Ilka Oliva Corado’s Poetry of the Diaspora

Comparto este texto escrito por Tiffanie Clark, que estudia el Doctorado en Literatura Centroamericana en La Universidad de Cincinnati, Ohio, Estados Unidos. Tiffani está escribiendo su tesis y escogió la poesía de 4 poetas migrantes para su análisis, entre ellos la mía. Le agradezco el empeño por dar a conocer mi trabajo literario entre la comunidad académica de Estados Unidos.


Ilka Oliva Corado’s Poetry of the Diaspora

Tiffanie Clark 

Síntesis 

            Este trabajo presenta algunos aspectos sociopolíticos de la producción poética de Ilka Oliva Corado (1979) con un enfoque en las maneras en la que su condición y consciencia diaspórica afectan a sus maneras de plantear, criticar y denunciar ciertas cuestiones sociopolíticas relacionadas con el movimiento migratorio desde Guatemala hacia los Estados Unidos, y más migraciones forzadas y semi-forzadas mundiales. Con una concentración en las teorías relacionadas con la diáspora como el espacio de la diaspora (Avtar Brah) y las rutas y los raíces (James Clifford) demuestro las formas por las cuales el carácter sociopolítico/comprometido de muchos de sus poemas se ligan íntimamente con la experiencia que la autora ha tenido y sigue teniendo con la diáspora. 

            Como este articulo también funciona como una presentación general de la producción poética de esta autora aún emergente, contextualiza el fondo literario e histórico de su obra poética al considerar las semejanzas que tienen con varias facetas del testimonio guatemalteco (1950-1980), la poesía comprometida del Nuevo signo (1968), y las preocupaciones y estética sociopolíticas de algunos poemas de Otto Raúl González. 

Palabra claves, Compromiso, Centroamericano/a, Diáspora, Sociopolítica, Transnacional 

Abstract

            This work presents some of the sociopolitical aspects of the poetic production of Ilka Oliva Corado (1979) with a focus on the ways in which her diasporic condition and consciousness affect the diverse ways she contemplates, criticizes, and denounces certain sociopolitical issues related with migratory movement in Guatemala to The United States and other forced and semi forced migrations worldwide. With a concentration on theories related to diaspora such as diaspora space (Avtar Brah) and roots and routes (James Clifford), I demonstrate the forms in which the sociopolitical/engaged character of many of her poems are intimately linked with the experiences that the author has had and continues having in the diaspora. 

            Since this article also functions as a general presentation of the poetic production of this emergent author, it also contextualizes its literary and historical background, considering it’s similarities with common facets of the Guatemalan testimony (1950-1980), the sociopolitical poetry of the group El Nuevo Signo, and sociopolitical concerns and aesthetics of several poems of canonical Guatemalan poet, Otto Raúl González (1921-2007)  

Key Words: Compromise, Central American, Diaspora, Sociopolitical, Transnational  

Born in 1979 to farming parents in Comapa, Jutiapa Guatemala, Ilka Oliva Corado spent her childhood traveling between the town of Comapa —where her grandparents live and her love for poetry began— and Peronia —a municipal found about 14 kilometers south from Guatemala City —where she began working at a very young age selling ice-creams. In 2003, after receiving her degree as a physical education teacher, Corado migrated to the United States as an “irregular” migrant. Since her arrival to Chicago in 2005, she has published nine books of poetry including Agosto ( ), Destierro (2016), Desarraigo (2017), En la melodía de un fónema ( ) , Invierno (2019),  Luz de faro ( ), Ocre (2015), Niña de arrabal (2016), and Nostalgia (2018). Since she began publishing after migrating, in her testimonial novel Postfrontera ( )she deems herself a writer born in the diaspora.[1] As such, in each of these works, the writer returns over and over again to questions related to diaspora with a focus on the reasons why she and other Guatemalans migrate to the United States or the nostalgia she feels for her family and hometown.  

            Since a focus on contemporary Guatemalan diaspora usually indicates sociopolitical issues such as poverty, unequal class-relations, and gang and military violence, it is no surprise that Corado’s poetry is marked by a sense of compromiso social that links it to the genre of the Guatemalan testimonio and to the general objectives of the sociopolitical group of poets calling themselves, El Signo nuevo (1960).

            Though testimonials usually refer to novels or longer works of prose, I believe that some of its vital characteristics can be felt in Corado’s poetry. 

According to John Beverly and John Zimmerman, the testimonial genre gained velocity in Guatemala during the 1970’s when the agribusiness sector began to expand into uncontested Indian lands with strong backing from its U.S. supported military. In response, many indigenous communities began to develop both armed and nonviolent forms of resistance to counter it. This resistance led to many assassinations, disappearances, resettlements, and massacres of the Indians, peasants, and Ladinos involved (164). As a result of their continued revolutionary movement throughout the seventies and the early 1980s, Guatemalan testimonios narrating these struggles began to emerge.  The most important of them being, Me Llamo Rigoberto Menchú y así me nació la conciencia and Mario Payera’s Días de la Selva(Beverly).  Though Corado’s poetry is from a different time period with a focus on distinct sociopolitical issues, her poetry does many things that the testimonial has been shown to do. 

