Martinez explores changing Caribbean cultural identity

by Sam Pianello

“Professor Martinez San Miguel is one of those rare scholars of broad thematic, geographical, linguistic and multi-disciplinary range whose books always force us to shift parameters and reconsider accepted interpre­tations of literary and cultural phenomena,” Professor of Hispanic Studies on the Rondolph Distinguished Professor Chair Lizabeth Para­visini-Gebert said of the recent speaker.

Not often do we encounter scholars whose studies encompass as wide a variety as those of Rutgers University Professor Yolanda Marti­nez-San Miguel Ph.D.

As an author, Martinez brought together the fields of Feminism and Migration within the Caribbean. To best represent her, the His­panic Studies, Urban Studies, Women Studies, French and Francophone Studies, Africana Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies departments collaborated to bring Martinez to Vassar to talk about the coloniality of diaspora in the Caribbean and feminist creolization in the Caribbean.

At Rutgers, in New Brunswick, NJ, Martinez teaches Latino Studies and Comparative Liter­ature. Her biography stated, “Her latest book, Coloniality of Diasporas: Rethinking Intra-Co­lonial Migrations in a Pan-Caribbean Context (Palgrave 2014), is a comparative study on in­ternal Caribbean migrations between former/ actual metropolis and colonies, and questions transnational and postcolonial approaches to massive population displacements and their cultural productions.”

Hispanic Studies professor Lyna Mancuso explained that Martinez’s visit to campus is an important occasion. “It is customary to say that it is a great pleasure to welcome someone to Vassar but this is really one of those rare times when I say that I am positively delighted to welcome Yolanda Martinez San Miguel here,” she said. She added, “She is a most prolific scholar and intellectual leader in the field of Pan-Caribbean studies.”

In her lecture, Martinez spoke to the linguis­tic and cultural identity in the Caribbean that is often up to debate. Creolization, the process by which geocultural formations are produced in the Caribbean, is often crucial to the forma­tions of different identities. “In many cases this cultural formation is deprived of interaction and so creolization is an important cultural experience in the sense that it does not neces­sarily depend only on racial formations and it actually thinks about other forms of identity,” Martinez said.

Her project is specifically focusing on the changes that took place in the Caribbean throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Martinez ex­plained, “This also puts great detail on linguis­tic and cultural formations and the contact be­tween various languages instead of the contact between races to think about how to define the various identities in the Caribbean.”

Language and the mixing of languages also contributes to the loss of culture. Specifically, Martinez emphasized the language of “Span­glish.” She referenced works and authors such as Michelle Cliff’s Abeng and Ana Lydia Vega. She said, “The language displayed in more than one register signifies a particular definition of the title of the book Abeng, and how it has two different meanings in different languages. Even when Cliff writes in Standard English she is working with the idea that you have an under­standing of more than one language.”

Martinez went on, “The conversation that takes place in the pages of the book is a rep­resentation of local identities and the two Ja­maican identities that are colliding, despite the two characters being friends. The many novels I have mentioned describe how Creole helps form the Caribbean identity.”

She also touched upon the topic of the femi­nist Creole. “All of the women and protagonists of these novels speak about their cultural iden­tity but they are not the mothers of their na­tions. There is a relation between their mother tongue and their cultural identity and shows how language can create and identity. This idea of language is a place where this idea of dias­pora and the interactions between people and their linguistic practices show the permanency of the creation of an identity.”

At Rutgers, Martinez teaches in the Depart­ment of Latino and Pan-Caribbean Studies and the Program of Comarative Literature. Along with her teaching, she is a renowned author.

Paravisini-Gebert said of her works, “She has written many articles and made many other contributions to this field of study.”

Her first book is often cited as her most popular book. “Saberes Americanos: subal­ternidad y epistemologia en los escritos de Sor Juana,” took a new stance on old issues. Paravisini-Gebert said, “It transformed the Sor Juana we thought we knew through a focus on her feminine condition in a colonial context in which her knowledge was produced at the emergence of a creole perspective during the second half of the 17th century.”

Her second book, “Caribe Two Ways: cul­tura de la migracion en el caribe insular his­panico,” focuses on different interpretations of displacement and the reconfiguration of a contemporary Caribbean identity in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Ca­ribbean enclaves in New York City.

Her third book, “From Lack to Excess: ‘Mi­nor’ Readings of Latin American Discourse,” analyzes the narrative and rhetorical structures of Latin American colonial texts. It creates a dialogue for the contemporary studies on mi­nority discourse, minor literatures and colonial and postcolonial theory.

Her fourth book, “Coloniality of Diaspo­ras: Rethinking Intra-colonial Migrations in a Pan-Caribbean context,” is a comparative study of an internal migration into the former and actual metropolis and colonies to question na­tional and post colonial approaches to the mas­sive population displacement. Paravisini-Geb­ert said, “Professor Martinez is a scholar in the broadest possible range whose work is always insightful. I feel the greatest respect and admi­ration for her.”

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