From the moment homes and homelands came into being, exile ensued. While narratives of exile share themes of banishment, loss and longing, they are as diverse as the human experience itself. Writers as different as Homer and Heinlein, Aeschylus and Camus addressed this subject. In The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie conceives of exile as “a dream of glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back.” Its permutations know no bounds. The political dissident deported, or jailed, under house arrest; the defected spy; the classic prince banished by his royal father from the city gates; the communal exile of the diaspora. Through cutting-edge fiction, poetry and essays by emerging voices and contemporary masters, Conjunctions: 62, Exile explores the ramifications of expulsion and ostracism. Contributors include Edie Meidav, Peter Straub, Can Xue, H.G. Carrillo, Ales Steger, Maxine Chernoff and others.
About the Author
Bradford Morrow (b. 1951) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, editor, and author of children’s books. He grew up in Colorado and traveled extensively before settling in New York and launching the renowned literary journal Conjunctions. His novel The Almanac Branch was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and for Trinity Fields, Morrow was the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Academy Award in Literature. He has garnered numerous other accolades for his fiction, including O. Henry and Pushcart prizes, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship. Morrow is a professor of literature and Bard Center Fellow at Bard College.
Peter Straub is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. His two collaborations with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House, were international bestsellers. Two of Peter’s most recent novels, Lost Boy Lost Girl and In the Night Room, were winners of the Bram Stoker Award. In 2006, he was given the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Peter and his wife live in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
Conjunctions, Vol. 62
By Bradford Morrow
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 CONJUNCTIONS
All rights reserved.
H. G. Carrillo
You throw the sand against the wind, And the wind blows it back again.
Oye ese, before you set sail to your black male body with its Spanish-speaking tongue across El Estrecho de Florida into the arms of the country you believe will understand you, you will need more than that electronic pocket translator you wrapped in plastico for the journey. Although it is only a ninety-mile stretch between La Habana y the Bay of Biscayne, there is something in the air, in the water over which you have to cross, that performs an alchemy for which there is no limpia that will mark you forever as "the unknown."
Aquí, with the free and the brave, history is short, though its emotive states are long. Therefore, the majority of questions that you will be asked will be more about your body than your personhood. As if in a protracted game of Cowboys and Indians, "what" you are rather than "who" you are is the average height of the hurdles set in the circuitous series of marathons you are about to run.
Walk into a department store in an Armani suit or throw up the arm with which you are holding your briefcase in an attempt to hail a cab headed southward on Michigan Avenue and you are likely to make yourself invisible. Automatic car doors will lock as you stand or cross intersections, women will clutch their handbags as you enter public transportation and elevators. Assume the discussions you have with men in airports, train stations, and at adjacent urinals that seem to begin midthought—"Kobe was looking good last night, no?"—to have something to do with the NBA, because you have inherited a historical lineage in which Michael Jordan endorses underwear on television, Tupac has been elevated to sainthood, and the mention of someone like Percival Everett or André Watts can turn a listener's eyes to X's.
Abre la boca, y porfa, you will just as easily be assumed African as you will be told that you look like some celebrity. Claim Latino identity and nonhispanoblats will request a demonstration of your native language even though they have no idea what you are saying. You will find, though, that they like to use the term "Latino"—particularly in statements like "Our department is very diverse; we have a number of African Americans, Asians, and Latinos"—although they have no idea they have conflated cultural background with notions of race. Y entonces, try to explain that the term "Latino" in English is representative of the intersection of both Latin and Anglo colonial enterprises in the United States, and you will be told, "But you don't look Latino."
