I had the privilege of sharing the stage last night at El Museo del Barrio with author Vanessa Perez Rosario for a conversation about her new book, Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon. This is only the second biography written about the Puerto-Rican poetess and political activist, and Vanessa’s treatment of de Burgos adds layers of complexity to her life that has left me hungry for more. De Burgos was a woman before her time, albeit a walking contradiction: but its those contradictions that make her accessible to the community, to would-be feminists and artists, alike.
There’s a question I didn’t get to ask Vanessa last night that I posed to her this morning, via email, below, about identity being a process, something that cannot be contained.
QUESTION: The title of your book, Becoming Julia de Burgos, to me at least, hints at her self and identity never truly being settled. She is still in the process of becoming it seems. And the writers and poets and artists whose works are inspired by her are contributing to that identity, enhancing it, piecing her, Julia’s spirit, together. De Burgos is, like so many of us in the Latino-American community and beyond, fluid, always shifting like the river Loiza she fondly wrote about. Was this title, this becoming, this process rather than arrival, something you did purposefully?
ANSWER: The title Becoming Julia de Burgos has several layers to it. First, it is a reference to the way the book documents how she came to be the writer and artist she was by looking at early literary influences, the development of her political consciousness, and her literary voice. Secondly, it is a reference to her becoming the icon she is today, an icon that is created in part, by those writers and visual artists who inherit and extend her legacy. It also suggests the way that identity is not fixed but always in the process of becoming, of movement, of shifting; it is dynamic, as her poetry teaches us so well. A favorite quote of mine on this topic from Julia’s poetry comes from the poem, below:
como en contradiccion,
atada a un sentimiento sin orillas
que me une y me desune,
as in a contradiction,
tied to a sentiment without edges
that binds and unbinds me
to the world.] [translation. by Jack Agueros from Song of the Simple Truth, pg 14-15]