‘ELECTRA NACIÓ EN MI PUEBLO’: ALTERNATE SPACES OF DOMINICAN NATIONAL BELONGING IN THE WORK OF AÍDA CARTAGENA PORTALATÍN

Smita Tripathi

 

Abstract

 

“A woman is alone,” begins one of the best known poems of Dominican writer, ethnographer and feminist Aída Cartagena Portalatín. By no means is this solitude a hopeless, helpless condition, however. A woman also has “open eyes”, with which she sees everything, and “open arms”, with which she welcomes everyone, and finally, she has a “heart open like a deep silence”, the discursive absence of which indicates, even invites, a dialogue. In this paper, I situate Portalatín’s poetry and essays particularly in the context of Rafael Trujillo’s repressive regime (1930-1961), during which her work reveals an insistent resistance to dictatorship and authoritarianism. Portalatín was a founding member of La Poesía Sorprendida , an experimental writing group with a journal of the same name. I focus on her recourse to poetry in particular to voice resistance as well as her engagement with Surrealism and furthermore, I trace the explicitly Afro-Dominican stance in Portalatín’s later work, situating it within a larger Dominican corpus that has traditionally eschewed a critical engagement with issues of race. Finally, I examine Portalatín’s experimental novel, Escalera para Electra, particularly in the context of writing under censorship and dictatorship. Towards the end of her career and posthumously, Portalatín has been increasingly cast as a veritable ‘mother-figure’ in the Dominican canon. While I share the enthusiasm in recuperating and preserving her work, and highlighting its singularity, I find this image of Portalatín to be problematic precisely because of her own positionality vis-à-vis sexuality and feminism.

 

Keywords

 

Aída Cartagena Portalatín, escritora dominicana, feminismo.

 

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