Reviewed by Dan Vera
A collection like Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles doesn’t come across too often. I can pretty much remember all of them. There’s the two Gay Sunshine anthologies: My Deep Dark Pain Is Love and Now the Volcano. Then there’s Jaime Manrique’s two great anthologies Virgins, Guerrillas and Locas: Gay Latinos Writing About Love, and Besame Mucho. Both of those came out in 1999 as did Erasmo Guerra’s anthology Latin Lovers. Anthologies by Gay people of color are rare. It’s “off the radar screen” at the major (or minor) publishing houses. This is too bad because anthologies like Our Caribbean reminds us that the breadth of Gay and Lesbian experience is more wide and varied, and richer, then we normally realize. I need to point out that an anthology like this is also of tremendous help to Gay and Lesbians of Color. I recall many years ago trying to make my Cuban mother understand what it meant that her child was Gay. She acted as if it were something I’d “caught” here in the United States. It wasn’t until we were both able to enjoy Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir Before Night Falls that she “got it” and was able to recover her own memory of the Gay people she knew in Cuba. In her upbringing—like that of many religious people—there were “no gays” around her. It was an unspoken thing. But Arenas’ book revealed to her a part of her culture she had forgotten and a perspective that deepened her own understanding of identity and exile. I can never give enough thanks to those authors and publishers that allowed that healing and acceptance to begin.
Thomas Glave has collected an impressive collection of writings by some of the leading writers from the Antilles. Arenas’ work is here, as is the work of Virgilio Piñera, Audre Lorde, Andrew Salkey and Assotto Saint. I believe the inclusion of these now ancestral Gay and Lesbian writers gives the collection its deep roots. In the case of Lorde and Saint—two writers who are considered “American” by many of their fans—their presence in this anthology reminds us that they were deeply Caribbean voices. Glave, who wrote the brilliant Lammy-winning Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent, has given us a collection that reflects the literary richness of the Caribbean and its diaspora.
It is a rich trove of fiction, memoir, nonfiction and poetry and includes much work translated from the Creole, Dutch and Spanish. Standouts for me included the descriptive ornamental beauties of Aldo Alvarez’ “Property Values,” Glave’s defiant and call to democracy “Whose Caribbean? An Allegory, In Part”, Juanita Ramos’ narrative autobiography, Rane Arroyo’s “Saturday Night In San Juan With the Right Sailors” and “Almost A Revolution For Two In Bed,” the gorgeous patois of Shani Mootoo’s paean to Indian food, “Out On Main Street.”
One warning though. You will fall in love with many of the authors in this book. The iconic ones—Arenas and Lorde for example—their work is widely available. But for the younger ones still living, we can only hope to find more of their work in the future. For the many writers in non-English languages, access to their work is difficult if not impossible to find (Virgilio Piñera and Pedro De Jesús). Others just need more publishers to give them the space and opportunity to be read. Perhaps this book will precipitate that. These thirty seven authors deserve it and our need for their perspective is dire if we are to know our selves more thoroughly.
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