"Cuban" is much more difficult. Even though the I Love Lucy show first aired over sixty years ago, Ricky Ricardo is hard to shake. As you try to explain that when Arnaz's character on the show sings Babalú ... Babalú ayé, he is not singing exclusively in Spanish, but something that is representative of the mingling of African and European cultures on the island; that the chorus, which was never translated on the show—Quiere pedi / Que mi negra me quiera / Que tenga dinero / Y que no se muera / ¡Ay! Vo le quiero pedi a Babalú 'na negra muy santa como tú que no tenga / otro negro / Pa' que no se fuera—not only references the blackness of the deity he is evoking, but does so in what Arnaz believed to be an Afro Cubano dialect. Even your dentist, first generation from Greek immigrants, will stop to ask, "Are you Cuban or are you black?" and will not put his hands back in your mouth until you suggest he think of major league baseball or the Buena Vista Social Club. Clearly, even though Santiago de Cuba is at the southernmost tip of North America, the Asiento System is not a term given to memorize for North American middle-school exams.
There appears to be only one Cuban tale of immigration allowed here, despite the collectors of Celia Cruz and La Lupe albums on vinyl you will meet at cocktail parties who will accurately chronicle the careers of both musicians from beginning to end, and then admonish you for not knowing "your own heritage."
Oye, hombre, aquí en los Estados Unidos de América, the story of Cuban immigration must begin with the loss of a finca—a great main house, land as far as the eye can see—that culminates in a flight in the middle of the night, and ends in Miami with a hatred, and a painful longing for a place to which you can never return. Apparently, here, Jefferson never attempted to negotiate Cuba away from Spain and adopt it as a state with the hope of reducing the cost and expediting the traffic of the US slave trade, José Martí never made a landmark visit that challenged US scholars' notions of color, and Saturnino Orestes Armas "Minnie" Miñoso Arrieta was never signed to the Cleveland Indians in 1949.
It also seems that on this side of the bay, it's easy to forget that up until Castro's 1959 revolt, there was what can only be defined as "a shuttle" that traveled daily from Manhattan to La Habana that—in addition to offering sultry tropical nights, gambling, and inexpensive entertainments—provided enough distance from scrutiny to those who had a penchant for las negras they couldn't find in Harlem. Which could be why, with a population of over eleven million, the fact that over 38 percent of Cubans might be nonwhite seems disruptive to the concept of Ricky Ricardo or, por ejemplo, the newer model of Cuban American male identity, the dark-eyed, olive-skinned Richard Blanco—both of whom, as you know, asere, are considered white only on the island. Pero, you will need to abandon the question ¿Quién se hubiera imaginado que Desi Arnaz no era blanco? They don't nor do they want to hear it, y they will make sure you look like a comemierda for asking. It will only make you sound silly in your failure to recognize the cost for both Arnaz and Blanco of crossing el Estrecho de Florida was a racial claim to whiteness. They are the Cubans, you are black, and everyone knows who everyone is just by looking at each other. Y, ahi-nama, pendejo, is the subtle difference between who you are and what you are. Aquí, they insist there is a difference between who and what, but it is unclear and le ronca el mango, the way you could spend a lot of your time trying to figure it out.
Unlike during any trip you may have made to Paris, Istanbul, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, or Dublin, in the States your body will always be an obstacle to articulating the differences between race, ethnicity, space, place, and culture. Pues, you will need to stumble upon A Dialogue (1973) based on the November 4, 1971, conversation James Baldwin had with Nikki Giovanni in London, in which Baldwin asserts, "The reason that people think it is important to be white is that they think it's important not to be black." Pero, you will find even you will elide the most salient portion of his proclamation for the safety of the established racial binary that divides the country between white and black. You will hold fast to this reading of Baldwin's statement until you attend a Latino literary conference in California, where you will be introduced by brown Latinos to other brown Latinos as an Afro Cubano, a black Latino, an Afro Cubano Americano writer and scholar, as if to somehow explain away your blackness. To segregate your latinidad from theirs, because after all, the afro they can see, ¿no?, the americano can be assumed, and your Hispanic surname should be enough to tell your lineage, if that is important. Why, you'll ask, can't you be a writer and a scholar in the same way they are? Pero, ese, if you can't recognize ellos no tienen dos dedos de frente, your mamá did not raise you right.
