Saturday, October 8, 2022

Letras Latinas congratulates Lorca prize winner!

 

Announcing the 2022 Lorca Latinx Poetry Prize

Winner and Honorable Mentions

Carmen Giménez selects ephemeral

by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes



 

MADRID, SPAIN (October 7, 2022) — The Lorca Latinx Poetry Prize, Letras Latinas, and EcoTheo Collective are thrilled to announce the winner of the 2022 Lorca Latinx Poetry Prize, which supports the publication of an English-Spanish language chapbook by an emerging Latinx poet with no more than one full-length collection in print. The 2022 Prize is awarded to heidi andrea restrepo rhodes for her chapbook ephemeral. Honorable mentions are given to Ayling Zulema Dominguez for Como el Nopal, and Cristian Ramirez Rodriguez for Violet Nerve. The winner and honorable mentions were selected by this year’s guest judge Carmen Giménez and first reader Suzi F. Garcia.

Carmen Giménez states:

 

“ephemeral is lush and hypnotic, 

a greenhouse of exotic unnamed plants, 

of longing. The language is elemental, physical, wrought, erotic. 

This poet has a rare sonic gift. 

I want love to live in all of us this way.”

 

 

For the full press release, please visit:

https://www.lorcalatinxpoetryprize.org/

Thursday, September 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: The Kissing Bug by Daisy Hernández

Photo Credit: Tin House via https://tinhouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/9781953534194-20220307020417.jpg

“[Falta] can mean a love that is not here, as in: ‘me haces falta,’ or ‘I miss you’ which I always hear as: ‘you make me miss you.’”
–Daisy Hernández, The Kissing Bug (Tin House, 2021)

In The Kissing Bug, author Daisy Hernández investigates Chagas, a neglected disease that disproportionately affects Latinxs, tackling issues with healthcare in the U.S. and her complex relationship with her Tía Dora, who passed as a result of the illness.


Like other works I’ve written about in this column, The Kissing Bug discusses maternal relationships and the role of women in Latinx families, in this case centering on the relationship between Hernández and her Tía Dora, whom she describes as a “domineering” or “micromanag[ing]” mother. Young Daisy behaved “like a boy,” something which her Tía Dora disapproved of: “…I said what was on my mind and I didn’t care what anyone thought,” she writes. Daisy’s sister, on the other hand, fit Dora’s vision of femininity and didn’t argue with her. For example, she answered “Señora?” whenever her name was called, a polite gesture that grated on Daisy’s nature. Daisy’s relationship with her aunt was further complicated when she came out as bisexual, to which Dora’s response was to cut off communication with her for years. In our Zoom interview, Hernández said that, while her aunt was striving “towards a traditional dream,” her own “more social justice based” ideas led to “different visions” for their futures. Their relationship was molded by cultural elements such as machismo which set certain expectations for women. “Machismo is not only the specific people we deal with,” Hernández told me, “but [also] the culture that we're in. And so I think a lot of us are not only watching our mothers, but also other women in our community.” Latinx women (and other women of color) raise daughters to be caregivers, teachers, and role models that “stay out of the way,” as Hernández’s mother and sister do in the book. 


The responsibilities of women also extend into healthcare as a whole; “The women in my family decided to save Tía Dora,” writes Hernández. Daisy’s mother and aunts were the ones taking her to appointments and tending to her, as Hernández told me her health was considered a “women’s issue.” Indeed, two of the most prominent doctors that deal with Chagas are women. Hernández has observed such women-centric caregiving in other cultures: “The degree to which our healthcare system functions on the backs of…Black and Brown women is just astounding.” And this goes beyond Chagas; The Kissing Bug states that “we contain [infectious diseases] to communities of color, to the poor, to the homeless, to people in this Second America.” The “Second America” includes Hernández’s family, for whom healthcare depended on health fairs in church parking lots. However, the promise of better treatment brought Dora from Colombia. “My auntie [was] super blessed that she was in the U.S. in New York City in 1980,” said Hernández. “That is really different from today.” Her aunt’s initial improvements created a myth in young Daisy’s mind: "As long as my auntie stayed here with us, she would never die." However, like the American Dream, this did not apply to everyone. Hernández writes about Lucia, whose lack of insurance led to her avoidable death. As I read, I wondered why pregnant Latinxs aren’t being screened for the parasite that causes Chagas, which can be treated if caught early. “I don't feel that there is any other reason except racism,” Hernández told me. “[Chagas] is not going to spread beyond this Latinx community…so white America has the option of ignoring it.” Lucia’s story and the lack of testing exemplify the epidemiological divide between those who do and don’t have access to healthcare.