            First, since Corado has crossed the Sonora Arizona desert without documentation and has lived and continues to live in an irregular state of migration, her testimony through poetry provides direct access to the thoughts, feelings, and sociopolitical circumstances of a young, educated— though economically marginalized woman— who has migrated “clandestinely” from Guatemala; a writing that could help scholars and students better understand this specific social sector’s sociopolitical struggles that continually leads to their migration (Rodríguez). In sum, Corado’s poetry that relates elements of her diaspora and the reasons behind it can shed a much-needed light on Guatemalan contemporary femenine migration from a firsthand perspective; a perspective we do not get to read much about since the bulk of this migrations are of people from lower social sectors or indigenous/peasant communities who either have little interest or time for writing and/or find difficulty to published in the United States because of their language barrier or lack of economic resources or editorial contacts. 

            Another element of the Guatemalan testimonio that corresponds to Corado’s poetic production is theorized by Jorge Narvaez (cited by Mark Zimmerman in his theoretical text, Literature and Resistance in Guatemala); a scholar who has postulated that the literary testimonial is an esthetically rich and generally linear first-person narration of socially and collectively significant experiences in which the narrative voice metonymically represents other individuals or groups that have lived through similar situations or circumstances (12 Emphasis is mine). In this regard,  many formal interviews with the author published on her blog (in the Spring of 2019) “Crónicas de una inquilina,” Corado reiterates that she tells her story because it represents the silenced experiences of millions of people who are forced to leave their homes in search of a better life.  As such, her poetic speaker and the many voices of testimony it adopts are specifically created to indicate the ways in which the homeland environment leads to mass migration of poor men, women, and children. Subsequently, they also enunciate experiences in the hostland where members of diaspora face many injustices and psychological depressions due to pressure to economically provide for family back home and exploitative labor relations. In this way, her testimonial poetry reflects a subaltern discourse which speaks from the perspective of middle and lower sectors who are frustrated, repressed, or marginalized under capitalism; a huge factor in contemporary diaspora in which transnational flows of capital and labor have become dependent on the exploited labor of diasporic populations who find themselves, more often than not, at the bottom of the social hierarchy (Clifford 257); an overarching theme in those poems of the author that deal with the labor that she and other “undocumented” laborers tend to  engage in after they migrate.

            One other interesting way that Corado’s work engages with the tradition of Guatemalan testimonio corresponds to René Jarra’s (also cited by Mark Zimmerman) notion that this genre tends to give a sensation of experiencing the “real” in a way that is both public and intimate. Simply put, the narrator in the testimonio is a real person who continues living/acting in a real social history that also continues. As we see from reading each one of these collections, we are left feeling that we are reading a testimony of a real life in motion of a young woman who has left her country, who has experienced the horrors of border crossings, and is currently living the ups and downs of the life of an irregular migrant. As such she related her dealings with the lack of non-exploitative working opportunities and the pressure to send money back home to people who don’t quite understand the economic struggles an immigrant has to face  in America. 

            In this way, Corado’s poetry manifests what it means to live in what Avtar Brah calls the diaspora space; a place that “is not only inhabited by those who have migrated and their descendants, but equally by those who are constructed and represented as indigenous. In this way, diaspora space considers the entanglements and genealogies of dispersions with those of staying put (181). This ideal is integral when studying Corado’s poetry of the diaspora because it expresses the implications of transnational and local relationships that are affected by diasporic movement. As such, her socio-politically oriented poetic production presents  a constant tension between those who have gone and who and what they have left back home and between those migrants of the diaspora and the natives who they encounter in the hostland either personally or professionally. Perhaps, looking at all these relationships and implications of the diaspora space we can begin to understand why it is both social and political; why it is a testament to the fragility of physical borders that do little to stop human relationships and their implications on the personal and collective psyche during diaspora; an element that makes Corado’s testimonial poetry both intimate and public. 

            Lastly, we might connect Corado’s poetry to the testimonio because of its conflictive relationship with established literary aesthetic norms and with the institution of literature itself (Zimmerman 14). That is, in her poetic representation of the “undocumented” proletarian and/or the woman and girls who are economically exploited and/or sexually violated on fincas centroamericanas or in large industrial centers in the United States she is doing just what the testimonio did in the late twentieth century in Guatemala ; that is, including those groups that have largely been excluded from authorized representation through elaborating its own discursive space that is, more often than not, antipoetic because of its overarching preoccupation with its sociopolitical message(Zimmerman 15). 

             However, unlike the testimonial of this time period, this process has been carried out without the intervention of an intelligentsia who sometimes “smothers the genuine popular voice with repressive notions of correctness or pertinence (Zimmerman 14). Since Corado has resisted the “system” of literature through auto publication, she  see her literary voice as more so liberated from the chains of what is considered pertinent or even grammatically correct. As such,  she continually resists those editors and intellectuals (including myself) who have asked to “correct” her work. This attitude reflects just how much Corado see her literary expressions of and  testimonial like representations of the migrants of the diaspora as sacred. 

