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Joaquin Garcia Torres, "El Mapa Invertido"

In my last post I touched on how the United Nation’s has declared 2011 as the International Year to celebrate People of African Descent and how the histories of black folks around the world are being systematically recognized so that mainstream society can get hip to the notion of the African Diaspora (if you didn’t catch Henry Louis Gates ‘Black in Latin America’ get acquainted, black folks live in Latin America, too).  I’m assuming that most of you who are reading this post are basking comfortably in the sun  (global north), or, if I was mistaken, you’re bundled to the button hovering over a space heater (global south). For those of you in the global north (anywhere above the equator), I’d like to encourage you do a simple yet bizarre exercise, which requires un-learning the wee-bit of geography some of you have managed to retain (some stereotypes about American’s are sadly true). I’m asking you to flip your map upside down (a la Joaquin Torres Garcia style-see above) and discover the array of rich cultures and histories that exist below the equator. Shift your gaze to South America,  trace your finger along the Tropic of Cancer and stop at Uruguay (if Homer Simpson could find it, so can you)!

Now that you’re here–it’s time to celebrate! Don’t flatter yourself though, the marching bands and national guard aren’t lining the streets to salute you–this is one of several planned demonstrations  throughout the  year commemorating  Uruguay’s Bicentennial.  This year, as Uruguay celebrates 200 years as an independent nation, an array of government and non-profit organizations representing different public sectors have organized panels, conferences and publications in an effort to present Uruguay’s history in all of its entirety. This vision of accomplishing an all-inclusive presentation of the nation’s history couldn’t be anymore pertinent to the Afro-Uruguayan woman, who, although maintaining a strong voice in the public and private sector, historically, remains  isolated at the crossroads of gender and racial sectors. As an advocate for Afro-Diasporic communities, a stickler for challenging marginality, systematically induced silence and the construction of official stories (and, as someone always looking for a reason to celebrate) I’ve inserted my own biased logic–combine the two declarations (International Year of People of African Descent, and Uruguay’s Bicentennial) and you get the’ year to celebrate Afro-Uruguayan women.’ Other than my own political reasons, my bias is informed by a project I am conducting this year as a Fulbright research grantee.

photo credit: INMUJERES-Mujeres Afrodescendientes

As a ‘Fulbrighter’, I am sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the International Institute of Education to spend 9-months in Uruguay carrying out an independent research project related to my field of study, comparative literature. Since my arrival at the end of March, I have had several invaluably enriching experiences that range from engaging with middle and high school students in rural Uruguayan towns and giving presentations about Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Afro-Uruguayan women writers (the former, not officially included in Uruguayan classroom curricula), maneuvering archival materials, mapping out my investigation with my project advisor, and enriching individual perceptions of Uruguay’s literary canon and history in day-to-day conversations about my work here. As my focus is on 20th century Afro-Uruguayan women writers, the work is challenging in the sense that it relatively segregated and sparse in record (but not in quantity!).  My frustration at the marginality and exclusion of black women’s literature from the Uruguayan literary canon has fueled my desire to produce a valuable and informative report on the subject.

In the spirit of the UN’s declaration of 2011 as Year of People of African Descent, Uruguay’s celebration of 200 years as an independent nation, and the sheer necessity of highlighting the rich history and literary works of Afro-diasporic women, let’s take the time to commemorate the literary and cultural contributions of black women in Uruguay.

you can start here: Archivos de la Negritud (click ‘Archivos’)

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