On the same trip, you will be in casual conversation in Spanish with other Latinos—what to eat, where to shop, what movies you should see, what book to read next—at the end of which someone will ask, "Where did you learn to speak such good Spanish?" Pero, it is a series of events and a question that will confuse you until you get back to your hotel room, where you will realize it is not the black/white binary Baldwin is talking about, but the anxiety of blackness. Nonetheless, in these circles, get used to the floating terms "Latino" and "Hispanic." Because even though these same scholars will talk about the imperfections of using "Hispanic"—defining it as a marker of linguistic or colonialist historical origins rather than race—they are as quick as the federal government to categorize, introduce, and regard you as "black Hispanic."
You will meet other black Latinos who carefully differentiate and segregate themselves from African Americans. You'll know them because they are the ones who will only speak to you in Spanish and will not look or speak to the African Americans in the room. The same way other Latinos speak of "los otras" to mean "white people," "los otras" between Afro Latinos is code for "African Americans." At first it is a difficult concept to understand, but it should be implicit if you were raised in an Afro Latino household or have the privilege of watching Afro Latino mothers attempt to scold away laziness, provocative behavior or dress, and slovenliness by suggesting la vida "como los otras" is far less desirable and therefore unacceptable.
"Do you want to end up como los otras?" is thrown into the air like an incantation—set out like a vela—meant to ward off poverty, ignorance, incarceration, unwanted pregnancy, drug abuse, and—possibly the most important—misidentification as non-Latino. Por si las moscas, jefe, see it long and often enough and you will find yourself quoting from the same Baldwin essay that illuminated US blackness for you: "You know, it's not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself."
Entonces, it is when you are looking directly at a face and a body that looks so much like yours it could be your brother's that you are told what it is you have inherited. Rarely, when he asks you where you are from, is it not presented at the level of a challenge. It is a question about what you got that he didn't, what is more available to you and less available to him. Chico, he is checking your tongue—your background, your cultural heritage—because if it is not as black as his, he is looking for an opportunity to remind you that everything else about you is, as if you didn't know.
Concede a body suspended in a space, pedestalized and policed for the suspicions it generates independent of itself. Imagine a space in which "suspicions" are only mediated by "innocence." Pero, the difference between the two—"suspect" and "innocent"—is marginal at best in the ways in which they need each other to exist, and the mediation between the two is enacted on the body without ever engaging it. Therefore, the possible innocence of any black male infant is floated as suspect of what it might grow into. Por cierto, as the boy grows, it is a body that will be more likely than others to be asked if it knows anything about missing wallets, televisions, petty cash, and cars; more likely than others, it will be asked where to buy reefer even if it doesn't smoke; more likely than others, it will be expected to know where to procure a prostitute.
Claro, in fact, it is a body more often than not associated with most notions of criminality, unless of course the offense could cause the country to change its political direction, bring a Fortune 500 company to its knees, or otherwise be defined as a "white-collar" offense. Toss all caution to the wind and contemplate a country in which black male bodies only constitute approximately 6.8 percent of the total population, yet nearly 40.1 percent of the prison population, and according to the US Criminal Justice System, one in every fifteen men and one in every thirty-six "Hispanic" men are incarcerated in comparison to one in every one hundred and six white men. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes. Not terribly dissimilar to Cuba, the United States you will find is a country that can attribute—but doesn't—its entrance into modernity on the backs of slave labor, though at the same time it is a country in which more black men are incarcerated than were slaves. Yet their violence, their vitriol, their anxiety, their fear, and their anger are more often described when linked with their criminality—their rebellion and distrust and tears—as being generated from what will be named in the media as "senseless." As with US slave heritage, hip-hop music, poverty, welfare, poor education, float yourself over the Bay of Biscayne and "senseless" too becomes part of the lack of agency that is assumed of your body until you prove otherwise.
