sense of self will reveal certain limitations in the abil-
ity of a single critical discourse on nationalism to incorporate the cultural
specificity of Black Cuban women's poetry. In this sense, Morejon's and
Herrera's poems on black female subjectivity can exemplify the "dialogic of
difference" and "dialectic of identity" with the others) that characterize black
women's subjectivity and discourse, according to Afro-American critic Mae
Gwendolyn Henderson. In her article "Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics,
Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer's Literary Tradition," Henderson ar-
gues that the complex and multiple positionality from which black women
speak produces a simultaneous discourse of "difference and identification" in
black women's writing.4 This diversity of discourses allows us to see how
Black Cuban women poets can alternatively identify with the notion of a uni-
fied black consciousness in the African diaspora and with an image of a tran-
scultured black identity subsumed under Cuban nationalist ideology. By
applying the notion of a "dialectic/dialogics of identity and difference"
(Henderson 137), we can avoid placing one category of analysis over the other
when discussing race and/or ethnicity and national identity in the work of
Morej6n and Herrera, and learn to engage with the continuing revolutionn of
the black female subject in Cuba.
Critics have often called Morej6n's and Herrera's work "Afro-Cuban
poetry" written by women, underscoring the links to negrismo when studying
their poetic themes. Given the pervasive role of race and gender categories in
the creation of a discourse of national identity, it should be noted that in
negrista poems the black or mulatto woman, often described as an incarnation
of sexuality and emotional release, appeared frequently to represent cultural
synthesis in the creation of a national culture. Vera Kutzinski points out that
this eroticized body has been the most prevalent emblem of Cuba's national
ideology of mestizaje, which describes the ethnic and cultural fusion of the
Spanish and the African.5 The concept of mestizaje, which is also employed
in Cuba's cultural and national discourses, is only one of several terms that
scholars have used to grasp the reality of the process of cultural crossing in the
Caribbean. In fact, studying the politics of identification in this area implies
participating in a controversial debate that derives "as much from disputes
over identity as from theoretical controversy" (Chivallon 368).
Contemporary Caribbean critics such as Edouard Glissant, Edward
Brathwaite, Gustavo Perez Firmat, and Antonio Benitez Rojo have part-
icipated in the discussion over what should be the privileged term to define the
cross-cultural encounters in the region, and the idea of diaspora has played an
important role in the exchanges. Initially employed to describe the Jewish dis-
persal and search for a homeland, the word "diaspora" has been appropriated
by cultural theorists to explore blackness and the experience of slavery as the
sign of perceived kinship between blacks in Africa and throughout the coun-
tries where they disseminated during the slave trade. In the classic diaspora,
there was an emphasis on the presence of a unified consciousness and a close
bond to the place of origin. Nevertheless, new reformulations from a post-
modem perspective, rather than invoking an identity constructed mainly in
reference to Africa, focus identity on the concept of mobility, insisting on the
idea of process and constant dynamics. For Christine Chivallon, the turning
point in the study of diasporas has been the work of Stuart Hall and Paul
Gilroy, who present the case of Africans in the Americas as a "hybrid dias-
pora" dominated by the principle of mobility and "based on movement, inter-
connection, and mixed references" (Chivallon 359). Gilroy discusses Black
nationalism as an idea of pure origin antithetical to his notion of the "Black
Atlantic," which he defines as "a web of diaspora identities and concerns"
(218) that transcends "the structures of the nation state and the constraints of
ethnicity and national particularity" (19).6 The presumed opposition between
the notions of transnationality and cultural nationalism is an issue that re-
appears in the study of Cuba's national discourse, where we have what I call
two coexistent "narratives of destiny and arrival" that showcase the meaning
of the past in the construction of a new national identity: the Cuban
Revolution and the African diaspora.
Cuba's unique political status makes this country a singular case in the
study of the black diaspora. On the one hand, the Cuban Revolution's nation-
alist rhetoric interprets the Revolution as both the culmination of a process
and the beginning of a new era, a description that can be compared to the two
emphases on the diasporic subject as either an unfinished identity or one
marked by a fixed origin. On the other hand, Cuba has made of mestizaje a
national symbol that can subsume racial and cultural differences. While
Castro's politics have underscored Africa as an essential part of Cubans'
national identity, declaring Cuba a Latin-African American country in 1975,
they have also reinforced unity over diversity. Thus, the Revolution's national
ideology ofcubanismo, the most important ideological force in Cuba, claims
that a homogeneous national culture (cubania) has been born out of the hy-
bridity. As a consequence, the government has discouraged discussions over
racial differences, and these directions have also extended to the work of
scholars and writers. Antoni Kapcia describes cubanismo as both "a political
search for ideology, articulation and identity that preceded and followed 1959,
and a literary search for an individual and collective identity" (63). In order
to understand the role of Morej6n and Herrera as black women poets, it is fun-
damental to consider the influence that Cuba's struggle to defend its unified
national identity under the Revolution has had over the nation's cultural pro-
duction. This situation is clearly represented in Castro's famous speech to
artists and intellectuals during the beginning of the Revolution, "Palabras a los
intelectuales" (Words to the Intellectuals; 1961), where Castro employed a
now famous injunction that defined the rights of artists to create under the
revolution: "Dentro de la revoluci6n todo, contra la revoluci6n, nada" (Within
the Revolution, everything goes; against the Revolution, nothing; 12).
