Emancipatory Proposition

Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa

…j’écris en français pour dire aux Français que je ne suis pas français.

Kateb Yacine, 1966

Crisis life. Life crisis. Crisis of life. Life of crisis. Crisis on life. Life on crisis. Crisis below life. Life below crisis. Crisis in life. Life in crisis. Crisis beyond life. Life beyond crisis.

Because I have always struggled with English prepositions, I make all kinds of propositions. To experiment. To see what works. And what doesn’t. But, above all, to see what flees.

In Puerto Rico we have always been fleeing. But most of our fleeing is not the cool, postmodern kind. It’s tearing apart fleeing. Fleeing that does not come up in the news. Fleeing that does not count as asylum-seeking. Fleeing with citizenship. Fleeing without war. Fleeing from the evidence of our millenary subjugation. Fleeing against and fleeing from the fellow American, but fleeing that cannot be understood as such because those who care insist on the violence of fellowship as much as on the fellowship of violence.

I write this in English because languages escape power, or so I want to believe. At least, I write this sentence willing it to do what it says it will: rip the English language’s power apart. I know full well English is criminal. The thing is, though, Spanish is too. And in Puerto Rico, there is no fleeing such evidence unless you experiment and use the wrong prepositions and disturb fellow Americans with your emancipatory propositions and fellow Spanish-speaking people who say Puerto Ricans are the worst Spanish speakers because we fuck up the Rs. Such is the fleeing I seek, seeing as to the utter intolerability of the life empire made, and continues to make, for us, the colonial subjects.

You might think I am the sacrificial body. But the body of my blood, the flesh of my thought, will never be yours. Nor will they ever be in your debt. 

I am not your fellow American. The debt is yours. You owe me.

Such is my emancipatory proposition.

Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa’s research and creative work revolve around Caribbean literatures and philosophies, island and archipelagic studies, gender and queer theory, decoloniality, and street theater and performance. She holds a PhD from Duke University’s Program in Literature and is currently an adjunct professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. She also works as associate editor for the independent publishing house Editora Educación Emergente and is a freelance editor and translator. Her research has been published in academic journals such as Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Discourse, Caribbean Studiesand Sargasso, while her creative work has been published in digital platforms and magazines such as 80grados, Ahora la turba,Cruce, and Revista penúltiMa. The book Puerto Islas: crónicas, crisis, amor was published in 2018. She is currently at work on a book about archipelagic, decolonial futures for Puerto Rico, which includes a comparative analysis of past Caribbean confederation models. Through her work with the collectives PROTESTAmos and Taller Libertá, she is also an activist in defense of full sovereignty for the archipelago, debt relief and reparations, public education and independent art in Puerto Rico.

Pressure Cooking

Tiffany Walton

If you don’t have an entire day to spare, then you need a pressure cooker to cook goat, oxtail or cow foot. You have to wash the meat good first. Water and vinegar, and if it’s fish, you use lime juice. We don’t concern ourselves with what the Americans say about washing meat. Mi neva meet ah island person weh tek sick over food poisoning or washing meat yet. Now you season: salt, black pepper, whole garlic and onion, all-purpose seasoning, onion powder, thyme, pimento, scallion. Don’t put too much oil. Wait until the pot gets hot before you put the meat it. You see the light smoke, it’s hot now. Put everything in. Give it a good stir. Now put the warm water in. We always have trouble finding this knob. Make sure the pot is on the stove good. Now you leave it alone on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. The pressure takes at least 10 minutes to build. There is heat. Steam. Air hissing. Pressure. All right, time to turn off the heat. Let it sit. It’s taking too long to quiet, so you have to pull the knob to release the air.  Continue reading “Pressure Cooking”

I Am Here


I am here mamma. I am here. When your ship docks in the Harbour after that abomination they called the ’middle passage‘ and you are released from the leg irons to stumble ashore terrified, decimated, emaciated, I am here to welcome you no matter the centuries that separate us. I am here. To take you to my home, no matter its simplicity, its near collapse, it’s full of love. For you. I am here, no matter your many daughters between us that don’t won’t can’t claim you, I claim you. I bring you to my own worn mattress, put cool clean fresh sheets for you to lay on. Wash your broken feet, your matted hair, put the finest softest clothes I can find on your tired body. Prop you up with the best of the flattened pillows, bring you cool water and help you sip sip til your dry lips get plump and moist again. I am here. To bring you little meals of the best I have in the house even if that’s only Vienna sausages. Feed you slowly til your tummy expands to normal size again. I am here to hold you while you cry for all you’ve lost, to look and look and look into your eyes until you can see yourself in me, see we survived it mamma, you survived in me and I will tell your story, no matter the screaming denial of your many daughters that stand between you and me. I will tell your story loudly, quietly, brutally, gently, endlessly. I am here mamma. Me. Never mind them in between us. Look at me. I am here.