Even with a body that looks like yours in the White House, you will meet other men who share bodies similar to both his and yours who still speak of "the man." Y, cuídate ese, you will need to learn that it means "white," you will need to know that it is the stealth signifier of your oppressor as well as your ignorance. Because the same brothers who will tell you that you are being "brought down," "kept down," "kept in your place by the man" will ask you if you think you are "better" or somehow more privileged than they are because your tongue does not operate the same way theirs do. They are the ones, not "the man," who will tell you that you are not black enough when you reveal your mamá did not put the same dishes on her dinner table as theirs, or your musical tastes fall into categories they don't recognize. They are the closest monitors and police of your body, and they will tell you "You need to choose" whether you are black or Latino as if you could separate the two. They will school you on what "the man" says, tell you what it means, warn you about being hauled into jail just for walking down the street, chained to a truck and dragged down a dirt road in the South, and derided and infantilized for "the man's" entertainment when you work alongside him even if you are his supervisor. And they will teach you the ways of "the man" the same way they teach their way to their sons and nephews—the way they learned it—by using the same language they heard from their fathers and their fathers' fathers, who learned it from "the man."
Unlike actresses like Melissa De Sousa, Lauren Vélez, Esperanza Spalding, Zoe Saldana, or Rosario Dawson, por ejemplo, because, as a man, you will be sexualized differently, you too will regard them as beautiful—without regard for their accomplishments—just for existing in the world, and without needing to recognize the line that marks that which is perceived as domitable from the indomitable. And unlike the scores of white male celebrities of negligible talent, an accomplishment as great as consistently hitting from the three-point mark in the NBA will be required of you before you too can be listed as one of People magazine's Most Beautiful. And the moment you begin to question why the value placed on the performances of black male bodies is lower than those placed on black females, remember, Jessye Norman has sung the roles of Aida, Alceste, and Ariadne on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera Theater in New York; in the 1990s, Kathleen Battle gave highly critically acclaimed performances of Mozart, Handel, and Donizetti on the same stage; however, ese, you are moving to a country in which, on the same stage, the title role of Verdi's Othello has a tradition of being sung by tenors in blackface. Assume, in this country, that the combination of your body and your voice, even when you are silent, arouses suspicion. And, black as you are, you bring no translatable experience with you that explains the possibilities of something different to "the man" or those who reify what "the man" says. There is no cognate, no comprehendible similar experience here where you will be told you can't do something new because it has never been done before, and that misremembering seems to be the same as disremembering.
Excerpted from Exile by Bradford Morrow. Copyright © 2014 CONJUNCTIONS. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
- Editor’s Note
- H. G. Carrillo, Splaining Yourself
- Aleš Šteger, Three Berlin Essays (translated from Slovenian by Brian Henry)
- Christie Hodgen, Customer Reviews
- Peter Straub, The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero (Introduction by Törless Magnussen, PhD)
- Laura van den Berg, Havana
- Lance Olsen, Dreamlives of Debris
- John Parras, Song of Magsaysay
- Marjorie Welish, Folding Cythera
- Paul West, Omobo
- Charles Baudelaire, Poor Belgium: The Argument (translated from French with an introduction by Richard Sieburth)
- Maxine Chernoff, Five Poems
- Brian Evenson, Cult
- Robin Hemley, Celebrating Russian Federation Day with Immanuel Kant
- Edie Meidav, Dog’s Journey
- Stephen O’Connor, The Zip
- Gillian Conoley, Preparing One’s Consciousness for the Avatar
- Can Xue, Coal (translated from Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen)
- Martin Riker, Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return
- Wil Weitzel, The Gujjar at the River
- Matthew Pitt, A Damn Sight
- Arthur Sze, Water Calligraphy
- Gabriel Blackwell, The Invention of an Island
- Robyn Carter, Aftershock
- Notes on Contributors