Although Dora benefited from the healthcare she received in the U.S., she ultimately succumbed to her illness. “I don’t know why I am grieving you,” Hernández writes. “You were awful to me, and yet here I am crying in public.” At the end of The Kissing Bug, Hernández confesses that she grieved because her Tía never accepted her “as her queer daughter-sobrina.” This brings into high contrast those rare moments of tenderness, as when Dora tells Daisy “me hicistes falta.” “It was the closest she ever came to saying, ‘I love you,’” she writes. “In that moment, she was not the auntie who had banished me from her life.” This shows the importance of Spanish to Hernández, who called it “a language of a particular kind of intimacy… it just touches something that's very hard to describe.” And this doesn’t only apply to Spanish; Dora’s first doctor in the U.S., a son of Jewish immigrants, also knew about “the need for the mother tongue.” To both Hernández and I, Spanish is weightier than English, especially when it comes to love and family. It’s clear, then, why so many diasporic writers write about the proverbial mother tongue. This was exemplified toward the end of the book, when Hernández has an epiphany over responding to her name with “Señora?”: “[M]aybe Tía Dora had not been trying to make me into a lady. Maybe she had only wanted me to be more Colombian.”


Reading The Kissing Bug, I learned that culture can greatly influence healthcare, not only in its availability, but also in the act of caring. I had inadvertently witnessed what Hernández describes within my family; my grandfather, who passed away six months ago today, was always cared for by my grandmother, mother, and aunts, and he suffered unnecessary complications due to failures by healthcare professionals in Puerto Rico. Much of Hernández’s discussions of family dynamics and the function of language complements that of other authors throughout this column, and I think recognizing these commonalities can help members of Latinx cultures and immigrants from other countries empathize with each other’s experiences in the diaspora.


Thank you to Daisy Hernández for the Zoom interview and to Tin House for the review copy!




Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.




Monday, August 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa




Photo Credit: HarperCollins/Amistad via https://www.harpercollins.com/products/a-woman-of-endurance-dahlma-llanos-figueroa?variant=39419449704482
Cover Art by Fabiola Jean-Louis

“She knew with undeniable certainty that she would withstand all that they could devise to destroy her. They would not take her true self…she would survive.”
—Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa, A Woman of Endurance (Amistad, 2022)

A Woman of Endurance is Puerto Rican author Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa’s latest novel. It follows the turbulent life of Pola, an African woman who is sold into slavery, as she heals in spite of the inhumanity of her situation thanks to the support of her community.


