Dear all, it is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know Georgina Herrera has passed on yesterday. She was an inspiring and much beloved poet whose glittering sparseness was a counterpoint to the Spanish classical flowery formalism of older Cuban writers. Her personal story centers Afro-Cubanhood as the location, from where, and for whom, she wrote.
Her experience of the formative years of the Cuban revolution was instrumental in her joining writers’ groups and writing as a profession. Her poems, unlike Nicolas Guillen’s work, do not try to forge a mestizaje or biracial identity as the foundation for Cuban nationhood. Perhaps because she came from a line of more working -class people than the lawyer’s son, Guillen. Herrera herself laboured as a domestic worker through her teens. It is through working for the entitled white cuban middle-class, that she began to have access to a literary and cultural world that drew her into its ambit. Within that circle, she brought a voice of defiance and fierce independence that makes her work still so relevant today.
Viscerally, she describes the reality of being Black in Cuba, where, unlike George Lamming’s work, her writing exists, not “in spite of” as Lamming would put it , but “because of“. It is precisely that centering of her reality that makes Georgina’s work so relevant to other Black women and women of colour. As a scriptwriter, poet and mentor to many others, especially in the Afro-descended community, Georgina Herrera’s legacy will live on the hearts of her readers and friends and family.
Her motif acknowledges that self-definition is rooted in material lived freedom, a bitter truth harvested from her ancestors’ enslavement in Cuba. Born, in 1936, to a Cuba where the formerly enslaved were still alive, Georgina Herrera, or Yoya, as she was known to her friends, was a remarkable presence whose poetry explored the experience of black women in a society highly uncomfortable with talking about raced gender and racism in open terms within their own history.
She herself, rejected the pretences of mestizaje, for maroon-hood, (cimarronje) which she defiantly and repeatedly came back to in her writing and self-definition. In this way, her writing speaks to the universality of Black experience in the Caribbean, North, and South America as a result of brutal worlds built on trading in persons. But she celebrates the rehumanization -as Lamming himself does– of barren colonial landscapes of fear, deprivation, and demonization of Afro-peoples, by any means necessary– even poetry…I leave you with her own words, and join with Cubans and poetry lovers in wishing her a safe journey. Ashe.
Grand Eulogy for Myself- Georgina Herrera/trans. Kaushalya Bannerji
I am the fugitive
I am she who opened doors
Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”.
There are no traps into which I fall.
I throw stones, break heads.
I hear complaints and curses.
I laugh furiously
And in the nights
I drink the water of the mangroves,
because in them,
The moon shines, for me alone,
All the glory of her light.