Erótica: Yarawis Aymara. Chana Mamani. Buenos Aires: Ediciones La Marronada Cuir. 2018. 24 pages.
To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.
Gloria Anzaldúa, “To Live in the Borderlands”
Andean literature in Argentina has a certain tradition slightly older than any other Indigenous literature in the country. It is a relative of folk music-making and the oral tradition practiced in that realm. It involves, then, from its origins, a performative character, which lends it a choral aspect and a place in the folk songbook. The voices to have stood out from this literature of the north of the country have all belonged to men. Andean culture, of ancient and patriarchal customs, is one which, at least on the Argentine side, has tended to be spoken of fundamentally in the masculine.
It is into this tradition that Chana Mamani breaks in 2018, presenting us with her Erótica: Yarawis Aymara. The book is composed of nine yarawis, the meaning of which in Aymara comprises the dual nature of the work, at once poem and narrative. They are written in a pidgin of Spanish and Aymara. From this linguistic compound, and from the breaching of borders that are thus overrun, the author re-signifies and condenses a history that takes us from the beginnings of contemporary Indigenous Argentine literature, around the 1960s, to its internationalization. This is what is performed by the poetic voice of these Aymara yarawis, actually written in Spanish and imagined in a half-language between two world views.
If read separately, they would only allude to a sexual encounter between two women. If, however, they are read together, what they show are (nine) distinct scenes, because each one of the nine poem-narratives is a different part of the story. This cross-reading of the yarawis introduces the story wanting to be inter-woven. Yarawis: as if this single Aymara word were also endowed with two spirits, which redouble the work of these texts: “Porque no es poesía, es otra cosa [Because it’s not poetry, it’s something else],” Chana says. The first-person speaker is neither a migrant nor a resident, she is both at once; she is not ancestral or contemporary, she has both these natures. The poems can be almost perfectly understood without knowing Aymara and without looking at the glossary at the end, as any pidgin is understood, a media lengua: with half a tongue, half a language. But when the (initially) “veiled” meaning of the Aymara glossary comes into play, the plot begins to emerge. A linear reading is one which views each yarawi as an independent text with a meaning cut off from the rest. Another reading, transverse, suggests not Aymara poetry in some corner of Buenos Aires but an Aymara-migrant-resident-woman-two-spirit narrative, moving through Buenos Aires, between the pomelo-white-middle-class Buenos Aires and the brown-migrant-poor Buenos Aires. We can read the preface in this way:
Se cruzarán palabras surgidas entre los márgenes más fríos, las estaciones más hostiles, los espacios segregados y racializados; situadas y habitadas en lugares cálidos, historizadas desde las cavidades, calentando paredes de las villas, las tierras conurbanas, fronteras limítrofes, tocando las curvaturas preciosas de cada biografía y danzando eróticamente sonrisas transfronterizas.
[Words will be exchanged, out of the coldest fringes, the most hostile seasons, segregated and racialized spaces; words situated and inhabited in warm places, words historicized from within hollow spaces, warming the walls of the towns, the urban sprawl, the external borders, touching the precious curvatures of each biography and erotically dancing out transborder smiles.]
As though the challenge were to combat the system with words of love, but a peripheral love, intercultural, lesbian, a love that dares, just like that, to cross the barrios that Arlt was only capable of moving through in his daydreams, because you have to make of this world—migrant, precarious, racist—a livable world, at the end of the day. It deals with a conversation between women that, like one of the Greek banquets, or those held in the middle of a war, involves two cultures sitting down to lay their cards on the table, the pre-Hispanic Aymara culture and that of Westernized Buenos Aires, a meeting of the barrios Once and Belgrano R. This is the stage upon which the action poeticized-narrated by these yarawis begins.
Their touching tongues exchange something more than a chat: a political-poetic discussion that re-positions them, that transmutes their borders, to then call them by another name.
In this intimate space defined by a piece of furniture (the bed), territorial identities slip in, too: Latin America, Buenos Aires, Bolivia, Jujuy, Peru, the conurbano—the city’s periphery—and certain barrios of the capital: Belgrano R, pomelo-white neighborhood; Once, place of work for a large part of the Andean migrant community in the city. Because this is all part of what takes place in a sensual-sexual-romantic encounter. This encounter with the other also implies an encounter with her part of the world and is also an invitation to retrace the steps of that story, an offer.
Perhaps the zenith is the moment when hands cross the final barrier, ultimately a rather elastic one: underwear. There is no space more political than the bed. It is there that the themes “conquest” and “war” can be transmuted into something else. Chana’s poetry intends to question different borders at once. Here, the migrant is no longer a “poncho-wearing political category,” she is a body of desire. Because that’s just it: the category cloaks, covers, hides, disguises, lies, exoticizes. Theory needs to be stripped of its poncho. This is the way access is given to this other world, residing within Buenos Aires, to one Buenos Aires, out of however many others, that does not appear in books—but now, it does; to a non-tourist Buenos Aires, although it seems to withstand the tour of the pomela, who would have remained ignorant of this diversity had she not shared a space of intimacy with the brown woman.
All borders are crossed in bed: the borders of breasts, of underwear, of censure; of course the border that sets Belgrano R apart from barrio Once, mythical edge of twentieth-century Argentine literature, is crossed too. In this literature of border crossing, the ultimate border between the city and the working-class outskirts must also be crossed: a border that has always, out of the bedrooms of the marronas, the dark-skinned women—Black women, migrant, Indigenous, villager women, housewives, maids—made us something other than just “procreadoras de aparentemente 1 millón de niñxs-negrxs-marrones-indígenas-extranjerxs ¡sí todxs! que circulan hasta en las verduras de tu sopa” [procreators of the seemingly 1 million black-brown-indigenous-foreigner-she-he-they children, yes, all of them! everywhere you look, even among the vegetables in your soup].
For the Western world, comprehension is only that which pertains to reason; by contrast, in the Andean world, as with other preexisting peoples, it is made up of both reason and emotions. It does not seem strange, then, that one woman would want to convince the other first by making love to her, only to immediately thereafter open a political discussion that, in fact, is to end in a manifesto, with the poem “Lengüetazo marron,” or “lick of a brown tongue.” Made in Argentina, this is an international literature, a transborder literature. This work is giving birth to a hyper-contemporary discursivity that others will answer, politically.
University of Buenos Aires
Translated by Audrey Meshulam