Subversive Feminist Julia De Burgos Celebrated at Hostos

Julia de Burgos—a rebellious feminist, the best known female poet in Puerto Rico and one of the most prominent women poets in the Caribbean—was born ahead of her time.

She did not live long enough for the times to catch up with her, but her verse has certainly come into its own, as was demonstrated at the Fifth International Conference of Women Writers from the Spanish Caribbean. Held at Hostos Community College on October 15-16, the conference on “Literature as Subversion” paid tribute to Julia de Burgos. Joining Hostos as sponsors of the conference this year were the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College and CUNY’s Dominican Studies Institute at City College.

Born in 1917 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and later taught there. Too rebellious and too independent to accept the stifling limitations of traditional women’s roles in Latino culture of the time, she made her own way, as she wrote in her poem,

“I Was My Own Route”:

I wanted to be like men wanted me to be:
an attempt at life;
a game of hide and seek with my being.
But I was made of nows,
and my feet level upon the promissory earth
would not accept walking backwards,
and went forward, forward,
mocking the ashes to reach the kiss
of the new paths.


In her poem “To Julia de Burgos,” she writes bitterly:


You belong to your husband, your master;
not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean
feeling and in my
thought.


Having shocked her family and having lost a job because of her independent ways, Burgos moved to Cuba, then to the Dominican Republic, and finally New York. The love of her life was involved in alcoholism and drug addiction, and she too, trying to mask the pain of her life, became addicted. Among her last poems was a farewell from Welfare Island. At 39 she fell dead on a New York City street.

Burgos’s poetry, a precursor of Latino poetry of the 70s and 80s, earned her
tributes both before and after death. The keynote speaker at the conference was
Dr. Mayra Santos Febres, one of the most prominent Puerto Rican poets, who is a professor of language and literature at the University of Puerto Rico. According to Hostos Provost Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Santos Febres said that “we celebrate, in Julia de Burgos, our own hybridity, our own impurity, our very own humanity capable of great things, our great vulnerability. She is still alive, not an icon on a pedestal.”

Among other writers participating in the conference were Chiqui Vicioso, who, in Julia de Burgos, La Nuestra, identifies the poet as “a woman belonging to all women of the islands”; Lourdes Vasquez, a librarian for Latin Americana at Rutgers University and editor of an annotated bibliography of works by and about Burgos; and Ivette Lopez, Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamon, author of a recently published and highly regarded monograph, Julia de Burgos: The Song and the Silence. Sol Miranda of the Hostos Humanities Department also wrote and performed her own tribute to the poet.

The conference, attended by nearly 300, was declared in memoriam Carmen Marin, a faculty member at Hostos and one of the conference organizers, whose untimely death occurred earlier this fall.
Provost De Filippis, who with Professor Sonia Rivera-Valdes of York College has organized each of the five conferences, lamented that this year she was not able to bring writers from Cuba. Several had agreed to participate but were not granted visas by the U.S. Among them were Cuba’s most eminent poet, Nancy Morejon, critic Zaida Capote, and short story writer Ana Luz Calzada.
“This conference grows out of the need to come together as creative women whose work in many instances challenges established borders, geographical, linguistic, cultural and literary,”
De Filippis said. “From the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and Cuba,
the voices of women authors are being increasingly heard.”

She added that the conference was an opportunity for Hostos to function as “a prominent center for the dissemination of Latino culture in New York City.” De Filippis is also gratified that Hostos is nurturing the “on-going conversation about what it means to be a woman and creator in the islands of the Spanish Caribbean and their diaspora communities in the Northeast.”

Contents October 2002

$7.5M State Grant Launches Incubator Network

Students Reaping Benefits of Technology Fee

Georgian Elegance, 21st-Century Technology Joined in Reborn Brooklyn College Library

Launching LaGuardia Students Toward Animal Planet

From ’60s Activist Ranks to Executive Suite

Digging the City’s Past

Poet Laureate Collins Takes his Cue on Evil

A WWII Mobilization in The Tale of The Ticker

Subversive Feminist Julia De Burgos Celebrated at Hostos

Italian "Enemy Alien" Experience in WWWII

Museum at Queens College Spans Six Centuries of Art

Celebrating Scholarly “Pleasures of the Mind”

Valued Vets Toasted at the Central Office

CUNY Responds to Powell’s Call for More Minority Diplomats

LaGuardia and Lehman Honored for Freshman Year Programs

Former Brooklyn College Philosopher Turns Philanthropist