Breaking the Silences


Random thought . . . I hope in 2018 feminism will have a little pride and at least pretend to be about the protection and empowerment of disenfranchised females, EVEN WHEN the aggressors are ALSO FEMALE. Hopefully feminist activism –  especially local activism – will be unbridled by the saleswomen of misogynistic values and traditions. May every remaining forced silence be broken in 2018! Traditions which aren’t conducive to the physical and psychological well-being of ALL citizens have no right being enforced, either formally or informally, on a national level. Let’s be honest: in 2017 there was national failure when it came to embracing and mending the broken. There was wholesale resistance to the introduction of consequence as a deterrent to future actions. People who had been mute their entire lives about the atrocities they witnessed, suddenly found a voice as they screamed procedural instructions at the victims of brazen and depraved crimes while they hobnobbed with the criminals in plain sight. If 2018 doesn’t bring visibly drastic changes, then 2018 should bring a rain of bullets. Sometimes fire needs to gaze into the eyes of fire to understand itself.

Tanya Stephens is a Jamaican singer and songwriter [who insists on wasting her writing on Facebook — editor].

Swallowing Patwa


[This brief account was collated, with his permission, from a series of tweets by the author. Stories are being told, just not in the usual media.]

I had an embarrassing experience in the summer of 2007 while volunteering at an orphanage in St Mary. I met a Peace Corps volunteer who asked for help with her Patwa homework. I told her no problem mon. I know this language. I can help.

Wen shikom wid dibuk – mi no andastan waa gwaan wid wemi asi pani piej dem. The Peace Corps uses a system of writing that nobody ever taught me. This is when I learned there is a conspiracy to deny Jamaican children literacy in our home language despite the existence of extensive coursework that is already in circulation.

Botsiya. Dis nomek nosens. Aalef mi neva did plan fiyuuzi, mi didago wahn finuo boutit. Imajin farina akoma Jomieka koma stodi fi reed ahn ryt fimi langwij bifuomeeee – ina St Miereeee? Mi telaarse eniweshi get debukde fram mi ago wahn wan.

Mi anesli kanfyuuz wen unu luk pahn patwa anse dis anono langwij. Minuo fi a fakse a kyaahn wemi taak unu a labalaba bout. Nofa unu who belittle patwa and patwa speakers are ashamed to admit that unu do nat know di language. Wen unu did a pikni unu get beetn for speaking it aloud in addition to thinking it. Admit it. Let us do some healing together.

It is no accident that reggae and dancehall coexist alongside each other as our favorite genres. Both of them tell a true Jamaican story but from apparently divergent perspectives. I love dancehall because it is the most extensive archive of contemporary Patwa poetry that we have. One day the entire sound library will be transcribed and it will be beautiful. The themes might be disturbing but they correspond to actual episodes in real life. Like night and day, Jamaica is a bright and a dark place.

Our relationship with Patwa and English is another example of the psychic extremes that we live between. These languages are opposites on the creole continuum but Jamaican poetry and music is a bridge between them. We rock serenely to anglicized roots reggae and, just as eagerly, we skinout to the urgent reminder that edtap batifat jiggle jiggle neva stap.

We are a hybrid people. This is a wonderful thing. If anybody questions your intellect because of your fluency in a language that they do not speak, you should question their intellect. Nomek nobadi mekyo feelse chuu dem nonuo weyaase, se a mos faat yaa chat. Mek dem gwaan. Ano notn. Di wolawi kyaahn ilitaret a galang so. After all these years of swallowing Patwa as soon as it reaches your throat: vamitiyop, pitiyout, letigo.

Fat Joy


As I dressed myself for work today, I couldn’t get Hunger, Roxane Gay’s searingly personal memoir of her body, out of my mind. Since growing fat, I’ve made so many negotiations with myself, and no, not all of them have been about ‘losing it’. I’ve tried, so hard, not to lose myself. By which I mean, me, in spite of fat. Me, because of fat. Me, a being capable of cruelty and innovation and all (in)human caprice, with fat as a reality, no more or less profound than my long eyelashes, my big nose, my hairy forearms. To even address this, my fat, feels wrong. It is, after all, the conversation I’m told I should never have in public. It’s a shaming I’m meant to only have with myself. Perhaps I will always be having it. I would, one day, like to know what it means to speak into the mirror of me without shame. Hunger helped. Helps, now.

Yes, I feel many things other than fat shame. Fat defiance, for one. Fat rage. Fat weariness. That’s different from being tired of being fat. I’m tired at having to defend myself from the censure of people who other me for my fatness, who side-eye and scorn my existence. Openly.

There are people who’ve lost hundreds of pounds, and yet feel their ‘ghost fat’ riding them like an inconvenient, untameable horse. People who are never certain exactly how much space their bodies take up in public, whether they have the bravery to squeeze into that seat, ascend that flight of stairs, fold themselves up in biddable crumples in bank queues or Subway lines. People who are afraid to eat in food courts because they’re fat. People who’re afraid to be pregnant because they’re fat. People who hoard their wedding photos in private folders, because fat. People who simply don’t show up, because fat.

No, this is not the only fat narrative. I’m an expert in no one else’s journey with fatness except my own. I can tell you, frankly and without fear, that there is fat joy, as much as that’s an affront to many people. There is fat, copious, generous, glowing self-acceptance. There is fat dancing. Fat flexing! Fat gyrations of greatness. Like everything else, it costs. Like everything else, the exact measure of what it takes to make yourself happy while fat, is an imprecise, wobbly science. It all comes down to what you see when you behold yourself in the mirror, what parts of you say, ’Today, you’re worthy of a little fat love.’

Shivanee Ramlochan’s first book of poems, Everyone Knows I am A Haunting, was published in 2017 by Peepal Tree Press.