The Caribbean is a zone of coming and going, made up of its original inhabitants and all of those who arrived later, whether voluntarily or by force. Europeans, Africans and Asians all landed on its coasts and left a mark, and continue to leave a mark, with their influences on the territories of the region. It is a place of exchanges and convergences formed by the diasporas that came to the Caribbean and by the ones that left it. As a result, the literature of the Caribbean cannot be discussed without including writers who have roots in the region, whether because they were born there or because they have Caribbean ancestry.

Caribbean identity and history is trapped between two diasporic events. According to Ruel Johnson, winner of the Guyana Prize in Literature, “all of our ancestors, with the exception of the indigenous people, came to this land with identities they found somewhere else. Under the repressive plantation system and the trauma of exploitation and subjugation, the cultural memory of our ancestors was eroded and decayed.”

Those in the current diaspora, living in the countries that were the colonizers of their lands of origin, live these memories and write about them so as not to lose their roots and to maintain their place in the world. Although sometimes the images they keep of their homes are part of an idealized past.

There are various Caribbean writers who create their work outside of the Caribbean. Those from the Spanish Caribbean who write in the United States often prefer to publish their books in perfect English that nonetheless throbs with a Spanish rhythm. The writers from the French Caribbean have gone through the same process with the Creole language. In these cases, the language makes reference to the spaces they no longer inhabit. There are writers who do not want to leave the Caribbean behind, and even if they wanted to, they could not.

Some of the books mentioned below are autobiographical in nature and present the rupture between the two worlds that they face, the conflict that comes from a sense of belonging (the answer to the eternal question; Am I Caribbean?) and nostalgia for the island or country that they or their parents left behind. Among these are When I was Puerto Rican and Down these Mean Streets, by Puerto Ricans Esmeralda Santiago and Piri Thomas, respectively; How the García Girls Lost their Accent, by Julia álvarez, a Dominican;BreathEyes, Memories, by the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat; Annie John, by Jamaica Kincaid, who was born on the island of Antigua; Our House in the Last World, by Oscar Hijuelos, an author of Cuban origin; and many others.

Other recognized writers from the Caribbean diaspora are the Puerto Ricans Luz María Umpierre, Pedro Pietri, Víctor Hernández Cruz and Willie Perdomo; the Dominican Junot Díaz; the Jamaicans Patricia Powell and Michelle Cliff; the writer of Barbadian origin, Paule Marshall; V.S. Naipaul of Trinidad; Jean Rhys, from Dominica; Caryl Phillips, born on St. Kitts; George Lamming, of Barbados; and Maryse Condé, from Martinique, to mention just a few.

Author: Neeltje van Marissing Méndez
Published: January 31, 2013.

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