 Regarding resistance to the literary hierarchy, it is important to reiterate, like Beverly notes, testimonio can function as an extra-literary or anti-literary discourse because the sociopolitical message—not the form— is at its locus. In this way,  within Corado’s denunciatory poems found in Destierro, we find poems where words are cut in the middle, creating an uneasy and oft non-fluidic movement to the next verse (a testament to the fragmented psyche of the diasporic subject of semi-forced migration), we encounter poems that don’t look to musicality or rhyme because the focus is testimonial; because Corado is not bound by literary aesthetics, literary organizations, or publishing houses. The only purpose she is bound to, is the need to spread her “truth” that, nonetheless, is metonymically the truth of many other subjects of diasporas worldwide, especially those of Central American descent.  This, I think, is noteworthy of our present literary generation in which an author does not have to “know people” or be a part of the elite to have a chance at publication. Without such, I think it would be difficult or rather slow to receive so many collections by such a talented poets at once because 1) She writes complete in Spanish which would make it difficult to be published in a traditional North American publishing house without being translated first 2) It is only recently that many publishing companies in the United States have removed the condition of U.S. citizenship from their publishing requirements. 3) And the process of publication is long and arduous resulting in about one publication every two years. 

            In terms of more contemporary research dealing with testimonial oriented literature and cultural production, scholars have turned to diaspora to theoretically frame the work of diasporic artists and writers. For example, Stuart Hall has said that testimony recounts a story that speaks from a position that is inscribed politically, geographically, and culturally. In this way, diasporic artists’ testimonies originate from an individual-memory-image that functions agnostically in relation to historical narrative because “like poetics it is among those expressions of life irreducible to rationalist determinants, whilst forming the matrix from which history is made possible” (205).  Looking at Corado’s testimonial poetry from this perspective, we might begin to analyze the ways in which the ways her poetic images of the exploitation of irregular migrants and the violence they face during clandestine migration via her individual memories functions to contrast the images of the United States as open to migrants/refugees and the illusory notion of the American dream 

            Since some readers might argue that we cannot contextualize Corado’s poetic production through testimoniobecause the work that I am analyzing are not prose pieces or novels (though some could be characterized as prose), I would like to offer another possibility. That is, we could also contextualize Corado’s work in terms of literary history through the ways in which her poems adopt many of the aesthetic and thematic goals of the literary group in Guatemala, Nuevo Signo

            Building on the work of Otto René Castillo, a militant compromised poet, the group Nuevo Signo emerged with six poets. They were: Luis Alfredo Arango, Francisco Morales Santos, Antonio Brañas, Julio Fausto Aguilera, José Luis Villatoro, and Delia Quiñonez. This group first gained notoriety after publication of their anthology, Las plumas del serpiente. What inspired them to write was the crisis of individual and national conscious due to their experiences within a society marked by militarism, extreme poverty, violence, and exploitation; a situation that echoes the Guatemala that Corado describes in her denunciatory poetry. In this way, as I argue in terms of Corado’s poetic productions, this group’s work had both “a testimonial and denunciatory function” (Beverly 160).  Furthermore, like this group, her denunciatory poetry tends to use materials considered “unpoetic,” bringing in the “language and themes related to the life of the country’s rural population” (Beverly 160).  In this manner, Corado’s poetry both uses her life experiences growing up in rural/urban Guatemala and, by extension, images of the lives of her camaradas to indicate some of the principal reasons that they have decided to migrate. 

            Though her aesthetics and themes often go hand-in-hand with that of Nuevo Signo, if I had to compare her work to that of another author, it would be to that of Otto Raúl González, one of the most famous writers of the group Saker Ti[2]. Like González’s many of this author’s poems, another facet of Corado’s prismatic poetic expression is her ability to fuse “la pasión telúrica” with the “compromiso cívico.”  In this manner, her verses sing the beauty, the colors, the fruits, and the aromas of the Guatemalan countryside and combat, like González did, while directly denouncing  the injustices against women, Indians, and the earth in and of itself (García Aguilar 12). In further pages, we will see how her verses related to the Guatemalan countryside tend to be more lyrical; while the injustices towards the people who inhabit them seem to invade the pleasant memories of these landscapes. 

             This entanglement between the beauty of the land and the injustices that occur in it is also linked to the author’s diaspora, in that being separated from her motherland (like González was an exile) makes her long for home while simultaneously gaining a more critical of its social and political problems. In this regard she has said, “Cuando estás dentro (de la patria), sientes los golpes, pero no sabes de dónde vienen.” (Corado 2019).  In this way, she connects her integration into the diaspora to a greater understanding of the sociopolitical problems in Guatemala that continually leads her people to embark on the perilous journey of irregular migration. 

            This critical stance towards her country and subsequent aesthetic mixture of the earthly and the civic can also be framed by Clifford’s roots and routes, a theory that attempts to understand how the diasporic consciousness of any given subject is connected to roots (objects and relationships that connect them to home) and routes (their diverse journey of integration into the diaspora dependent on social class and gender). Clifford affirms that only when we take both roots and routes into considerations can we understand how the diasporic subject creates alternate public sphere (in this case, poetry) that maintain identification outside the national time and space order. With this ideal in mind, in the coming pages, I will show the ways in which Corado’s sociopolitical poetry uses this notion of  roots to connect back to home when feeling uprooted in the diaspora and how her poetic highlighting of her “routes” testifies to the many hardships the diasporic subject of Central American descent and of other nationalities have in integrating because those “roots” are elsewhere, creating nostalgia and feelings of melancholy. At the same time, the often hostile and exploitative attitude of the hostland peoples towards the diasporic subjects makes integration, stability, and or success seem an impossibility. 

