Symposium addresses 21st-century colonialism in the Caribbean

Florida State’s Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and its Literature, Media, and Culture program came together Dec. 7 to sponsor an academic symposium, “It Has to Come from Here: Protesting Twenty-first Century Caribbean Colonialism.”

“The grounding topic was disaster — how disaster is experienced in colonized spaces, specifically Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico, which have very distinct colonial histories,” said Jeannine Murray-Román, an assistant professor of French who organized the symposium. “The experiment in the discussion was to think about how the two can inform one another productively in different modes of response to disaster.”

Laurel Fulkerson, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Martin Munro, director of the Winthrop-King Institute, provided opening statements. They were soon followed by a videotaped presentation from Yarimar Bonilla, an associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, who teaches and writes about questions of sovereignty, citizenship and race across the Americas.

Bonilla spoke on “Caribbean Sovereignty in the Wake of Disaster,” focusing on the many longstanding political, cultural and fiscal issues that contributed to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. After the presentation, Bonilla answered questions from symposium participants via Skype.

Next, graduate students from FSU’s French program performed vignettes, in French and English, from Gerty Dambury’s “Les Atlantiques amers/The Bitter Atlantics”, a play about the Guadeloupe strikes of 2009. The strikes were in protest of the high cost of living as derived from the island’s colonial relationship to France. The students selected, translated and staged excerpts from the play they felt represented the broad range of perspectives individuals might have to the general strikes, as well as more allegorical scenes that identified historical legacies of colonialism that led to the crisis.

The symposium’s second keynote speaker, Raquel Salas Rivera, kicked off the afternoon session. Salas Rivera is the 2018-19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, a CantoMundo Fellow and author of “Lo terciario/The Terciary”, a longlist selection for the 2018 National Book Award. Salas Rivera spoke on “un amor que aguante lo torrencial,” or a love that withstands the torrential.

Concluding the day was a roundtable discussion with faculty from FSU’s Caribbean Studies Working Group: Anasa Hicks, History; John Ribó, English; Vincent Joos, Anthropology; and Murray-Román, with Munro serving as moderator.