Studying the work of Morej6n and Herrera demonstrates that Black
Cuban women's writing constitutes one of the fields that can more accurately
show the possibilities and limitations for contestatory discourses within rev-
olutionary ideology. Fidel Castro has called Cuban women a "revolution"
within the Revolution, and in itself, the poetic representation of a black fe-
male consciousness can be regarded as a discourse of difference that might
destabilize projects of unification under the national ideology of cubanismo.
While both poets are frequently questioned about the importance of Africa,
race, and ethnicity in their writing, Georgina Herrera is more explicit than
Morej6n about official pressures. Herrera has claimed that she was criticized
at the beginning of her career because of the lack of revolutionary rhetoric in
her poetry ("Lion's" 147); and in an interview I conducted with the author in
2002, Herrera acknowledged difficulties in defining such an identity by say-
ing, "When it is convenient, it is understood and when it is not convenient, it
is misunderstood."7 In another interview in the same year with Morej6n, the
latter affirmed that there is not "a program" among Black Cuban women writ-
ers, yet she is not an "abstraction." Even though she rejects all labels,
Morej6n asserts the importance of her race and gender in her writing when
stating that the originality of her work comes from "being a woman and being
black" ("Po6ticas" 7). During a period of twelve years (1967-1979), she pub-
lished no poetry, and she has described what she calls her "literary dis-
appearance" by saying, "Not even I know why. The only certainty is that none
wanted to publish my poetry" (Bianchi Ross 33). Critics have often related her
"period of silence" to the Cuban government's pressure against discussions
over blackness in literary works.8
After noticing the material and ideological constraints on authors pub-
lishing in Cuba, studies of Morej6n's work have attempted to settle the debate
over whether her poetry privileges the racial theme or emphasizes Cuban na-
tionalism. Several critics have signalled ambivalence and tensions in her writ-
ing, describing Morej6n's use of "gestures of mediation" between African
heritage and revolutionary mandate (Gonzalez 990) and "a dialectics of am-
bivalence" between Africa and the New World (Martin-Ogunsola 223). What
needs to be addressed is the fact that both Morej6n's and Herrera's views on
the importance and meaning of the black theme in their poetry have ex-
perienced changes to some degree in different periods and in different media.9
When discussing the concepts of diaspora and nation in an interview pub-
lished in 2000, Morej6n herself argues that the treatment of the theme "fluc-
tuates" in the work of black and mulatto women writers in Cuba and in relation
also to the concept of Cuban nationhood: "They may evidence lesser or greater
awareness of the phenomenon, as the full Cuban citizens they feel themselves
to be." Morej6n continues by alluding to Herrera's treatment of the diaspora
in her poetry: "Her poetry is very varied, there are times when the phenome-
non is apparent and others when it is not, but the literary merit is undeniable"
("Grounding" 165). In my opinion, drawing on dialogic relationships can open
up new lines of inquiry in the study of these poets' writing, by presenting black
women's subjectivity as multiple and discontinuous. By describing the
authors' establishment of a dialogue of discourses with Cuba's nationalist rhet-
oric and the notion of the black diaspora, we can understand the work of Black
Cuban women poets as an example of "evolution within the Revolution."
Africa vs. Cuba or Africa and Cuba?
Narratives of Destiny and Arrival in Nancy Morej6n's Poetry
In order to discuss the authors' discursive diversity in relation to the repre-
sentation of national identity in the Caribbean, it is crucial to talk about
transculturaci6n (transculturation). The term was coined by the Cuban social
anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in his book Contrapunteo cubano del tabacoy
el azucar (Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar; 1940) to describe col-
onial situations as a two-way cultural exchange during a three-fold process:
first, immigrant groups partially lose aspects of their culture; second, the
colonized assimilate elements from the immigrant cultures; third, a cultural
synthesis takes place, resulting in the creation of a new culture. Ortiz explains
that there will always be new foreign influences, and therefore in his view the
new culture is "never achieved, forever deferred and forever in the making"
(Spitta 161). He uses the term "counterpoint" as a synonym for trans-
culturation in order to describe the social and economic dynamics between
sugar and tobacco in Cuban history as a simile of the mestizaje between Span-
ish and African influences in the national culture.