            Before moving on to our critical analysis of some of Corado’s texts, I would like to address a few ways in which her writing corresponds to that of other Central American poets of the diaspora in the United States and current research done in this field. In Maribel Moreno’s article “The ‘art of witness’ in U.S. Central American cultural production…,” the author indicates that Central American artists tend to use witness poetry to reconstruct their Central American collective memory from the diaspora. In this way, their cultural production has engaged in a critical denunciation of violence that characterizes the history and the current situation of the Central American isthmus. As such, their work tends to be informed by situations of extreme poverty, fear of state, political repression, war, and the painful experiences of upheaval and suffering (289). However, unlike the poet that she studies (William Archila), Corado’s poetry is not centered on showing the continuum on violence from the Central American civil war and genocide period in the mid twentieth century. Rather, its main axis is the current societal violence Central American diasporic communities and those affected by diaspora who have stayed (diaspora space) face today. 

Following this thematic center, her poetic concerns are many. We could cite, for instance, the estimated 65 million people who currently live in the state of diaspora today (Cook-Heffron), the 65,000 to 90,000 “undocumented,” unaccompanied Central American children who have attempted to travel to the United States between 2012 and 2014, and those in Central America who anxiously await the return of family members who have disappeared during border crossings (Sawyer). Furthermore, her concerns are the complex trauma and the psychological implications of surviving irregular diaspora and the despair related to various facets of their subsequent livelihoods within it. In this way her poetry is a poetry of solidarity with and first person (metonymical) testimony of what the diasporic subject faces in contemporary society both “home” and “abroad.” 

Other Central American sociopolitical poets who are writing about similar issues albeit with a greater focus on the historical processes that have fed into this situation are, Salvadorian Americans, Alexandra Lytton-Regalado (1972) and Javier Zamora (1990). However, these are artists who have arrived to the United States as children and write in English. Thus, their perspective is very distinct than Corados. With this historical and literary context in mind, the works that I have focused on during this panoramic analysis of the poetic production of the writer Ilka Oliva Corado demonstrate how it directly and indirectly represents and denounces the sociopolitical systems that cause, sustain, and surround forced diaspora (Becker and Ferrara). As such, the following poetic analysis focus on the impliations of diaspora space and roots and routes evidenced in her poetry with a focus on its testimonial underpinnings and similarities with testimonio, the works of El Nuevo Signo, and the sociopoltically works of  Otto Raúl Gonzálaz that point to a common preocupation with Central American and global diaspora due to forced and semi-forced displacemennt. 

A Testimony of Migration and Life in Rural Guatemala 

            As I have mentioned before, Ilka Oliva’s Corado’s poetic production provides the direct testimony of irregular female migration from Guatemala to the United States. As such, the reader is left with the feeling of a real narrator telling her migratory story in real time. In the same token, as Stewart Hall affirms, it represents a position that is inscribed politically, geographically, and culturally to the diaspora. In this way, it is a poetry that is denunciatory and critical of the social and political systems that create and sustain it. Therefore, it has a transnational focus, leading to the denunciation of social and political systems in Guatemala, The United States, and the border spaces between them.  

To begin our analysis, I think a good starting place are her poems located in the collection, Nostalgia, a brief collection that is both lyrical because of its preoccupation with the beautiful landscapes of her hometown and denunciatory and comprometido because it is interrupted by  the social injustices the rural people face that lead to their diaspora. Affected by the writer’s diaspora consciousness this collection also tends to center itself on the colonial and neocolonial exploitation (Clifford 257). Furthermore, since the poetic voice enunciates her testimonies of the homeland from the place of diaspora it also indicates contrapuntal visual; a term used by Néstor García Canclini and Edward Said to describe how the diasporic person demonstrate an awareness in which the ways of life, expression, or activity in the new environment occur against the memory of the old. This is particularly vital to framing this collection theoretically because her memories of Guatemala also occur against her lifestyle in the U.S. diaspora which tend to mirror the exploited labor of rural Guatemalan. 

From the very prologue, the author expresses an awareness of the ways that her condition in the diaspora is affecting her poetic voice. She writes, “Nostalgia es extrañar en la diáspora la frescura de las mañanas en el hogar. La intimidad familiar. Conversar con mis abuelos. Es indagar en lo inconcluso…Nace del caos, en el silencio.” (1). Through this short introduction of the collection it is noticeable that the nostalgia she feels for home is an intimate space that she will be sharing through her poems in a public and testimonial manner. At the same time, she alludes to that fact that these memories are born in a moment of silence and chaos; an indication of the injustice, solitude, and depressions she has faced within her diaspora. In sum, the memories she presents are sweet and lyrical (as some of the combative poems of González), but because of the speakers position in the irregular diaspora they are interrupted by a denunciatory tone that represents the lifestyles of those rural and marginalized Guatemalans through the use of language and themes related to this population (Beverly 160). Lastly, they are contrasted with the speaker’s life in the diaspora through contrapuntal vision. 

In “Arrabalera,” the poet invites the reader to her childhood home in the countryside; a simultaneous testament to her roots in rural Guatemala, a denouncement of its sociopolitical problems, and an ode to its beauty and its people. 

