Overlooked No More: Julia de Burgos


“Overlooked No More: Julia de Burgos, a Poet Who Helped Shape Puerto Rico’s Identity,” by Maira Garcia, is part of an attempt to tell “the stories of other remarkable people,” in view of the fact that obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men since 1851. Garcia calls De Burgos “a literary foremother of the Nuyorican movement [who] defied societal norms and advocated for the island’s independence.” Here is her tribute piece:

When the poet Julia de Burgos left Puerto Rico at 25, she vowed never to return. It was a promise she would keep.

It was a bittersweet departure. For much of her short life, de Burgos championed Puerto Rican nationalism and identity through her writing. She self-published her first collection of poetry, “Poema en veinte surcos” (“Poem in Twenty Furrows”) in 1938, when she was 24.

Her work explored issues like the island’s colonial past and the legacy of slavery and American imperialism. In her poem “Río Grande de Loíza,” she addressed the pain and violence suffered by natives of the island and African slaves along the Puerto Rican river.

Río Grande de Loíza! … Great river. Great tear.

The greatest of all our island tears,

But for the tears that flow out of me

Through the eyes of my souls for my enslaved people.

Born into poverty, she trained and worked as a teacher before marrying at 20. Divorced three years later, she began an intense romantic relationship with Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, a Dominican political exile and an intellectual from a prominent family. Her poetry gave her entree into Puerto Rico’s intellectual circles, yet she did not really fit. It was the 1930s, after all, and she was a divorced woman in a conservative Roman Catholic society, as well as working class and of African descent. The Puerto Rican intellectuals shaping the island’s identity were not ready to embrace the idea of social justice for African descendants — much less feminism.

She had to leave. Yet in absence, she would become a force to be reckoned with. De Burgos, who died on July 6, 1953, is now considered one of the literary foremothers of Puerto Rico and the Nuyorican movement in New York.

“She already envisioned an idea of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican identity that was much broader than what was being articulated on the island at the time,” said Vanessa Pérez Rosario, an associate professor of Latino Studies at Brooklyn College, who wrote “Becoming Julia de Burgos” (2014), a book about the poet’s life and work. (Translations of the poetry quoted here are from this book.)

De Burgos departed for New York in 1940 to be with Jimenes Grullón, following him to Cuba later that year. She remained with him in Cuba for two years.

For full article, see https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/obituaries/overlooked-julia-de-burgos.html

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