Similar notions of syncretism and transculturation are still being em-
ployed by contemporary Cuban writers and cultural theorists. In her book
Nacidn y mestizaje en Nicolds Guillen (Nation and Miscegenation in Nicolas
Guill6n; 1982), Morej6n argues that Guillen's use of the notion of cultural
and racial hybridity needs to be examined within the framework of the nation,
transculturation, and Revolution (171), since the mulatto national poet consid-
ered mestizaje as the essence of Cuban national culture.10 Morej6n has also
written about the notion of transculturation in two chapters of her collection
of essays Fundacidn de la imagen (Foundation of the Image; 1988): "Mito y
realidad en Cecilia Vald6s" (Myth and Reality in Cecilia Vald6s) and "La
cultural cubana: historic de transculturaci6n" (Cuban Culture: History of
Transculturation). What is most interesting in Morej6n's study of the subject
in the latter chapter is her emphasis on the notion that transculturation implies
"constant interaction" (188), and her subsequent assertion that Cubans are im-
mersed "in a constant search of the national and revolutionary being" (190).
Morej6n also argues that the Cuban nation distinguishes itself from other
Caribbean and Latin American nations because of its attempt to create "a na-
tion homogeneous in its heterogeneity, characterized by a common political
goal-the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro" (190; emphasis added).
In a further development of her study of transculturation, Morej6n
writes about the role of the mulatto woman as a symbol of this process in the
chapter dedicated to the protagonist of Cecilia Valdes, o La Loma del Angel
(Cecilia Vald6s, or the Angel's Hill; 1882), the celebrated novel by Cuban au-
thor Cirilo Villaverde. Cecilia is a canonical text that portrays early nineteenth-
century Cuban slave society and the problematic racial tensions in the island
due to the class division within a population of whites, slaves, free blacks,
and free mulattoes. In her psychological analysis of the main female char-
acter, a free mulatto woman of lower class origin, Morej6n alludes to the last-
ing efficacy of the trope that identifies woman and nation in order to propose
that Cecilia represents the mestizaje and transculturation that define Cuban
national culture. At this point, it is necessary to mention Morej6n's disclaimer
when explaining that the case of Cecilia is but a step in the process of trans-
culturation, and therefore Cuba's progress towards a society free of racism is
not finished and remains an objective of the Revolution (Fundaci6n 15)."
It is rather significant, in my opinion, that by choosing the novel
Cecilia Valdes to discuss this process of transculturation, Morej6n has un-
covered the trauma hidden behind the processes of mestizaje and
transculturacion, describing the protagonist's black matrilineage as the result
of interracial relationships between generations of black and mulatto women
and the white men who abused and abandoned them. While other authors have
glossed over the abuse of black female slaves with the description of
mestizaje as a happy marriage of differences, Morej6n struggles to uncover
this trauma, which is present in the protagonist of "Mujer negra" (Black
Woman in Parajes de una epoca), probably her most anthologized and trans-
lated poem.12 This piece constitutes an epic journey of collective resistance,
where a black female protagonist-narrator recounts the history of Black
Cubans from the Middle Passage to the revolutionary present. As the pro-
tagonist faces challenges and sufferings during the crossing of the Atlantic
and the slave trade, Morej6n's aesthetic of restraint is evident, according to
Claudette Rose-Green Williams, in "the subtlety, indirection and ellipsis" with
which the poetic voice describes the experience of sexual abuse (157): "Bord6
la casaca de Su Merced y un hijo macho le pari. / Mi hijo no tuvo nombre."
[I embroidered His Worship's coat and bore him a male child. / My son had
no name] (Looking 200-201). 3 In his analysis of the poem, Antonio Tillis ar-
gues that, "With women of the African Diaspora, oppression related to gen-
der becomes secondary to racial oppression" ("Nancy Morej6n's 'Mujer
Negra'" 489). However, the lines about the slave's experience of sexual abuse
demonstrate that her oppression is specifically racially gendered, without a
"hierarchy" that emphasizes race over gender: in the poem blackness acquires
significance through the analysis of the sexual exploitation of black women.
As the generic title indicates, and as Morej6n herself has mentioned in
interviews, the protagonist's experiences are similar to those of other black
women who were brought to Cuba as slaves, demonstrating that the con-
struction of the poetic subject's subjectivity is grounded in a collective con-
sciousness. By making a black woman the protagonist of this epic, Morej6n
is able to incorporate race and gender differences within the framework of the
Revolution's project of unity. However, a question that constantly arises
among studies of Morej6n's work is whether this poem portrays an Afrocen-
tric or a Cuban national identity: Does Morej6n affirm Africanness over
Cubanness in "Mujer negra"? Scholars Rose-Green Williams and DeCosta-
Willis claim that the poet foregrounds the creation of the Cuban nation over
the presentation of aspects of African heritage. Rose-Green Williams points
out that the poetic "I" recognizes her African heritage with reluctance (13):
"Acaso no he olvidado ni mi costa perdida, ni mi lengua ancestral." [Perhaps
I haven't forgotten my lost coast, or my ancestral language] (Looking 200-
201). Similarly, in her analysis of the poem as a crossing narrative,
DeCosta-Willis signals that the protagonist "looks forward to the Americas
and not back to Africa" and that her roots are "firmly anchored in Cuban soil"
("Meditations" 5): "Ya nunca mis imagine el camino a Guinea. / ,Era a
Guinea? iA Benin? ,Era a Madagascar? / LO a Cabo Verde?" [I no longer
dreamt of the road to Guinea. / Was it to Guinea? Benin? To Madagascar? Or
Cape Verde?] (Looking 200-201).