Yo vengo de un cantón de periferia enrarecida

donde llora la canción y el hambre no se ol-

vida. 

Mi casa fue un cajón de dos puertas de madera

con ventanas de cartón y una tranca asidera. 

Un patio enflorecido de hierbitas rozagantes

un tapial y un portón ahora tan distantes. 

Mi pedigrí es el más llano no necesita distin-

ción es polvareda y es verano, es llama viva de 

fogón. 

Una calle, los barrancos, las montañas y el 

amor los amigos siempre francos, una pila en 

el corredor. 

Arrabalera, soy arrabalera y mi pasión es el 

fútbol (120 Kindle Version)

In these five short stanzas; each indicated by a capital letter, Corado’s introduces herself to the reader through the very private space of the home. The title is what first call our attention as it indicates a person who dwells in the slum or someone who is uncouth. Arrebañar, the verb it comes from, by extension, indicates someone who scrapes things together, who makes something out of nothing. It indicates resourcefulness, strength, and resistance. As such, the poem’s speaker shows pride in being an arrabalera and in the beauty of the Guatemalan countryside represented by the mountains, the flowers, and the fireplace that has remained alive in her nostalgia. Despite these positive notions of an arrabal identity, the poetic speaker doesn’t  disregard the negative side of her upbringing such as the sadness and injustice evoked by the images of the hunger that is never forgotten and the songs that cry. In sum, this poem is a lament and a source of pride of rural Guatemalan livelihood; two elements that fight for a spot within the speaker’s nostalgia from the diaspora. 

            While this poem connects to her roots in Clifford’s notion of the word, the next poems that we will consider signify the roots of the societal problems in Guatemala that lead to mass diaspora. Continuing her testimonial tone, albeit in a manner that utilizes the third person, she evidences a similar preoccupation of Nuevo Signo to write about themes related to the country’s rural population. As such, in the poem that borders prose, “Amor del proletario,” she captures the unjust social circumstances that mark many contemporary Guatemalan’s rural men, women, and children ‘s lives through an openly Marxist critique of the classists and patriarchal systems that underpin them:  

            Es el campesino que pone el lomo y el 

sufrimiento ay, los lamentos. 

Es el marginado el que grita si ira y su sinrazón el 

que tiene herido el corazón. 

Son los niños del campo los que acarician la luna 

en aquella premura de lo inalcanzable. 

……………………………………………………….

       La canción del monte, triste allá en las lejanías

son tantas las ironías de esta vida desdichada la 

llora la niña empleada que limpia la gran mansión 

la niña violada por la perversidad del patrón

……………………………………………………

       Madrugan los labradores y los obreros 

malgastados a enfrentar un nuevo día de tiranías

el titulado amaestrado le sirve al gran patrón

golpea al obrero hermano y se arrastra a merced del emo

        No es ningún embuste agüero 

es la realidad que curte al incomprendido

……………………………………………………..

       El único, lo demás es oportunismo 

cinismo de la cara dura, que aprovecha la premura 

para lucirse consecuente, bien sabe que de decente 

no tiene ni la ilusión

¿Revolución?, palabra que no pronuncia quien le 

sirve al patrón

palabra que siempre es justa en voz del peón

…………………………………………………………

     El erudito cretino que tiene horchata en las 

venas y odio en corazón

el que discrimina a su propio hermano

¿Acaso ya olvidó que la misma raíz los fecunda?

¡Vaya infamia la que florece en las venas de los 

cultivados ! (314-316 Kindle Edition)

Via this very extensive piece, I have decided to cite almost entirely because it captures the unjust systems that mark the lives of many rural Guatemalans with a focus on the systems of the finca that haven’t changed much since the twentieth century. Furthermore, it indicates a very patriarchal and racialized system where femenine workers are violated with impunity as the white rich patron exploits the indigenous and poor ladino populations. At the same time, it mirrors the lives that these same communities will suffer in the diaspora as “undocumented” exploited workers; a theme she touches on  in this collection and with greater frequency in her collection, Destierro. It is also important to note the very “antipoetic” nature that resists lyricism and “beauty” to show in simplified language the ardent realities of labor relationships of Guatemalan fincas. Nevertheless, if we consider Roque Dalton’s vision of beauty which postulates that the very concept of beauty and the beautiful are embodied in the cultural realities that are endowed with historic scope and social roots (20), this poem is quite beautiful. 

            Moreover, we cannot ignore how her images of the rural peoples and their struggle reflect similarities with Gonzalez’s images of the working, peasant, and indigenous classes in his celebrated early work, Voz y voto del geranio where we find stanzas such as these:

Pasó el obrero cabizbajo y solo, 

sudoroso, 

el alma y los zapatos rotos; 

y llevaba un geranio entre los ojos (“Signo del geranio”)

Pasó la ágil muchacha, 

la góndola de todas las dulzuras, 

la muchacha más guapa de mi barrio, 

la que estuvo sirviendo en casa grande; 

y llevaba un geranio entre su vientre. 

Pasó el más explotado:

ese pequeño voceador descalzo 

que grita noticias por la calle, 

que a veces va a la escuela 

y siempre tiene ardidas las pupilas

de frio, hambre, y sueno; 

y llevaba un geranio en las mejillas (27)

Though González is a much more experienced poet than Corado and more “contained” and lyrical with his expression, we see that he is also denouncing exploitation, poverty, and patriarchy of rural and urban Guatemalans in a testimonial manner. 