When Pola arrives at her new plantation, Las Mercedes, she is assigned to work in Las Agujas, where a group of mixed-race women make fine garments instead of harvesting sugarcane. This privilege is not lost on Pola, although she is disgusted by the differences in the treatment of the women based on their shade: “The color of their skin…banishes [women like Pola] to an unseen working world.” Thus, a colorist hierarchy is revealed among the enslaved women of the hacienda. Field worker Leticia “la Loca'' judges the mixed women, as Pola initially did, and claims that Pola feels superior to other dark-skinned Black women. Although Pola would like to refute her, she cannot: “It is not easy to admit, even to herself, that [Pola] has benefits that field workers will never enjoy…she understands much of Leticia’s resentment.” While the other women of Las Agujas accept Pola as one of their own, and Pola questions whether, even so close to the big house, “any slave is ever truly…safe,” the colorist systems of the plantation sow hatred. No character exemplifies this more than Celestina, the albino head housekeeper who relishes in her physical whiteness (claiming to be “Más blanca que las blancas”) and weaponizes her privilege against the other women. Although she is on the opposite side of the spectrum, Leticia also betrays her people, acting as an informant against two runaways to receive makeup and be in the good graces of the overseers. Their acts of sabotage against other Black women reflect a desire to be like the oppressor, perhaps as a means of survival within a racist, colorist system. These ideas have been confronted by Kyle Carrero-Lopez, Ariana Brown, and other Black and Afro-Latinx writers.


The racism and colorism of slavery creates a violent, dehumanizing environment for both men and women, and Pola’s experiences before her arrival at Las Mercedes reflect this. After being taken from her home, Pola and the other captives were starved, beaten, kept in subhuman conditions, and assaulted in every way. This escalated at her first plantation, Hacienda Paraíso, where she was repeatedly brutalized for the entertainment of the patrón. As a result, Pola justifiably spends most of the book in fear of men: “No man would ever take that much away from me again.” She distances herself even from Simón, a kind man who cares deeply for her, turning instead toward other women for care. I interviewed Llanos-Figueroa about A Woman of Endurance, who said that “women found solace within their own community. While the men were present and willing to provide that support, their hands were often tied by the brutality of their own treatment.” And, indeed, Simón helps Pola later in the book, only to be severely and permanently injured by Romero, the overseer of Las Mercedes. Romero is a perpetrator of gender violence like the men of Hacienda Paraíso, who treated Pola as a “breeding mare,” impregnating her over and over only to take her children in yet another act of brutality. The cruelty of the men running the plantation took on new depth, as they stripped Pola of one of the few things that ever brought her joy: motherhood.


The relationships between mothers and daughters is one of the most important ideas explored in A Woman of Endurance, a novel replete with maternal figures who guide Pola on her journey of healing. At Hacienda Paraíso, Pola gets to bond with her only “girl child” for several days, leaving Pola a husk of herself when the baby is taken away. When Pola arrives at Las Mercedes, Rufina “la Curandera” and head cook Patrona nourish her body, but it is Tía Josefa, the woman in charge of Las Agujas, who helps Pola heal her heart. When one of Tía Josefa’s women dies, dropping her into an abyss of grief, Pola pulls her out before she sinks beyond return. But when Pola loses Chachita, a young girl with no patrón who awakens “something long buried and almost forgotten,” it is Tía Josefa’s turn to help Pola endure this echo of all the children Pola couldn’t keep. At every juncture, these women rely on one another as a means of physical, emotional, and spiritual survival. As Llanos-Figueroa told me, “[i]n this narrative, as in the culture, daughters who have lost their mothers often find older women who fulfill that role.” Growing up in a family of mostly women, I’ve seen relationships with maternal figures be the most consequential and influential in the lives of daughters, an idea upon which Yasmín Ramírez elaborates in ¡Ándale, Prieta!. In cultures as patriarchal as Latinx ones, there’s no question that young women must rely on mothers to learn how to behave, how to survive, as they do in A Woman of Endurance.


Although reading this book was difficult at times due to the violence the characters experience, I am ultimately glad I did. “Slavery was driven by greed, justified by religion and enforced by the military,” said Llanos-Figueroa. All three of these components are discussed in A Woman of Endurance, and I think it’s important to recognize the far-reaching impacts of slavery, one of which may be a cultural reliance on maternal figures and their love to endure. 


If you enjoyed this story’s exploration of motherhood in the context of slavery, check out Toni Morisson’s classic, Beloved


Thanks to Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa for the email interview and to Amistad for the review Copy!



Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.




Saturday, July 2, 2022

ANDRÉS MONTOYA POETRY PRIZE: Winner & Honorable Mention(s)!