In contrast to these analyses, Tillis underscores the poem's affirmation
of Africanness, by arguing that "[T]he poetic 'I' is presented as a collective-
female voice for Africans in Cuba" ("Nancy Morej6n's 'Mujer Negra'" 489).
According to this critic, the poetic subject's final acknowledgement of her
Cuban identity in the poem is not achieved "at the expense of her Africana
self' (493). In my opinion, we should not be privileging one reading over the
other, making this an either/or dilemma that needs to be solved. The lines
where the protagonist doubts her memory of her past can be understood as a
reflection on the importance of her African heritage; indeed, instead of ob-
serving that she "might have forgotten," she says that she "might not have
forgotten" Africa. Moreover, after the poetic "I" recounts being born again on
Cuban soil, she explains that she brought her spirit of resistance directly from
Africa: "A cuanta epopeya mandinga intent recurrir. / Me rebels."
[How many Mandinga epics did I look to for strength. / I rebelled]
Similarly, the poem has been read as a call for Cuban nationalism rather
than black nationalism in its defense in the last stanza of communism as an
ideology that promotes equality: "Iguales mios, aqui los veo bailar / alrededor
del arbol que plantamos para el comunismo. / Su pr6diga madera ya resuena."
[My equals, here I see you dance / around the tree we are planting for com-
munism. / Its prodigal wood resounds] (Looking 200-201). However, the last
line of the poem also harkens back to the sounds of drums, defined by critics
of Afro-Hispanic literature as a language symbolizing the voice of the African
ancestor. Even though DeCosta-Willis points out as a significant fact that the
narrative does not begin in Africa ("Meditations" 5), we should note that the
beginning of the poem does not take place in Cuba either, but in the Middle
Passage, an in-between space that can correspond to the first stage of a process
Morej6n has said that, "It is absurd to look back to Africa as a solution
to national identity in America" (Nacidn 145). Her efforts to describe black
culture are immersed in the dialectic of transculturation. In Naci6n y mestizaje
en Nicolds Guilln, she points out that the term Afro-Hispanic would reflect
better Cuba's hybrid population, and she also admits her preference for the
term black vs. African, because an African is not always of the black race
(Naci6n 57). Therefore, by discussing different black ethnic groups in "Mujer
negra," Morej6n might be stressing the idea that there was no single fixed
black race that mixed with the white population in Cuba. In Ortiz's
Contrapunteo, neither tobacco nor sugar is a fixed element, and in the same
way Morej6n understands that the theory of transculturation does not assume
that the two identities that participate in the process were formerly pure.
If we attend more closely to the specificity of Morejon's understand-
ing of diaspora in "Mujer negra," we can see that the poem shows transcultur-
ation as an evolving process, introducing a diasporic consciousness where
beginning and end are equally important as symbols of the phenomenon.
Therefore, the poem can be read in conjunction with the two coexistent read-
ings of the Revolution in Cuban historiography, both as a new beginning and
as the culmination of a struggle for autonomy. In this vein, Cuba appears in
the poem as both the inauguration of an era and the end of a passage that began
in Africa. Following this dialectic of continuity and change, Morej6n states in
an interview that "the diaspora cannot be in any way divorced from the phe-
nomenon of nation" ("Grounding" 163). In fact, having experienced several
stages of the Revolution, the poet is now focused on what she considers a
national problem: "the conflict of the divided family" ("Voz y poesia" 66).
Alan West and William Luis have mentioned the novelty of this theme in the
most recent developments of Morej6n's poetry. In poems such as "Ana
Mendieta" and "Frente a un espejo" from Paisaje celebre (1993), Morej6n
examines the subject of the exiled subject's sense of displacement, moving
beyond an analysis of the African diaspora in the United States and other
Caribbean nations (an analysis that had already been performed by her men-
tor Nicolas Guill6n), in order to explore a new diasporic consciousness that in-
spires anxiety in the island: the Cuban exile and its effects on the
fragmentation of Cuban families. This "post-revolutionary diaspora," which
can reflect a split in the island, inscribes Cuba (not Africa) as the lost imagi-
Morej6n's poems weave an intricate list of components that form a per-
son's identity, such as race, gender, class, culture, and language. In this vein,
in the poem "Persona" (Person), the poetic "I" describes "searching endlessly
in reflections of multiple human mirrors for her roots and identity
(Cordones-Cook, "Introducci6n" 51).14 As the poetic voice (identifying her-
self as a black female) describes the commonalities and differences between
herself and other black women, she alternatively supports essentialist and con-
structivist visions of identity, resulting in an ever evolving subject:
LToda mi piel sera la mia
o me han devuelto a cambio
los huesos y la piel de otra mujer
cuyo vientre ha marcado otro horizonte,
otro ser, otras criaturas, otro dios?