            As we have seen from these examples, the poetic speaker expresses nostalgia of  her roots through her testimonial oriented poetics while simultaneously expressing the roots of her country’s societal problems related to exploitative working relationships between rural peoples and rich landowners that sustain poverty of the masses and subsequent diasporic movement. Furthermore, when her poems move away from the testimonial first person, she uses the third person with a dose of antipoetry to plainly represent the injustices towards rural peoples.  In other poems in this collection that I haven’t touched on to avoid over extension, Corado deals with this rural populations low paid work in the urban environment and the manners in which  this environment leads to increased drug use of its youth and abandonment of their education. A more extensive analytical essay will be in order to analyze how her poetic voice confronts urban marginalization through poetry. 

Testimony of Collective Experiences within the Diaspora

            Now, as I alluded before, we will briefly analyze the poet’s dealing with not nostalgia and reflections from the diaspora but her testimony of life and injustice in the diaspora with a focus on Brah’s theory of diaspora space. Regarding this, Brah points out that class, racism, and gender are articulated and disarticulated in the diaspora. Moreover, they are marked by a complex web of power relations (209) In Corado’s collection, Destierro, these notions are deeply felt through more testimonial like poems that emphasize a solidarity within all diasporic communities worldwide with a specific emphasis on women’s experiences. Lastly, these poems demonstrate the gamut of ways that the poet attempts to draw clear lines between the entanglements between those who have migrated and those who have stayed, those who are migrants to an area and those who consider themselves to be native while highlighting the power relationships that surge through these relationships (Brah). 

            To begin, the unequal power relationships that Corado tends to emphasize are like those exploitative relationships that continue existing in Guatemala between the powerful landowners and the rural workers. However, in the United States, it becomes an issue of the exploitation of the “undocumented” migrants by the North American businessmen or businesswomen who seek out cheap labor. In these cases her poetry exemplifies Brah’s affirmation that the “tropes of resentment construct the worker as an embodiment of capital rather than its contradiction” creates the paradox of the “undocumented “workers needed to service the lower rungs of the economy, but criminalized, forced to go underground, rendered invisible, “that is cast as a phantom, an absent presence that shadows the nooks and crannies where low paid work is performed” (200). She goes on to add that this type of work is predominantly done by immigrant women workers and their descendants; an element crucial to Corado’s voice that singles out femenine experiences related to diaspora. 

            In the case of various poems in this text, there is evidence of Corado’s preoccupation with uncovering in a testimonial and socio-politically engaged form, how she and other irregular migrants are forced to live in the shadows for fear of being undocumented as represented in “Alma deportada” and “Amanece el Desarraigo” . She is also concerned with highlighting women’s experiences in the diaspora as mothers who have had to leave their children behind like in “Madre migrante” to face exploitative labor situations and the lack of stability or progress in the hostland. Next, she exemplifies the relationship between those who have gone and those who have stayed put as evidenced in the piece “Migrantes del camino,” a poem where the poetic speaker directly addresses a daughter who has disappeared during forced migration.; a situation that occurs frequently during clandestine diaspora from Central America to the United States to train accidents, sexual/physical violations, and  imprisonments. This situation is so acute that Corado writes in, “El desierto es cementario” that each migrant leaves their lands ready to die, as symbolized in their carrying of funeral materials during their travesuras. These are also situations that point to those complex webs of power related to gender, class, and race in the diaspora space that this article doesn’t attempt to fully embark between female laborers and rich business owners who exploit them with low pay. Nevetheless, the important message is that Corado’s poetry is complex and quite extensive since she attempts to cover many, if not all,  of those aspects related to diasporic movement that she explains well in her introduction to the text:

            Cuando emigra un ser humano, emigra la vida. Emigra la cultura, la identidad, las tradiciones. Y todo lo que fue nuestro confort se convierte en ausencia y es la añoranza que en la diáspora quema, como lava candente en el alma de los que se convirtieron a la fuerza, en extranjeros. Es el caso de los inmigrantes indocumentados, obligados a salir del terruño amado.

            Como si fuera poco tener que irse, así, de esa forma tan cruel; el camino que hay que transitar es un desafío a la muerte; insondables heridas quedan para siempre en las emociones de quienes logran sobrevivir la travesía de las fronteras donde han quedado tantas vidas.

           Destierro, es nombrar a los ausentes y a los desaparecidos. Y es abrazador de nuevo a los que fueron y a los que quedaron, en un recuentro fugaz que solo sucede cuando el trastorno le da alas a la nostalgia; para llorar de melancolía en el desarraigo y en la lejanía, en el eterno vaivén (305-6 Kindle Edición)

As we can note from this text,  Corado does not approach issues of diaspora from one perspective. Rather she takes the same panoramic approach articulated via the diaspora space; an approach that consider the political, the geographical, the social. As such, it indicates the intersectionality of diaspora, border, and the politics of dislocation as points of confluence of economic, cultural and psychic processes (Brah 209). 

