Vanessa K. Valdés
Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean
SUNY Press 2020
Reviewed by Daisy Guzman
Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean is a series of essays that challenge the linguistic difference within the Caribbean and grapples with the anti-blackness of national and international discourse. This new generation of Caribbean writers help reclaim the silences of the archive and shed light on the myth of Haiti’s positionality in Latin America and the Atlantic coast. The anti-blackness of policies, historical accounts, and political agendas position Haiti as the symbol of savagery and deviance. In Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean, twelve writers show how Haiti and the Spanish Caribbean share overlapping histories that make Haiti’s reality central to the political formation of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The construction of history and white supremacist political agenda attempts to remove the importance of Haiti from the history of Latin America and further dismisses the Haitian contribution to the hemispheric fight for freedom. Yet the notion of freedom and multiculturalism that exists across Latin America is grounded in the liberatory philosophy of Blackness, Indigeneity, and Black mobility that is an extension of the impact of the Haitian rebellion. To think of hemispheric Blackness and Afro- Latinx is to center Haiti as an ontological epicenter of Black possibilities. Haiti is not periphery to Latin American history; Haiti is and deserves to be recognized as the center.
This is the first book to include writers from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic in conversation with Haitian intellectuals. An unintentional benefit of this book is the reflection of the spread of Haitians across the Spanish Caribbean. It is vital to engage the tension amongst Haitians and their Spanish-speaking neighbors through a cultural reading of narratives, art, literature, and history. Vanessa K. Valdés moves through the argument masterfully, guiding the twelve essays that follow into an eye-opening discourse of erasure, displacement, violence, and resistance. The writers challenge readers to think of Haiti as more than a symbol against white supremacy. Haiti is and will always be the cornerstone of Black liberation and the notion of freedom in the western hemisphere. The authors discuss the ideas and reality of the borderland between Haiti and the Dominican Republic through lectures, art, fiction, and historical accounts. Geography, performativity, and memory shift the perspective of Haiti’s struggles alongside and against their Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Using the words of Haitian intellectuals such as Edwidge Danticat and Michel- Rolph Trouillot this project contributes new knowledge by stepping into an established field and expanding it. With narratives and storytelling vital to Black genealogy and Black being, these authors show the ability to reclaim history, memory, and freedom through fiction, songs, and other creative outlets. In terms of the citation of Danticat and Trouillot, the intention is always important especially concerning Haitian resistance and experience. Some questions that come to mind as Vanessa K. Valdés and the collective of writers guide us through Haitian history and cultural production are: who are we citing when we think of the geography of the Caribbean and the Blackness of Latin America? What does history mean when produced to defame and rewrite reality? What do Black freedom, liberation, and intellectualism look like without Haiti? As we enter a generation that has access to resources and various methodological approaches to history, it is vital to use citational practices strategically. These writers challenge readers to think about who they are reading when they think of Haiti and the reality of the Haitian experience across the Americas. The intellectual legacy of Haiti, the Caribbean coast, and the Americas requires readers to understand that black migratory flight is not errancy, but a freedom-building project intended to secure a place to be peaceably Black and unconditionally free.
Even though African diasporic archives, Haiti is instrumental in understanding the Caribbean and the Americas as a whole. There is no Afro-Latinidad without Haiti at the forefront of hemispheric discourse. In terms of Black freedom, maroonage, and Afro-Indigeneity the politics and the treatment of Haiti is crucial to the understanding of the treatment of Black people on the Caribbean coast, such as the Garifuna people. In thinking of transnationality and border crossing, the Hondurans, Belizean, and Guatemalan’s Garinagu connect and exchange ideas of the socio-political state of the Garifuna people. As I and other contemporary Garifuna scholars enter the conversation of transnational Blackness, the silenced history of Garifuna people in Guatemala and the mass migration that constituted a new chapter in the battle for citizenship, sovereignty, and autonomy creates new ways of articulating a collective identity and claims to territory. Though the Garifuna history is not fully erased from the archives of Caribbean struggle and rebellion, it is not presented as a primary part of Western history of liberation. This, in the words of Trouillot, is a political stance not only against their Indigeneity but also against their Blackness. Similar to the work presented in Racialized Visions, Garifuna needs to be in conversation with their mestizo and creole neighbors to discuss the impact of anti-black policies that guide the progress of citizenship and statehood in Central America. Garifuna, Miskito, Taino, and Haitians are all part of rebellion and resistance across the Americas. When Caribbeanists and academics of Latin America write about the legacies of these movements it is vital to center blackness as a catalyst for resistance and methods of survival.
Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean is valuable for the discussion of the future of blackness across the Americas and the framing of history through certain positionalities. As Black writers have and continue to stress the importance of speaking, reading, and engaging our subject matters across disciplines and across languages to add new significance and acknowledge the contradiction in power, politics, and history, this book is an example of creating necessary dialogue. This is the first book in the Afro-Latinx futures series through the State of New York Press. Through her dialogue with transnational writers Professor Valdés pushes forward the effort to put Haiti in conversations that they were traditionally left out of, this expands Afro-Latinidad and Blackness in Latin America as more than just a sub-field.