"Knowing the Caribbean," with Silvio Torres-Saillant, Syracuse University.
Dr. Torres-Saillant is an Associate Professor and Director of the Latino-Latin American Studies Program at Syracuse University. He is a unique intellect and the preeminent Dominican scholar in the United States. The founder of the Dominican Studies Institute in New York City, he is the leading expert on Dominican blackness, an authority on the Dominican diaspora, and the foremost thinker situating the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. Currently he is a visiting scholar at Harvard University. Some of his most influential works include: Caribbean Poetics: Toward an Aesthetic of West Indian Literature; An Introduction to Dominican Blackness; El Retorno de las Yolas: Ensayos Sobre Diaspora, Democracia y Dominicanidad; The Dominican-Americans (with Ramona Hernandez); Desde La Orilla: Hacia Una Nacionalidad Sin Desalojos, and most recently Intellectual History of the Caribbean. He is an Associate Editor of the journal Latino Studies and a Senior Editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States.
Presented by Africana Studies, Center for Latin American Studies, and Caribbean Heritage Week.
Location: Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute for International Studies, 111 Thayer Street.
Event SummaryCaribbean Heritage Week began with a lecture delivered by leading Dominican scholar Silvio Torres-Saillant on the theme “Knowing the Caribbean.” Torres-Saillant began by describing the rich cultural, linguistic, and geographic diversity of the Caribbean region. He encouraged the audience to examine literature written by Caribbean authors as a way to gain intellectual access to the complexities and intricacies of this region. In order to appreciate this literature, however, one must not lump it all into the same category. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Haitians all have significant contributions to make and literary and cultural diversity exist even within these national divisions.
Torres-Saillant expounded on his admiration for the plethora of languages and cultures prevalent even within Caribbean countries. His examination of Curaçao as both a former Spanish and Dutch colony provided an illustrative example of the difficulty of mapping the linguistic and literary legacy of even one small island. He continued by asserting that even countries that one does not readily associate with the area have a rich Caribbean identity, including Colombia and Mexico.
He then shifted to a discussion of the area through a diasporic lens. Florida and New York City were cited as foci for thriving West Indian migrant communities, including Cubans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. Large enclaves of Caribbeans exist throughout the world, from Europe to the U.S. and parts of Latin America.
Torres-Saillant then dove into an historical recounting of the major colonial occupations in the area, namely instigated by the Spanish, Dutch, British, and French. He then segued into painting the linguistic canvas of the Caribbean, which is home to some 50 creole languages as well as the more official idioms that are vestiges of colonialism.
He closed with the notion that the Caribbean has a lesson to share with the world. Its celebration of ethnopluralism, cultural variegation, and hybridization encourages a fight against the stifling forces of homogenization that grip our globe.
Submitted by Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Francelle Kwankam ’06