            When thinking of Corado’s expression of life within the diaspora, I think her poems that that most poignantly bring all these points of “confluence” together, are those that are written in the “we” form; a nod to both solidarity and witness.  I think this is so because the poetic voice of the “we” allows her to make her argument that the situation of irregular migrants worldwide is striking similar. So, unlike her poems that look at her Guatemalan roots from the diaspora, her poems in the diaspora tend to look out into the world where 65 million other people are on the move (Cook-Heffron).  In this way, Narvaez’s notion of a testimonial narrative as one  that represents a collective of people facing similar situation comes to mind. 

            Looking at two important examples, we see how the masculine/femenine nature of Spanish permits Corado to point separately to the experience of women  (nosotras) and men/women (nosotros) in any given forced or semi-forced diasporic movement of peoples:

         Las que cruzamos 

más que una línea imaginaria

las que brincamos más que un cerco las que

trepamos murallas de invisibilidad

       Las que salimos en parvadas 

de otoños que nos exiliaron 

con inventadas alas de aves migratorias

y sin las florecientes primaveras que nos 

admitieran. 

            Nosotras, las ausentes

las de las pieles laceradas

las de los pubis marchitos y vulneradas. 

         Nosotras, nosotras, nosotras

que en alguno momento fuimos ellas, que se convertirán en nosotras

cantando la misma canción 

más que un destierro, el quebranto de una vejación

         Nosotras, las del eterno éxodo. …

¿A dónde iremos?

las de las maquiladoras, 

las de las fábricas, 

las de las laderas

………………………………

Nosotras, las que nos fuimos

de las verdes montañas

en los enlodados caminos

las que dejemos más que un sollozo el perpetuo

silencio ahogado en un pozo aquel profundo abismo 

del adiós

………………………………………………………..

las violadas, las secuestradas, las desaparecidas las que

somos fantasmas sin nombre, ni voz….

llegamos al suelo aquel, donde nos explotan 

también.

            (“Las que cruzamos” 82)

In contrast, she also presents the masculine/masculine femenine perspective of political, social, economic, and psychological confluences of diaspora space:

Somos los que han cruzado las fronteras con 

sus no sé cuántos avernos

somos los que murieron de sequía que se 

desangraron 

que se ahogaron 

que no pudieron llegar. 

            Somos los silencios inconclusos reclusos de la 

arbitrariedad

agónicos indocumentados 

que siembran en los campos extranjeros los limpia 

mierda

que se amurallan en la oscuridad

            Somos los emigrantes los clandestinos 

forasteros agonizantes somos las plazas vacantes 

del siempre yes sir. 

del yes ma’am 

que nunca dicen no 

que no tienen horario los del siempre sorry. 

Pidiendo perdón por todo por existir

…………………………………………..

            Somos las remesas 

las cenizas

lo que sobró

somos los que fueron 

los bandoleros de la emigración

            Los hambrientos 

desprotegidos 

los de los gemidos de la desolación somos el retorno 

que no llega los deportados 

arrimados 

los obligados a renunciar (“Los que han cruzado fronteras” 91-2)

From the femenine perspective, Corado points out the exploitation that the women migrants have left behind only to be faced with more exploitation and more injustice. She also notes how many of them have had to deal with sexual as well as physical violations. Another interesting point in her expression is that diaspora women are faced with the task of crossing physical frontiers and frontiers of invisibility for being women and being clandestine migrants. Lastly, their identity is entangled with those who will cross in the future because of the continual processes femenine marginality in their home countries. That is, their destiny is shows to be entangled with those who didn’t cross the border yet.

            In the second poem, which is inclusive of both males and females, there is a more acute focus on their routes in that she points our how they become objectified in the diaspora as capital through their image as being remittances; an image that points to both their entanglement with “home” and their economic struggle in the diaspora. Curiously, unlike the case of women, she doesn’t mention sexual violence, but the psychological torment one faces when they ask for forgiveness for existing and deciding to migrate. Thus, their being those of “yes ma’am” and  yes sir” indicate their objectification as objects of capital  who must move about clandestinely; an agonizingly secret livelihood  that will never cease to exist because of the constant fear of deportation. Even more noteworthy is that this poem is constructed to represent the common circumstances of forced migrants worldwide, while the anterior poem highlights that women have many other injustices to face that are intersectional. Though there are many other fascinating poems in this collection and others, we might conclude this section by affirming that it embodies the political, sexual, geographical, and social confluences of the diasporic space by creating a testimony of diaspora that is collective and centered on femenine experience in the diaspora and the implications of being connected to home through ongoing relationships that involved the economic and the sentimental. All the while, they denounce the objectification of irregular migrants through labor exploitation, the constant pressures to provide remittances, and the lack of protection from the nation state because of their clandestine and precarious  immigratory status. 

Conclusions

            Though there is so much more to be said about this phenomenal testimonial voice of contemporary Central American letters from the diaspora, I want to begin my conclusion by reiterating that Ilka Oliva Corado is a writer born in and principally preoccupied with diaspora. As such, her poetry embodies the diasporic aesthetic outlined by Sieglinde Lemke in that is has a preoccupation with exile, memory, migration, and the psychosocial conditions of diasporic life. Thus, it assumes a narrative mode that engages with genealogies of suffering, confusions, pain, and loyalty. Also, as grounded in Guatemalan testimonio, it assumes and insider’s perspective that portrays the negative and positive roots of the homeland while portraying the acts of crossing, the processes of migrations, and the implications of living in a psychological and physical destierro. Since many of her poems of protest reflect this aesthetic, they also exemplify the implications of Clifford’s theory of roots and routes and Avtar Brah’s diaspora space.