[Is all my skin mine at all
or have they rather returned to me
the skin and bones of another woman
whose belly has been branded by another horizon,
another being, another creatures, another god?] (Looking 206)
In her study of Morej6n's representations of Caribbean women as a collec-
tive, Lesley Feracho has pointed out, as DeCosta-Willis does in "The
Caribbean as Idea and Image," that there is a reticence and hesitance in the
poet's identification with a notion of Caribbean (women's) solidarity. Despite
the fact that this notion appears in several of her poems, both critics signal
Morej6n's simultaneous self-questioning as she foregrounds her iden-
tification with a collective of Caribbean women marked by a history of slav-
ery and oppression. The poet's ambiguous resistance to essentialist markers of
ethnicity appears also in her explanation of the process of creation of"Mujer
negra," when she asserts that she had many difficulties writing the end of the
poem because "the 'I' of that woman was an epic 'we' that got confused with
my personal experiences in the Cuba of the 70s" ("Poeticas" 7). Morej6n's
acknowledgment of this personal connection with the protagonist of the poem
could refer to her struggles to write about black female subjectivity within the
context of the Revolution during her "literary disappearance."
Inscribing a Mythical Africa in a Quotidian Cuba:
Syncretism in Georgina Herrera's Poetry
A similar dialectic between promoting the common experiences of blacks in
the diaspora and highlighting Cuban singularity is present in the work of
Georgina Herrera. In my interview with her, Herrera affirmed that, as she be-
came more aware of her black identity over time, she began to write stories of
rebellious female ancestors and other strong black female historical figures.
In these poems, the author emphasizes the importance of finding her fore-
mothers, while exploring the evolving identity of black women in Cuba
through a diasporic and matrilineal history. Hence, in "Fermina Lucumi" (in
Grande es el tiempo), Herrera writes about a black slave who fought for free-
dom during the Cuban slave revolts in the nineteenth century. In the poem, the
poetic persona demonstrates her admiration for the courage shown by the
slave, whose last name (Lucumi is the name given to Yoruba slaves in Cuba),
transforms her into an archetypal heroine. The admiration is also evident in the
respect with which the poetic voice addresses the slave, by employing the
more formal subject pronoun usted (the formal "you"), and in the ways in
which she or he attempts to know Fermina's motivations. Thus, the poetic "I"
asks partly rhetorical questions, assuming that it is nostalgia for Africa that
motivated Fermina's rebellion: "iQu6 recuerdo / traido desde su tierra en que
era libre / como la luz y el trueno / dio la fuerza a su brazo? ... Diga, Fermina,
iEntonces / qu6 echaba usted de menos?" (Grande 17). [What memory /
brought from the land where she was free / like the light and the thunderstorm
/ gave her arm strength? . Tell me Fermina: What did / you miss at that
time?] (Argilelles 56).
Herrera shows the same admiration for heroic black female figures
from the past in another two famous poems, "Canto de amor y respeto para
Dofia Ana de Souza" (Song of Love and Respect for Dofia Ana de Souza, in
Granos de sol y de luna) and "Retrato oral de la Victoria" (Oral Portrait of
Victory, in Grande es el tiempo). In the first poem, the double named protag-
onist is an African queen who fought against the Portuguese colonization of
her land. Herrera comments on the queen's use of her Western name in offi-
cial documents but not with her people, who called her Mother Yinga Mbandi,
while she describes this female heroic figure as a model for the poetic persona:
"Yinga / sefiora, agua limpia donde quiero / verme reflejada" (Granos 12).
[Yinga / lady, clean water where I want / to see my face reflected] (Davies,
"Writing" 45). Similarly, Herrera explores her matrilineal family history, in
order to define herself by underscoring rebelliousness and racial pride. In
"Retrato oral de la Victoria," after explaining the heroism of her slave grand-
mother Victoria, the author finishes with the line: "CimarroneAndose y en
bocabajos / pas6 la vida. / Dicen / que me parezco a ella" (Grande 22). [She
spent her life / running away from slavery and in shackles. / They say / I am
just like her.]