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, is pleased to announce that Jordan Pérez, from Atlanta, GA, is the tenth recipient of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Named after the late Chicano poet from Fresno, the Prize is a collaboration with University of Notre Dame Press and supports the publication of a first book by a Latinx poet residing in the United States.

Jordan Pérez

The tenth edition of the Prize was judged by Alexandra Lytton Regalado and Sheila Maldonado, with the assistance from preliminary judges Adela Najarro and Ariel Francisco.

Alexandra Lytton Regalado writes:

Jordan Pérez’s are poems of hunger and want; an urgent and haunting voice reveals the everyday of a Latinx life in the South: “two generations / of quiet // sucking each other’s pain / as you might a snakebite.” The lyrical poems of Santa Tarantula follow a dreamlogic embedded with rich details and are guided by revelatory proclamations of atonement and reckoning: I spent my entire life expecting I’d grow up to be a dead girl.” Pérez assembles her poems as shadowboxes, curious collections of the natural world, bible stories, and family memories. At times Pérez’s quiet observation reminds the reader of Ada Limón, and with the compactness of Louise Gluck, but Pérez stands out, a remarkable and confident voice that understands survival is in the telling: “I refuse to die… having not come / into the fullness of myself. This / is my blood. This, my body. Saying no or yes, / and liking it.”

Sheila Maldonado writes:

Santa Tarantula is a collection of the many ways all that is female survives. Jordan Pérez lends scientific, lyrical attention to the deepest wounds within families and sexes. This fearless, economical writing haunts from the start, excavates and sings of pain and persistence. Pérez takes on a wide range of contexts, nature and the body, insects, the sea, biblical tales, recent Cuban history, all possible sites of destruction for the feminine. She approaches all of these with particular, devastating clarity, poems like small resurrections. A brave, sparse, wise debut.”

 

Jordan Pérez writes:

 

“I’m thrilled and honored to be the 10th recipient of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize from Letras Latinas for Santa Tarantula. This manuscript has been so present on my heart during the four or so years it took to write, and I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the family members, mentors, and friends for their support and guidance during its formation. 

 

I’m also grateful to Alexandra Lytton Regalado and Sheila Maldonado, the final judges, as well as Adela Najarro and Ariel Francisco, the preliminary readers, for their attention and consideration.

 

It is a true privilege to join this growing list of winners, whose powerful work inspires me to continue walking in the light — and the darkness — that is being a poet. I hope to be a true extension of Montoya’s legacy of advocacy for justice and the uplifting of Latine voices.”

 

* 

Jordan Pérez is a Cuban-American poet and advocate from Atlanta, Georgia. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from American University, where she worked on the Visiting Writers Series and read for FOLIO. She is currently the Director of Communications for SOSA, a non-profit dedicating to preventing online sex abuse.

 

Jordan’s work has made her a finalist for the 2021 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, the winner for the 2019 Cosmonauts Avenue Poetry Prize, and a finalist for the 2018 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize. Her poetry also appears or is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Pilgrimage Press, and elsewhere.

 

Her poetry has earned her acceptance to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the DISQUIET International Literary Program. She has also written for CNN, The Atlantic, and Bustle.

 

You can learn more about Jordan and get in touch with her by visiting https://www.jordanperezpoetry.com.

 
*

Alexandra Lytton Regalado and Sheila Maldonado

also designated two finalist manuscripts as

 

HONARABLE MENTION

 

 

Bodypolitic

 

“Aerik Francis’s intimate poems make music of theory and politics centered on the African-LatinXXX-American.”


La Casa Roja

 

“Alonso Llerena invokes indigenous mysteries and revolutionary history, contemplating Peru with stark, imagistic constructions.” 