            As we have seen from this essay, when the poetic speakers poeticizes her homeland from the diaspora she expresses a nostalgia for the land and its people, while her physical distance from the subject of her nostalgia causes these positive memories to be interrupted by memories and criticisms of the unequal class systems and webs of unequal societal hierarchies that play a role in mass migration from Guatemala; an example of Clifford’s notion of roots. However, when enunciating hers and other’s situation in the clandestine diaspora from within, her poetry considers the confluence of various elements of the diaspora space that plays a role in her poetic creation of masculine and femenine diasporic collective voices that denounce the exploited role of the irregular migrant in the host society, the violence the face while crossing, and the pressure, displacement, and fear they feel; all heightened by their lack of “legal” national status in the hostland and the many pressures to provide for those family and friends back home. At the same times her expression of diaspora space embodies Clifford’s notion of routes; the processes and difficulties involved with travel to and integration in the hostland. 

             Lastly, this work of poetry takes on a  similar engagement and solidarity with the social and the political aspects of the livelihoods of marginalized persons as did groups of comprometidos in Guatemala such as, Nuevo Signo and sociopolitical poets like Otto Raúl González. That is a one vital aspect that frames the poetic production of Ilka Oliva Corado is its revival of the idea of poesia comprometida in Guatemala with a focus on the reasons, the implications, and the consequences of forced and semi-forced diaspora. That is, as someone who has lived forced migration in the flesh and continues to her lifestyle within this painful and confusing migratory state, her poetic speaker (s) tend(s) to represent that of the many  rural or marginalized Central American men and women while collectively referring to those in other diasporas worldwide who have faced forced or semi-forced migration while constantly referring back to the current situation of those rural and marginalized peoples who continue to live and struggle in Guatemala today. In this way, her poems serve more of a sociopolitical function than a literary function in their tendency to speak for and about those who are usually unrepresented. And, I would add, she does this quite well because she is a talented writer who has lived to tell, denounce, and seek liberation of her people and humanity through her weapons of poetic light.

Works Cited

Becker, Sascha O., and Andreas Ferrara. “Consequences of Forced Migration: A Survey of Recent Findings.” Labour Economics, 2019. Vol 59. (2019): 1-16. Science Direct Access. Web. 03, 2019. 

Beverley, John and Marc Zimmerman. Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Print

Brah, A. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London-New York: Routledge, 1996.

Clifford, James.  Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge-Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997. Print. 

Cook- Heffron, Laurie. “’Salía de uno y me metí en otro’: Exploring the Migration-Violence Nexus among Central American Women.” Violence Against Women, vol .25. no.6 (2018) : p. 1-26.Print.

Dalton, Roque. Poetry and Militancy in Latin America. Havana: Casa de las Americas, 1981. Print. 

García, Eduardo., ed. Huitzil Uan Tuxtli Colibrí y conejoMedio siglo de poesía. México: Fondo de cultura económica, 1997. Print

García-Canclini, Néstor. Culturas híbridas, estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1989. Print. 

Hall, Stuart and Ferial Ghazoul. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 32 (2012): p. 257-284. Print.   

Lemke, Sieglinde. “Diaspora Aesthetics: Exploring the African Diaspora in the Works of Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence and Jean-Michel Basquiat.” Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers, Mercer, Kobena.,ed. Massachussets: MIT Press, 2008. Printo. 

Lytton-Regalado, Alexandra. Matria. New York: Black Lawrence Press. 2017. Print

Moreno, Marisel. “The “Art of Witness” in US Central American Cultural Production: An Analysis of William Archila’s the Art of Exile and Alma Leiva’s Celdas.” Latino Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, (2017): p. 287-308. Print

Oliva-Corado, Ilka. Cronicasdeunainquilina.com. 2019. Web. 08-23-2019.   

—. Destierro.Chicago: Ilka Editorial: 2016. Web

—. Nostalgia. Chicago: Ilka Editorial: 2016. Web

—. Post Frontera. Chicago: Ilka Editorial: 2014. Web

Rodríguez, Ileana. “Organizaciones populares y literatura testimonial: Los añ

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993. Print

Sawyer, Cheryl. “Senseless Violence Against Central American Unaccompanied 

             Minors: Historical Background and Call for Help.” The Journal of Psychology, vol. 151. no. 1 (2016): pp. 69-75.Print 

Zamora, Javier. Unaccompanied. Townsend-Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2017. Kindle Edition.  

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[1] have added the publication dates, as and if shown according to when they were officially published for sale on Amazon.com. However, as the poet mentioned to me in a personal interview conducted in 2018, the dates they were published are not a true indication of when she wrote them. Since all her poems are self-published, I think that the most important thing we should remember is that Corado emerged as a writer in and through her diaspora. Thus, the fact that all her works were written and published after her migration to Chicago in 2005, is the most vital aspect of her biography when it comes to critical analysis of her work.

[2] Saker Ti originated in 1944 after the October Revolution in Guatemala. 

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