As in Morej6n's case, scholars have also debated Herrera's views on
the significance of African-based cultural and ethnic differences within the
context of Cuba's nationalistic discourse. Catherine Davies argues that
Herrera identifies with Africa "as a cultural, historical, and political construct,
and as a trope facilitating textual self-constitution" ("Writing" 34). However,
Katherine Hedeen considers inadequate Davies's analysis of the "inscription
of Africa" in Herrera's work, because "instead of referring to a specific time
and space, it [Davies's notion of Africa] becomes an essentialist notion, lack-
ing historicity and specificity" (42; translation mine). While Davies suggests
that Herrera looks to Africa rather than Cuba "for the legitimization of a
revolutionary syncretic feminist heritage" (Place 180), Hedeen argues that the
poet studies the African experience in Cuba through the process of trans-
Undoubtedly, poems such as "Fermina Lucumi" are examples of the
experiences of blacks in Cuba: this rebel slave's name recalls the process of
transculturation through a particular experience in a concrete time and space.
Moreover, when she was discussing new ideas for her writing in my interview
with her, it became evident that Herrera's projects showcase the role that
Cuba's cultural syncretism plays in Black Cuban women poets' discourses on
national identity. She mentioned her project to revise an Afro-Cuban myth
about the figure of the female deity, Osh6n. She also talked about the content
of a play she has written but not been able to publish, entitled "El iiltimo sueio
de Mariana" (Mariana's Last Dream), where the figure of the Black Cuban
female deity Yemaya appears connected to other Black Cuban rebellious fe-
male historical figures such as the rebellious slave Fermina Lucumi and
Mariana Grajales, mother of the Maceo brothers (mulatto heroes of Cuba's
independence wars), who herself played an important part in Cuba's first war
However, a more mythical Africa acts as a paradigm for the poetic
voice's self-definition in another of Herrera's poems, "Africa" (in Grande es
el tiempo), where the poetic voice describes her feelings of protectiveness to-
wards a personified African continent that functions as a metaphor for her
African heritage: "Puedes cerrar tranquila en el descanso / los ojos, tenderte /
un rato en paz. / Te cuido" (Grande 15). [You can calmly close your eyes / and
rest, lie in peace. / I care for you] (Argiielles 56). In this process of self-
recognition, the face of the poetic "1" functions as a self-reflecting mirror:
"Este rostro, hecho / de tus raices, vuelvese / espejo para que en l6 te veas"
(Grande 14). [This face, made with your roots, / becomes a mirror so that you
can see your image] (Argiielles 56).
Neither Davies nor Hedeen knew, when writing their essays, of
Herrera's more extensive treatment of Africa in her current unfinished project,
which the author discussed in our interview, entitled Africa, acercamiento per-
sonal a su cultural y costumbres, unica y diverse (Africa: A Personal Approach
to the Demythification of Its Passions and Culture, Unique and Diverse).
Herrera explained that she wanted to create a book that would discuss the sur-
vival of blacks in a Middle Passage that for the author did not end with the
abolition of the slave trade. She affirmed that her goal was for blacks to ac-
cept and know themselves better by exploring their African heritage, from the
removal of blacks from Africa to their life under slavery and final return to
Africa upon their death. In the author's written description of this project,
Herrera showcases the strong survival spirit Africans have had in the dias-
pora, and how they kept their customs and identity after arriving in Cuba,
remembering their names and origins.
In my view, Herrera's writing portrays African culture as both an iden-
tity inscribed within a quotidian Cuban reality, and as a mystified past. By
drawing connections between archetypal figures of the historical past and her
persona, the poet locates these figures in between myth and history. Thus, in
her poem "Africa," although the description of Africa resembles a mythical
version of the continent, the poet also describes the similarities between
African myths and her quotidian reality: "Amo esos dioses / con histories asi
como las mias: / yendo y viniendo / de la guerra al amor o lo contrario"
(Grande 14-15). [I love those gods / with stories like this, just like mine / com-
ing and going / from war to love or vice versa] (Abudu 171). Herrera
compares mythical and realistic images of Africa in "Saludos, Presidente
Agonstinho" (Our Respects, President Agostinho, in Granos de soly luna), in
which the poet presents an exchange of ideas between her grandfather, who
came as a slave from Africa, and the Angolan President Agostinho Neto, who
became a victim of Portuguese colonialism. Herrera demonstrates the dangers
of an idealization of the African past when the figure of Neto tells the grand-
father about the real struggles taking place in Africa.
In her visions of Africa and a black essence, the author can be sus-
pected of supporting a mythologizationn of beginnings" in the representation
of Africa as a foundational fixed native self. However, Herrera escapes this
dilemma by presenting an unresolved tension between promoting trans-
nationality or cultural nationalism. Her black female figures are always char-
acterized by their rebelliousness in struggles for independence, a trait that has
been used by the Revolution to connect the struggles of the past with the
Revolutionary present. Underscoring the importance of the past in the repre-
sentation of black identity in Cuba helps Herrera highlight the idea of in-
betweenness and process, rather than synthesis: a Middle Passage that has not
Dialectics/Dialogics in Black Cuban Women's Poetry
Critics such as Martin-Ogunsola have argued that there is a conflict between
the discourses of the Revolution and the diaspora because the first one
subsumes differences that the second discourse highlights. Undoubtedly, it is
necessary to consider the limitations Cuba's revolutionary ideology can im-
pose on black women artists' freedom of expression as they attempt to employ
race and gender politics within the framework of a national discourse of unity.
