by Zoe Hardwick
Foreign Relations: Black Narratives Abroad
Black people’s narratives are incredibly complex. One story does not fit all. However, as a diaspora, we are connected. These are books I have read that speak to my identity as a Black American, but have also opened my eyes to other, different Black experiences. We share oppression; we share hope; we share resilience.
Always Rebellious: Cimarroneando by Cuban author, Georgina Herrera, addresses slavery as a collective past. Cuba’s history of enslavement is alive and reckoned with in this book as Herrera imagines herself and others in enslaved spaces as well as rebellious, liberated spaces. She reminds her readers of the work it takes to be free; Herrera’s fearless writing details the shared trauma that cost her people so much, although she does not leave out the complex joy, wisdom, and creativity that has also come about from oppression.
Herrera writes of humble family life in Family… Home, of hypocrisy in Messages Arrive at the Royal Palace. She celebrates life in Minimal Praise of Myself, and writes to a distant past in Africa. Colonization is explored in poems like Iya, which means mother in Yoruba, which was probably her ancestors’ religion. She challenges patriarchy in Eve, which defies Eve’s role as temptress in the fall of mankind.
In her early life, Georgina Herrera moved from rural Matanzas to Havana, with hopes of establishing a new home that would allow her to become educated and cultivate her budding creativity. Herrera identified with the spirit of Cimarron, which was the term for a runaway slave, and is greater theme of Always Rebellious.
You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town by South African author, Zoë Wicomb, is a series of short stories based in apartheid-era South Africa. Frieda Shenton starts as a young girl growing up “colored” in a society with a strict racial caste. She is incredibly observant and questions her place and others’.
Wicomb takes account of a world where everything matters—hair, skin, housing, accent, schooling— in proximity to whiteness, and where the consequences are substantial. Yet, simultaneously, as is narrated in the essay, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, citizens seem to struggle with defining black, colored, or white, when someone does not fit the phenotypical or socioeconomic status, they assume is held within said racial group.
Wicomb’s lyrical prose is thought-provoking and lively. Toni Morrison described her as, “Seductive, brilliant, and precious…An extraordinary writer”. Some of the larger themes in this book include: family heritage, education, language, writing, infrastructure/housing inequality, biases, and belonging.
The Other Side of Paradise by Jamaican author, Stacey-Ann Chin, is an engrossing coming of age story filled with humor, grief, hope, confusion, and all the ups and downs of life. Stacey is the daughter of a mother who left for Canada, Germany, or England—anywhere else other than Lottery, Jamaica where Stacey and her brother live with their grandmother.
Soon, the tiny family is separated, and Stacey finds herself in Paradise, Jamaica, fending for herself amongst many other children in a broken-down house and a female caretaker she doesn’t know. Although sometimes a difficult read for sensitive subject matter, Stacey-Ann Chin delivers her story with so much tender humanity, the reader cannot help but stay on the journey, no matter how hard it gets.
The Other Side of Paradise is a story of determination and learning to trust oneself when no one else understands. When she realizes she is lesbian, she holds her secret for a long time. But eventually, she garners the strength to come out. Throughout the memoir, she trusts that there is a better place for her somewhere, a safer place, and nothing can take her destiny away.