When people are always telling you that you have to have a lot of women, women are very important, there's a chance that you might actually begin to observe them on a more fundamental level. Then you get so much focus that one day you might actually see. Dominican men are told to look at women all the time, but they're definitely not told to see them.
You can't find intimacy-you can't find home-when you're always hiding behind masks. Intimacy requires a certain level of vulnerability. It requires a certain level of you exposing your fragmented, contradictory self to someone else. You running the risk of having your core self rejected and hurt and misunderstood.
I was part of that group of kids growing up in the '80s under the Reagan regime, what I used to call 'living in the shadow of Dr. Manhattan,' where we would have dreams all the time that New York City was being destroyed, and that that wall of light and destruction was rolling out and would just devour our neighborhood.
Like most lit nerds, I'm a voracious reader. I never got enough poetry under my belt growing up but I do read it - some of my favorites, Gina Franco and Angela Shaw and Cornelius Eady and Kevin Young, remind me daily that unless the words sing and dance, what's the use of putting them down on paper.
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I mean in the community that I grew up in, you know, a very, you know, mixed, almost entirely African Diaspora community, one of the things that we were not ever supposed to say was how much self-hatred and colorism determined and guided what we would call our desire. In other words, what we would consider beautiful.
People can say what they want, but historically, feminism in the Dominican Republic has been extremely strong. I guess the best way of saying it is that no one could have survived what we survived - whether it was first extermination and slavery, then abandonment and erasure, then the series of gunboat two-bit dictatorships, followed by the final apotheosis of dictatorships, the Trujillato. You couldn't survive it without the resistance of this kind of woman.
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I always had a sense that I would fall in love with Tokyo. In retrospect I guess it's not that surprising. I was of the generation that had grown up in the '80s when Japan was ascendant (born aloft by a bubble whose burst crippled its economy for decades), and I'd fed on a steady diet of anime and samurai films.
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You know, I was a kid who had difficulty speaking English when I first immigrated. But in my head, when I read a book, I spoke English perfectly. No one could correct my Spanish. And I think that I retreated to books as a way, you know, to be, like, masterful in a language that was really difficult for me for many years.
The Caribbean is such an apocalyptic place, whether it's the decimation of the indigenous populations by the Europeans, whether it's the importation of slaves and their subsequent being worked to death by the millions in many ways, whether it's the immigrant processes which began for many people, new worlds ending their old ones.
Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing, although I hope we get to that stage without needing a corporate sponsored app to hold our hand. The utopian in me has my fingers crossed that we haven't quite figured out the digital future just yet. After all, the one thing we know about people: they always surprise.
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Students teach all sorts of things but most importantly they make explicit the courage that it takes to be a learner, the courage it takes to open yourself to the transformative power of real learning and that courage I am exposed to almost every day at MIT and that I'm deeply grateful for.
Do you remember? When the fights seemed to go on and on, and always ended with us in bed, tearing at each other like maybe that could change everything. In a couple of months you'd be seeing somebody else and I would too; she was no darker than you but she washed her panties in the shower and had hair like a sea of little punos and the first time you saw us, you turned around and boarded a bus I knew you didn't have to take. When my girl said, Who was that? I said, Just some girl.
Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn't do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel.
I write incredibly slowly. And, on top of that, I spent my entire youth and twenties working like a dog, so one of the things that happened when I finished 'Drown' was that I got busy living. I'd never travelled, I'd never seen anything. So I did as much travelling as my job teaching would allow.
Nilda is watching the ground as though she's afraid she might fall. My heart is beating and I think, We could do anything. We could marry. We could drive off to the West Coast. We could start over. It's all possible but neither of us speaks for a long time and the moment closes and we're back in the world we've always known.
One of the many characteristics of the new is that, at first, it's very hard to recognize it for what it is. We're lucky if we recognize something as being new when it first appears. Usually I think we don't have that privilege. It's usually after the fact that we suddenly turn around and say, 'Wow, this thing is amazing.'
I think men spend so much time passing for being men. There's a sense among many writers of color that the most invisible figure that was sitting between all of us was the nerd. But it was the thing we weren't saying, that people were afraid to say, like, "Yo, what we do is nerdy by definition."
A young person, or someone who's writing in a different way - in some ways you could say, eventually someone will find them. Eventually someone will hear them. But it's good a lot of young people persevere. Because sometimes you have to send something out a thousand times before anyone recognizes your value.