- Contested Spaces in the Caribbean and the Américas
Letting the mind play over concepts such as Gloria Anzaldúa’s “borderlands,” Antonio Benitez-Rojo’s “the repeating island,” Paul Gilroy’s “black Atlantic,” Carole Boyce-Davies’s “migratory subjectivities,” Nelly Richard’s “cultural peripheries,” and Nestor García Canclini’s “strategies for entering and exiting modernity,” one might sense the remarkable suppleness of the paradigms of space and diaspora that have emerged in the Caribbean and the Américas. The material impact of spatial metaphors is evident when we consider the familiar Western reading of the Antilles as “small islands,” with all the associations that image carries of glittering gems strung into a necklace. In itself, this image, which continues to be reworked in memorable ways by Caribbean writers, shows how formidable an impact spatial imaginings can have on the material; the conceptual slippage from the smallness of the islands to the smallness and auxiliary nature of their history and culture is too well-known to need further comment here.
To take another compelling spatial image, this time from indigenous cultures in the Américas, we might turn to the concept of “Pachakuti.” Like many Andean terms, “Pachakuti” radically conceptualizes space while referring to two opposing but complementary concepts: that of upheaval and renovation. According to sociologist Silvia [End Page 1] Rivera Cusicanqui, the meaning of the word derives from its roots, “pacha” (the union of time and space) and “kuti” (a revolution or turning about) (37). For the indigenous peoples, the arrival of the Spanish inaugurated the violent era of Pachakuti, which has lasted now for more than 500 years. While Pachakuti expresses the disastrous effects of the world turned on its head, it also manifests the idea of tumult and insurrection. Thus, in 1781, just before the colonial authorities brutally executed the Aymara leader Tupak Katari, he reportedly turned to the indigenous peoples who were forced to witness the spectacle and proclaimed: “I die today, but I will return, transformed into thousands upon thousands” (qtd. in Santos 42). Indeed, in its contemporary manifestation, Pachakuti signals a space of resistance where, according to anthropologist Guillermo Delgado-P., “different levels of problems, debates, and political stands over organizing are taking place, amid the recent encounters of the Indigenous, Popular, and Black Resistance movement” (79). This space of cataclysm and transformation encompasses the diverse cultures and histories of the Caribbean as well as the Spanish American, U.S. Latino-Chicano, and Brazilian worlds.
The essays in this collection offer new spatial paradigms to add to the repertoire. To cite a few examples: María Eugenia Choque Quispe speaks of a complex metaphor emerging in the Andean context: the image of the taypi, a rock formation placed at the intersection of lowlands and highlands, around which communities are settled, and suggesting mutually distinct yet complementary halves. Meredith Gadsby and Kristen Mahlis offer two different accounts of “the tongue” as a visceral image bridging the concepts of linkage and severance in such contexts as diaspora, language, and the mother’s body. Dalia Kandiyoti indicates the elasticity of metaphors of space in her account of the ways in which turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrant writers reworked the images of the urban ghetto in the U.S. and the pampas in Argentina. Several essays are concerned with dismantling iconographies and/or queering spaces in national and colonial narratives; others turn to specific body images, for instance, the tongue and the womb, as spaces that interface with history, land, and cityscape; and still others present memory as “ruins” and mise-en-abyme: that which implodes and recesses times and spaces.
Together, these reflections on the impact of space-constructs on questions of history, identity, and power show the critical benefit of [End Page 2] moving away from somewhat generalized and familiar postcolonial identity debates to more specific forms of discourse analysis. The collection as a whole focuses on the production of contested spaces in the Caribbean and the Américas—spaces that are gendered, racialized, sexualized, and class-marked. In using “space” rather than “place,” we follow Michel de Certeau’s famous distinction, according to which place...