However, even though Morej6n's and Herrera's poetry shows points of tension
between cultural nationalism and the black diaspora, their work is also an ex-
ample of shifting perspectives. Their dialectics/dialogics of identity and dif-
ference present black female identities as unfinished and evolving.
Nevertheless, their writing does not fall into a kind of postmodern ambiguity
of which Gilroy's and Hall's diasporic subjects have been accused, because the
poets' work showcases the importance of discussing the historical and politi-
cal context in which they create.
In her study of Morej6n's poetry, DeCosta-Willis has signalled the
importance of Eleggua, god of crossroads, the trickster figure "who manifests
the 'occult and enigmatic power' of the writer, the power to unite opposites,
to resolve paradoxes, to mediate distances" ("Orishas" 287). I would like to
argue here for the inclusion of Eleggua, a seminal figure of African past, into
the debate over interpretations of Black Cuban women poets' views on race
and ethnicity within the framework of a Cuban national identity. Lorna
Williams has commented that Eleggua "enables the text to inscribe in-
determinacy behind its syncretic appearance of certainty" ("Revolutionary"
442). Eleggua, an essential myth of Cuban transculture, can connect the ways
in which Morej6n and Herrera enter into dialogue with discourses of the
others) throughout their writing as interlocutors whose multiple positionality
allows them "to speak both from and to the position of others"
Damian Fernndez argues that in revolutionary societies "continuity
is as powerful as change" (166-167). In their reinscription of black women
into national culture, Morej6n and Herrera participate in the dialectic between
continuity and change that characterizes the Revolution's interpretations of
its history as the final arrival or the new beginning of a revolutionary Cuban
identity. They do so by providing models for the simultaneous disruption,
revision, and/or appropriation of discourses on the diaspora and transcultura-
tion, blackness and Africanness, and Cuban national identity. Perhaps because
in the Caribbean "there is always a voyage, always a ship" as Morej6n has
said ("Towards a Poetics" 53), her and Herrera's fluid way of thinking and re-
thinking black women's subjectivity and national identity can be read as a
text-in-flux, written out of dialogic/dialectic tensions, but always portraying
in the end an unfinished, evolving black female subject.
1. In contrast with the creation of abolitionist literature in the US, the status
of the island as a Spanish colony had an influence over many antislavery lit-
erary texts written by Cuban authors who showed a concern with the maltreat-
ment of slaves rather than openly advocating the abolition of slavery.
Discussing this aspect of Cuban antislavery literature, Loma Williams points
out how the prominent slaveholder Domingo Del Monte, who promoted the
writing and publishing of many of the island's antislavery texts, preferred
"tales of oppression over those exalting freedom" (Representation 21).
2. In this essay I will use the term Black Cuban-and also use upper case
"B"-rather than Afro-Cuban, since it is a term more easily welcomed by the
writers themselves. While Morej6n has rejected the term Afro-Cuban, point-
ing out that there is no term for Hispanic-Cuban, Herrera is less involved in
the way she is described ("I just want to be read"), although she calls herself
"a woman of black origin" (from my interview with the author). Morej6n and
Herrera are actually suspicious of both terms, often preferring to be known
simply as Cuban poets.
3. In the summer of 2002, I conducted interviews with both Nancy Morej6n
and Georgina Herrera in Havana. I quote from these interviews in this article.
As with the rest of quotations from their critical and expository writings, I in-
clude only the translation in English due to space limitations. Translations are
mine unless otherwise stated.
4. Describing black women's writing, Henderson states that "black women
must speak in a plurality of voices as well as in a multiplicity of discourses"
(122). She calls this discursive diversity "speaking in tongues," which is the
name of a practice in the Pentecostal Church.
5. See Kutzinski's Sugar s Secrets: Race and the Erotics of Cuban National-
ism (1993) for a discussion of the role of the iconic mulatta within the dis-
course of mestizaje "as it manifests itself in Cuban literature, ethnography,
and popular culture" (6).
6. For a study of more general notions of diaspora, see Robin Cohen's Global
Diasporas. Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic and Stuart Hall's "Cultural Iden-
tity and Diaspora" discuss theories on the black diaspora, and Christine
Chivallon's "Beyond Gilroy's Black Atlantic" and Ulfried Reichardt's "Dias-
pora Studies and the Culture of the African Diaspora" analyze the work of
Gilroy and Hall as a "hybrid diaspora." Several critics have now begun to sig-
nal the need to reconsider Africa and discourses on African nationalism in re-
lation to the new diaspora theories. Thus, Charles Piot calls for more attention
to Africa as diasporic itself in the Atlanticists' discourse ("Atlantic Aporias"
156), and Laura Chrisman promotes the study of African nationalism and
black transatlanticism as mutually supportive discourses ("Rethinking Black
7. For more on Herrerra's comments about the difficulties of exercising crit-
icism without her work being considered against the "homeland," see Her-
rera's interview with Pedro P6rez Sarduy.
