You can always count on the poet to distill, in a few words, the essence of a moment. And so the poet came through a few weeks ago on a warm September night. We were backstage at the famed 92NY in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. By we, I mean Esmeralda Santiago, Giannina Braschi, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Carmen Boullosa, Yvette Modestín, Sonia Guiñansaca, Elisabet Velasquez, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, Rosie Perez, and me. We were gathered to celebrate the launch of my/our anthology Daughters of Latin America. The energy in the room was electric. Embraces. Laughter. Tears. Selfies. Joy. We were the elements: air, water, earth, fire, and ether. On stage, the program was unfolding: there were master drummers, a Goddess dancing for the African deity Oshun, a shekere player jamming, a Taino chief welcoming folks. A guamo was blown, its melodies leaping around every corner of the auditorium. Libations to the ancestors performed with devotion, the space cleansed, the portals opened. We were rearranging each other’s molecular structures. It felt divine. At some moment, we heard the great Mexican poet Carmen Boullosa say: “Sandra, con esta antología has creado un país nuevo, un país sin fronteras.” She repeated the phrase in English: “You have created a new country, a borderless country with this anthology.” The room went quiet for a second, then we heard the shouts: “amen, ashe, that’s right, and yes, yes to all that!” We all felt it that night. The audience too. This new borderless country of us. This new borderless country we are.
When I began curating Daughters, it was my intention to break down the superficial and imperialist borders erected to separate us, the people of América Latina and the Caribbean. I sought to capture the exquisite talent and literary diversity of genres, languages, cultures, ethnicities, and races—the who we are on the ground, the who we have been. I sought to feature the dazzling rich oral literary traditions that have nourished us for millennia. And so, between the covers of the anthology, I gathered 140 Daughters whose voices embody the cosmos. This is a porous collection, where time disappears. Twentieth-century poets hang out with a fifteenth-century nun, a nineteenth-century journalist is in conversation with a twenty-first-century essayist. We are timeless and with each other. Letters, chants, novels-in-progress, personal essays, songs, poems, dramas, memoirs, prayers, and speeches are featured. In this book, we understand the world through the many lenses of the Daughters of the region, wherever we are writing from on the planet. Some live in their home countries; others have migrated to the U.S., Europe, and Africa. In this new borderless country/anthology we meet women who cure with language and nothing more, in the words of María Sabina, the great Mazatec poet of Huautla, Oaxaca. In this new borderless country/anthology we meet women who show us what love looks like.
I have sought in my work—as a documentarian, essayist, journalist, and now anthologist—to always center the voices that have been suppressed. Marginalized. Othered. Banned by the people bent on suppressing the voices that teach, create safe spaces, protect, illuminate, heal, and free.
Therefore, the decision to include Indigenous women who still write in their ancient mother tongues was also quite intentional. This was an act of language justice, as the great Kʼicheʼ poet Rosa Chavez told me. Considering that every fourteen days an Indigenous language dies around the world—or is murdered, depending on your lens—how could I not? We are racing against time, and we salute and see our Indigenous sisters who are doing the work of language and story preservation.
Rosa is among three extraordinary examples of literary brilliance included in Daughters and in this edition of LALT. Her glorious poem “To Take Back Our Breath” takes your breath away with its shimmering images—it’s an ancient freedom song.
Alba Eiragi Duarte, an Aché-Ava Guaraní wise woman poet, is here with us as well. Her poem “There Is No Stumble” is a sublime example of time travel. Elena Martinez translated it from Guaraní to Spanish, and I had the honor of translating her powerful words into English. Alba wrote the poem during the 2020 Covid pandemic. It serves as a reminder that we, the Indigenous People of the Americas, have survived many pandemics; in fact, we have endured perpetual pandemics since the first Spanish ship landed, thirsty for our beauty and resources, on the shores of the nation of my birth, Boriken, in 1493.
“Our culture gives us strength,” Alba reminds us.
Natalia Toledo’s masterfully woven mystical poem “A Seer’s Path” is grounded in modernity with the fullness of her Oaxaca Isthmus Zapotec.
Equally exquisite in this anthology is the work of the translators. Daughters features works written in two dozen languages—many ancient mother tongues—so this book is also a work of the translator’s literary art. Literary translators and poets Gabriela Ramirez-Chavez and Clare Sullivan translated from Spanish to English in this selection, and María Guarchaj and Wel Raxulew from Kʼicheʼ to Spanish. Their work shines bright.
I like this new, borderless country of us where the matriarchs rule. It’s a country of hope and joy and the erotic, a world of wise women who cast spells, love, and cure with language and nothing more.