 

 


Aerik Francis is a Queer Black & Latinx poet based in Denver, Colorado, USA. Aerik is the author of the recently published chapbook BODYELECTRONIC (Trouble Department 2022). Selected by Dorothy Chan as the winner of the 2022 chapbook contest, Aerik's second chapbook MISEDUCATION is forthcoming from New Delta Review in 2023. Aerik is the recipient of poetry fellowships from Canto Mundo and The Watering Hole, as well as a poetry reader for Underblong poetry journal and an event coordinator for Slam Nuba. Aerik's work can be found on their website phaentompoet.com

 

 


Alonso Llerena is a Peruvian writer, visual artist, educator, and MFA candidate at the Bard: Milton Avery  Graduate School of the Arts. His current work, which merges interpretations of historical events and personal history, documents and honors the memory of the Internal Armed Conflict that factured Peru from 1980 through the year 2000. He is a Tin House alumnus and his work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Offing, FENCE, Cream City Review, and elsewhere.



 

 

Peru from 1980 through the year 2000. He is a Tin House alumnus and his work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Offing, FENCE, Cream City Review, and elsewhere.

Friday, July 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: Desgraciado: (the collected letters) by Angel Dominguez

 


Photo Credit: Nightboat Books via https://nightboat.org/book/desgraciado/

“Stripped of its mother tongue, my body is compliant. My body searches for its organs in the rubble of the oppressor. My body sifts through language patching shards together until there is an echo of…the mother song.”
Angel Dominguez, Desgraciado: (the collected letters) (Nightboat Books, 2022)
In Desgraciado: (the collected letters), Angel Dominguez confronts the lasting physical, historical, and sociopolitical violence of colonization in a series of letters to Spanish colonizer, Diego de Landa.
The letters in Desgraciado mourn the loss of the Mayan language and people at the hands of Diego. Although on the surface Diego is simply a villain, Dominguez ventures to see this symbol of colonization as an ancestor, paternal figure, lover, and oppressor. Dominguez told me about their relationship with Diego: “I only wrote to him…things I couldn't talk about with anybody…I started to fall in love.” And, indeed, the letters follow the ebbs and flows of a relationship complicated by centuries of violent history; love becomes understanding becomes indifference and then hatred. But beyong unpacking their feelings toward him, the narrator’s letters reveal their desire to share the truth of Diego’s role in the Mayan genocide. Rather than retell the colonizer’s version, Dominguez challenges the notion that history is in the past: “[history] is this living thing that we engage with.” The violence of the genocide is detailed in the letters, a violence, Dominguez argues, that should not be forgotten. “My grandmother remembers,” reads one of the letters. “The temples may be ruins but we…We are alive.” This collection does not seek to resolve or ‘forgive and forget’ the past, calling instead for descendants of oppression to expose and retaliate against systems that perpetuate that oppression however they can. For the narrator, that is through writing: “Language is a weapon…Sometimes, healing is not what we need.”
Dominguez called writing Desgraciado a process of “expel[ling] the internalized traumas of colonization and systemic racism in America.” Lines like “[t]he cold cowardly whiteness of the world hopes we’ll die, or forget our color” criticize the use of language to promote globalism. Rather than prioritize the preservation of histories, cultures, and distinct experiences, globalism strives to assimilate them into an amorphous collection of identities in what Dominguez calls a “linguistic flattening” that favors whiteness. Thus, Desgraciado addresses not only the theft of language as in the attempted decimation of the Maya, but also the use of language as a weapon of colonization and white supremacy. Inextricable from white supremacy in the text is capitalism, as the narrator, who struggles with debt and (un)employment, writes about how capitalism (and “amerikkka”) is fundamentally racist: “empire can say…The brown body died in poverty because [it] did not try hard enough.” This is exacerbated by the control capitalism and white supremacy have over education; one of the letters reads “[my own people have] equated Westernized intelligence with whiteness.” This reminded me of an exchange I’d witnessed in high school. We were discussing what it meant to “sound white,” something that had been said about a Black student, when a white student said that speaking like a white person meant speaking “properly.” The statement caused an uproar in the class, but the fact that this student asserted this idea so comfortably speaks to the far-reaching impacts of colonization, and it serves as yet another instance of language being manipulated to benefit the oppressor.
As I read this collection, I couldn’t help but relate some of the narrator’s sentiments about unbelonging to the literature of the Latinx diaspora: the desire to learn the mother tongue, the separation from homeland, the claiming of a culture only partly understood. When I mentioned this to Dominguez, they brought up gentrification, displacement, and rootlessness, saying “our histories are taken from us forcibly.” Like Kyle Carrero Lopez’s Muscle Memory, Desgraciado points out that Latinidad does not apply evenly to all. “I’m not Hispanic, not Indigenous, nor Xicanx/Latinx,” writes the narrator, and, in another letter, “I honestly don’t know what [‘us’] means anymore.” Dominguez said “Latinidad is dead” because the language surrounding it (words like “us” and “we”) implies community where it doesn’t necessarily exist. Like Muscle Memory, We Are Owed., and other books covered in this column, Desgraciado seeks to highlight the vast differences in privilege and opportunity that exist for Latinxs of different cultures and races. Although it is a book of the diaspora, Desgraciado is a work for displaced people, regardless of identification. In reading this collection, I have been forced to reckon with difficult questions surrounding the way I construct my identity: Is it around the oppressor? Does taking pride in a (violent, colonial) shared history make us complicit in the continued oppression of Black and Brown people? I don’t have the answers. But the book’s narrator dreams of a world in which oppressed peoples can destroy and thrive without colonial empires, “living long enough to see one’s enemies fall.” Perhaps such a goal is a worthier cause to rally around.
Toward the end of our interview, Dominguez called Desgraciado “a struggle.” And the final letter of the collection confirms this: there is no “healing narrative,” no happy ending, no conquering the conqueror. There is just an eternal conversation between Diego and the narrator. The narrator’s mission re-revising history, portraying Diego as he is, setting the ledger straight goes beyond history. It's something that affects one’s own perception of self. Who am I to the rest of the world? Who am I to myself? When I close my eyes, or when I write a letter to the person that haunts me, how do I relate to this person? It comes down to history, to the un-flattening of language, to the active reversal, or, as Dominguez writes, “revenge,” against forces of oppression that seek to deny truth, lived experiences, and identities, past, present, and to come.
Thank you to Angel Dominguez for the Zoom interview and to Nightboat Books for the review copy.
Click here to read Angel Dominguez's essay on the death of Latinidad.



Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.



Wednesday, June 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino

 


Photo credit: HarperCollins via https://www.harpercollins.com/products/velorio-xavier-navarro-aquino?variant=39307346509858

“We loved because there is no greater love than that for your home.”

—Xavier Navarro Aquino, Velorio (HarperVia, 2022)


Xavier Navarro Aquino’s debut novel, Velorio, is set in Puerto Rico in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane María as an ensemble of characters grapple with grief, memory, power, and love of their home.


Velorio’s central conflict revolves around Memoria, a utopia that promises protection and “Energy” (fuel) in exchange for loyalty to the cacique, Urayoán. Ura believes he was selected by God to replace the old government. Here emerges the first major theme of the novel: the effects of colonialism. “I am conquered twice, by Spanish and American empires,” says Urayoán. This concept is often discussed in Puerto Rican literature by writers like Raquel Salas Rivera. Ura describes the commodification of nature in Puerto Rico, a culturally violent byproduct of colonialism. The greed and corruption of the colonial government, evidenced by a failing power grid riddled with “[a] rot like bone corruption, punctured so deep inside it spreads,” results in the suffering of Ura’s fellow Puerto Ricans. And yet, it is this corruption that empowers Ura to create his utopia. As young activist Moriviví observes, although he redirects aid toward Memoria, “Urayoán started looking more… like a solution rather than a problem.” Ura believes age perpetuates old ideas, so he doesn’t admit elders into Memoria. However, as the community grows, Ura bends to the will of his young soldiers and resorts to the same tactics he once criticized: ignoring, using, and, ultimately, killing his people. Age, then, is not the culprit; it is Ura’s desire for legacy that motivates him as it did the colonizers. Cheo, an old fisherman and poet, observes this, writing “...leaders old and new create the same old new pains.” Other characters realize this, but not all want to leave Memoria, a hesitancy borne of a love of home.


