Americas Quarterly Top 5 Latin American Storytellers


[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] As Leani García writes, Americas Quarterly (AQ) “profiles five women and men who use their voice (or their pen or their camera) to tell stories we might not otherwise hear.” So glad to see Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat and Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Residente (René Pérez Joglar) among the top five. The other story-tellers are Argentine photographer Adriana Lestido, Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, and Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcón. Here are the sections on Danticat and Residente:

Edwidge Danticat: When Edwidge Danticat was 12, she left her aunt and uncle’s home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and joined her immigrant parents in Brooklyn. It was 1981, and her welcoming gift was a fitting one for the girl who would become an award-winning author: a black Smith-Corona typewriter.

In Haiti, Danticat had listened in wonder as the stern, hardworking adults in her life transformed into an ensemble of dynamic storytellers, incorporating songs and folklore into candlelit performances on nights when the electric grid would fail. “From the time I was very young, I thought stories were magical,” Danticat, now 49, told AQ by phone from her home in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. Though her parents hoped she would become a brain surgeon, Danticat reckons the typewriter symbolized quiet approval of the literary dreams she had already begun to foster.

At 25, Danticat published her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which would become an Oprah Winfrey book club selection and lead to a garlanded career as a writer and advocate for Haitian immigrants. Her stature in the “dyaspora,” as Haitians call it, means she is often called upon to perform a kind of translation between Haiti and the United States. The two countries’ history includes episodes such as the 1915-34 occupation by U.S. Marines and the Donald Trump administration’s recent decision to end temporary protected status for some 60,000 Haitians — not to mention the president’s insulting comments about the country.

In addition to four novels, Danticat has published numerous books for children and young adults, a memoir, short stories, countless essays — even a radio play in Haitian Creole. These efforts led to a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship in 2009, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2017. “I’m glad that when I started I didn’t give too much thought to these boundaries you’re not supposed to cross,” Danticat said. “If one is an artist, especially if you come from a society where there are so many constraints, the art is where you are most free.”

[By Iberico Lozada, a graduate student in English and creative writing at Temple University.]

Residente: ‘‘I wanted to make music in different parts of the world because I needed the voices of the world to tell their own stories.” With those words, Residente, the 40-year-old Puerto Rican rapper, producer, activist and winner of more Latin Grammys than anyone else alive or dead, invited viewers to tag along on a two-year journey to Siberia, China, West Africa and beyond, chasing his genetic — and musical — roots.

In 2015 he walked away from Calle 13, his provocative and wildly successful alternative rap group, to launch the project — based on a DNA test.

Frustrated with what he saw as the music industry’s lack of authenticity, he set out to discover music in his ancestral homelands, record an album and film the journey. Along the way, he sought to highlight overlooked artists, giving each a platform to tell their story.

“One of the things he did was pick exceptional musicians that aren’t well known so that the world would recognize them,” said Luis Sanz, the 23-year-old composer and Puerto Rican cuatro player Residente handpicked for one track. “That was very humble of him. … Not many artists would do that.”

It wasn’t the first time the 28-time Grammy Award-winning artist, born René Pérez Joglar, has used his platform to amplify unheard voices.

In 2006, he invited cameras to follow Calle 13 on a quest to tell stories of the “real” Latin America for the documentary Sin Mapa. He called attention to the plight of immigrants in the 2009 song “Pa’l Norte,” and again in a 2016 collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).” The Nobel Peace Summit Award winner even traveled to the war-torn Caucasus, highlighting the human costs of war in “Guerra,” a track on his new LP. The album was released to critical acclaim in 2017, earning Residente three Grammys as he continues to use his fame as a megaphone to advocate for Puerto Rico, human rights and peace.

“He’s telling the real stories of each country,” Sanz said. “What makes Residente special is his sincerity. When he sees an injustice, he speaks out against it, period.”

[By García Torres, a production editor for AQ.]

For original article, see

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