New H-Haiti Blog Post: J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie by Jacques Viau Renaud, a “Haiti in Translation” interview with Sophie Maríñez, Amaury Rodríguez, and Raj Chetty (By Siobhan Marie Meï & Nathan H. Dize)
J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie by Jacques Viau Renaud, a “Haiti in Translation” interview with Sophie Maríñez, Amaury Rodríguez, and Raj Chetty
By Siobhan Marie Meï & Nathan H. Dize
The result of a transnational and community-centered translation praxis, J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie by Haitian-Dominican poet Jacques Viau Renaud (1941-1965) intervenes in critical conversations concerning the politics of translation in the Caribbean— particularly as a response to calls for knowledge-building within Caribbean studies across linguistic and national borders (Glover, Munro: 2013, Forsdick: 2015). Written during the violent and tumultuous years immediately following the Trujillo dictatorship, J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie is a call for unification against forces of exploitation, racism, and imperialism on the island of Hispaniola and beyond. The son of Haitian political exiles, Viau Renaud was born in Port-au-Prince in 1941, before fleeing with his parents and siblings to the Dominican Republic at the age of seven. In response to the US-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected leader Juan Bosch in 1965, Viau Renaud joined resistance forces constituted by groups of Dominican constitutionalists and Haitian exiles. Viau Renaud ultimately lost his life fighting for sa patrie — a vision of Haitian-Dominican peace and solidarity.
This Spanish to French language translation of Viau Renaud’s oeuvre is the result of a multi-generational effort of activist-scholars and can be located alongside recent anthologies such as Kitchen Table Translation (Asterix Journal, 2017) and Into English (Graywolf Press, 2017), as a publication that challenges traditional conceptualizations of authorship through the visible and collective labor of translators. In this interview, editors, translators, and contributors, Sophie Maríñez, Amaury Rodríguez, and Raj Chetty discuss the origins of this project, the significance of Jacques Viau Renaud’s literary and political legacy, and their vision for producing a version of Viau Renaud’s work that celebrates the voices and experiences of its translators.
Siobhan Marie Meï & Nathan H. Dize: One of the striking characteristics of Viau’s work is how carefully he defines the project of Haitian and Dominican unity, for instance, in the final stanza of the title poem: “J’ai voulu vous parler de ma patrie,/ de mes deux patries, de mon Île, divisée jadis par les hommes/ là où ils s’accouplèrent pour créer un fleuve” (Viau 27). So much of the literature from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic focuses on the fluvial border between the two as a sanguinary history, how does Viau overcome this? Is the idea of the river—that it couples rather than divides—the proverbial “way out” of an anti-Haitian or an essentialist narrative of the two countries?
Sophie Maríñez: I’d like to start by thanking you both, Nathan and Siobhan, for taking on the initiative of this roundtable and inviting us to share some of our thoughts on what it meant for us to do this project. You are right, so much of the literature from and about Haiti and the Dominican Republic focuses on this “sanguinary history” or so-called conflict. Without dismissing the reality and gravity of anti-Haitian discourses and state-sponsored practices taking place in the Dominican Republic, I would like us to consider the term “conflict” and question where it comes from and what are its uses. I would like us to consider it as a term typically used by outsiders to characterize relationships between two nations as inherently, essentially negative, hostile, and devoid of the historical and intersectional layers that are inevitably at the core of their relationship. As others have said before me (and here, I am thinking of Ruben Silié, a Dominican sociologist who has dedicated his life to this and even worked as an Ambassador in Haiti, anthropologist Samuel Martínez, who also famously debunked this term, and Silvio Torres-Saillant, who has also pointed out how the Dominican Republic actually plays a minor part in the anti-Haitian ideology constructed by the West), the term “conflict” is inaccurate because we can’t talk about a military conflict between two states, we can’t talk about a conflict over territories, we can’t talk of an ongoing war. Certainly, we can talk about racism, arbitrary deportations, and human rights violations—of which all of us editors and contributors of this book have spoken or written about elsewhere—but racism, deportations, and human rights violations happen in other countries without observers labeling these phenomena as “conflict” between two nations or two states. For instance, the Mexican immigrant population in the U.S. is the target of racism and deportation, but these practices, however horrible they might be, do not lead us to talk of a “U.S-Mexico conflict,” right? In my view, using the term “conflict” to characterize the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is a facile resource that reflects a reductionist gaze by external observers, and serves to erase and/or obfuscate important aspects of the historical, complex, relationship between these two nations.
Thus, translating Jacques Viau Renaud’s poetry into French gives us the opportunity to deconstruct this external gaze, to destabilize the comfort in which external observers have fallen into, a victim/perpetrator dichotomy that fails to take into consideration those on both sides of the island who have helped each other against their shared oppression, and those who have colluded to oppress their own people. For instance, it is not a secret that the presence of cheap Haitian workers in Dominican sugar plantations was first implemented by the U.S. during the military occupation of Haiti (1915-1930) and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924), and then taken on and perpetuated by the regimes that followed, including Duvalier and Trujillo, who worked together very well on this. It is not a secret that the ruling elites of both sides of the island continue to make commercial arrangements that result in more oppressive conditions for the working population of both sides. Our translation brings to light the solidarity from below, the solidarity of the subalterns, everyday people, as well as activists, poets and writers, artists, and militants, who, in 1965, understood who the real enemy was, and joined forces to restore democracy and sovereignty in their homelands, and fight against the new U.S. military occupation taking place at the time. This moment of Haitian-Dominican solidarity in 1965 is rarely talked about because it doesn’t serve the “conflict” narrative. So here we are, saying to the world: did you know that there was a commando of three hundred Haitians fighting with Dominican Constitutionalists to help them restore their democratically-elected president, Juan Bosch, back to power? Did you know this president had been overthrown with the help of the United States, a country that claims itself as the champion of liberty and democracy? Well, now you can get the whole picture, and you can read the poetry of one of them, Jacques Viau Renaud, who did not hesitate to take up arms and fight for its adopted country. How does that fit in your “conflict” narrative?