8. Morej6n has been linked to the literary group and publishing house El
Puente, which was closed in 1965 and whose members, several of whom were
black intellectuals, were accused of publishing "bourgeois" literature. Schol-
ars such as William Luis and Linda Howe have related her publishing silence
to the debate over cultural production during the Revolution, specifically de-
bates about what refers to discussing a racial agenda.
9. Flora GonzAlez argues that Morej6n changes her concept of race and self-
identity in the essays she writes in the 1990s in ways that were censored in her
earlier writing of the 1970s and 1980s (993).
10. Guill6n himself discussed blackness as an essential factor in the racial and
cultural synthesis that he believed characterizes Cuban cultural identity, by
proclaiming in the prologue to his famous work S6ngoro Cosongo (1931): "El
espiritu de Cuba es mestizo" [Cuba's spirit is mulatto].
11. Morej6n affirms that "transculturation and miscegenation depend, as it is
well known, on the time and the turning points of each period of change. Ce-
cilia ... represents a phase of those turning points. . The passage of time
causes changes and transformations. In the case of Cuba, the Socialist govern-
ment has shown in a clear and decisive way, a commitment to identifying and
proclaiming the most legitimate roots of our identity" (Fundacidn 15; trans-
12. Curiously, Morej6n mentions, without any criticism, the "ambiguously
positive" characterization of these interracial relationships by Cuban author
Miguel Barnet: "the first night a black woman and a black man spent together
marked a turning-point for our country, and a day aglow with light dawned for
the culture of the Caribbean" (Fundaci6n 20, qtd. in Barnet 141). Morej6n
explores the trauma behind the sexual relationships between master and fe-
male slave in another famous poem, "Amo a mi amo" (I Love My Master),
which I cannot analyze in this essay for lack of space.
13. All of Morej6n's quotations from poems, as well as their translations, are
from Looking Within. In the case of Herrera's poems, the original reference
appears after the Spanish text, and the reference for the translation appears
immediately after the English version. When there is no reference for the Eng-
lish, translations are mine.
14. Morej6n wrote "Persona" in 1999 as a revision of her poem "Mujer
Negra," and Cordones-Cook included it in Looking Within, with a translation
by David L. Frey.
15. The importance of these figures for a syncretic view of Cuba's national
identity is evident in Herrera's words during my interview with the poet, as she
asked aloud, "Who do I choose [between Yemayd, Fermina and Mariana]?"
She then responds, "A mixture of the three."
16. In addition to DeCosta-Willis and Williams, Antonio Tillis ("Postcolonial
Pilgrimage") and Alan West Durin ("The Stone and Its Images") have also
addressed the importance of the figure of Eleggua. While Tillis points to Eleg-
gua's linking "the histories of people of African descent in Cuba" (71), my
analysis goes further into the use of this figure in theoretical discussions in
order to symbolically represent Black Cuban women poets' articulation of dif-
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"A PLACE ON THE MAP OF THE WORLD":
LOCATING HOPE IN SHANI MOOTOO'S
HE DROWN SHE IN THE SEA and
DIONNE BRAND'S WHAT WE ALL LONG FOR
This paper attends to the "emotional geographies" (Davidson and Milligan;
Davidson and Bondi; McKittrick) ofglobalization charted in two recent Cana-
dian-based novels of the Trinidadian diaspora, both published in 2005: Shani
Mootoo's He Drown She in the Sea and Dionne Brand's What We All Long
For. These novels raise questions about possible relationships between Black
Atlantic and Asian diaspora subjectivity, Canada/Caribbean relations under
globalization, and the kinds of narrative structures that might be adequate for
addressing these issues. To label these "novels of the Trinidadian diaspora" is
to immediately chart a context for emotional geographies that would be al-
tered if we were to describe them as simply Canadian fiction, yet they are
surely that too. The dynamics of migration shape the different mappings as-
sociated with each of these descriptors while the novels themselves incorpo-
rate their collisions. Neither Trinidad, Canada, nor diaspora provides an
adequate context for understanding these fictions. Rather than seek a suitable
classification to pin them down, this essay reads them as implicitly in dia-
logue with a range of theoretical discussions located at the cusp between fem-
inist, postcolonial, and globalization studies.
This kind of attention enables me to argue that, in their invocations of
diasporic memories and longings, these novels grapple with the project artic-
ulated by David Scott in Conscripts of Modernity: each is concerned "with
MaComere 8 (2006): 94-111