In his last poem, Cheo writes about those who “leave, because they must.” Yet even when corruption and other factors encourage leaving, Puerto Ricans stay. Bayfish and Banto, two friends who knew Ura pre-María, talk about this before the hurricane strikes: “...this place is limiting, Banto…people [leave] Puerto Rico and [make] something bigger of their lives across the sea,” says Bayfish. Banto responds: “I don’t care…I want to live, hurt, and rot here in this soil.” Camila, who loses her sister to María, clings to her rotting corpse, desperate to keep whatever is left of her alive. She is her home. Ura’s decision to take Cami’s sister away reveals a core ideal of Memoria: to write a new history, centering his people’s identity around himself. For example, when food runs low, Cheo and Bayfish bring back fish for the children of Memoria. Ura’s jealousy of his citizens’ appreciation for this act leads him to cast Cheo to sea with a paddle and a net, claiming that he will return with enough fish for everyone. And in the face of this impossible promise, his citizens rejoice. They choose to believe their cacique, participating in nightly rituals honoring him. Perhaps they do this for lack of alternatives, but I think they (and others who stay in Puerto Rico in spite of the hardships) fear detachment and a loss of history. Before María, Banto stays around Ura even when he hurts and humiliates him, saying “Better him than some stranger.” The known is home. Home is history. And what is a person without history?


The characters in Velorio identify themselves through their relationships, but also through language and nature. Chapters narrated by Urayoán are written in present tense, so his words sound like prophecy as he seems to predict events that occur later. Bayfish and Moriviví struggle to find the right words at emotional moments, their strength lying instead in confrontation, especially to defend their friends. Their more pensive and poetic counterparts are Damaris and Cheo, who journal their observations and experiences. Cheo especially is intentional in his poeticism, making lists that culminate in a final portrait of his life as he drifts into the Atlantic. Considering that the inciting incident is natural, it’s fitting that the elements appear as important symbols throughout Velorio. Uprooted trees sprouting at odd angles reflect the resilience of those fighting to survive and reclaim their sense of home. Ura embodies the passion and anger of fire, which ultimately consumes Memoria, both metaphorically and literally. And constant references to water elicit not only hurricane María, but also signals rebirth: rivers returning to their natural flow, the ocean’s changed waves, a new perspective for Cheo, who finds his final home in the salt and waves.


Velorio explores the corrupting nature of power, the value of poetry, and the ebbs and flows of grief. But what I most connected with was its love for Puerto Rico. These characters are uniquely Puerto Rican, from their slang to their experiences living on the island. And while Memoria ends with blood and fear, Puerto Ricans may identify with Ura’s thirst for change. While reading, I recalled the lush landscapes I call home, the images of them shredded and drowned. Although I didn’t experience María, my family has shared about the unnatural sounds of water making rubble of homes, the frustration of losing access to basic needs, the “after she hit effect” that Moriví describes. Like Damaris in the book, Navarro Aquino documents the lives lived and lost due to Hurricane María with the tenderness of a poet, no doubt in part because of his Puerto Rican identity. Velorio, then, is a sort of time capsule, a way for me to understand what my people dealt with and still deal with in spite of my separation from the island. “I guess that’s what [poetry]’s for,” says Cheo, “to carry and keep no matter how distant we drift out to sea.”


If you enjoy(ed) Velorio’s dystopian setting and themes of power, I recommend William Golding’s classic, Lord of the Flies.


Thanks to HarperVia for the review copy!





Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.