By: Carolyn Ureña, Fourth Year PhD Candidate & Rafael Vizcaíno, First Year PhD Student
For two days in mid-April, Rutgers faculty, graduate students, and guest scholars of the Caribbean gathered together for the first annual Critical Caribbean Studies Symposium. The conference theme, “Radicalism, Revolution, and Freedom in the Caribbean,” inspired conversations around slavery, diasporic identity, transnational politics, radical historiography, creolization, language, ethics, and love in the Caribbean imaginary, served as a testament to the growing interest in and import of scholarship on the region at Rutgers and beyond.
Critical Caribbean Studies (CCS) began in 2011 as an initiative spearheaded by Professors Nelson Maldonado-Torres (LHCS & Comparative Literature) and Michelle Stephens (English & LHCS), who applied for a grant through the President’s Office to fund projects and events that promote scholarship on the Caribbean. The conference was organized by Professors Carter Mathes (English) and Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel (LHCS & Comparative Literature), both of whom emphasized the value of creating spaces for such conversations to take place. With this in mind, Mathes announced plans to expand CCS into an advanced institute through which larger scale projects, including a graduate certificate in Critical Caribbean Studies, would become possible. Audience members were very excited by this sneak peek and eagerly anticipate forthcoming news on this front.
The symposium began with a brief screening of “Contra las Cuerdas” (Against the Ropes), a documentary film about race in Cuba—the first of its kind— and a Q&A session with Cuban filmmaker Amílcar O. Cárdenas. The first day also included a graduate student panel on reimagining Caribbean Studies from a contemporary political and diasporic perspective. The second day included presentations by invited guests as well as Rutgers graduate students. Professor Zita Nunes (English and Comparative Literature, University of Maryland), analyzed the multiple lived experiences of James Bertram Clarke, who wrote about the experience of racism in nine different countries under several different names so as to advance a transnational anti-racist struggle. Carolyn Ureña, Fourth Year PhD Candidate, served as a respondent for Professor Nunes’s presentation.
Professor Ada Ferrer (History, New York University), presented her latest research on revolution in the early 19th century Caribbean, with a particular focus on a now-lost book of illustrations and other difficult to decipher symbols created by black Cuban revolutionary José Antonio Aponte. By focusing on the “negative presence” of the book, Ferrer’s work aims to explore the contingency of the archive and its role in revolutionary intellectual history. Professor Don E. Walicek (English, University of Puerto Rico), presented a paper on creolization in Anguilla. Despite being a marginal colony due to not having a plantation system, Professor Walicek argues that creolization still had an important role in the linguistic life of Anguilla. Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel (LHCS & Comparative Literature), as respondent, interrogated whether Maroon communities in Anguilla could also be seen as sources of creolization. The last panel of the conference was composed by Nidia Bautista (Third Year PhD Student in Political Science), who presented an analysis of the location of the intellectual within a community, paying attention to issues regarding the ethics of scholarship, and Carolyn Ureña, who presented a chapter of her dissertation on Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Rafael Vizcaino served as moderator and Professor Carter Mathes (English) was the respondent.
Overall, the symposium offered an exciting opportunity for scholars to share their work and engage in energizing discussions about the past, present, and future of the field, solidifying Critical Caribbean Studies as a space where students interested in the Caribbean can find support and collaboration beyond their own disciplinary boundaries.