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)

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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?


Amaury Rodríguez: I couldn’t agree more with Sophie Maríñez. It is unfortunate that most of the literature focused on the Haiti-DR border insists on putting forward the idea of conflict as a way to understand the island. There is also a rich history of Haitian-Dominican solidarity ignored by both US-based scholars and mainstream media outlets. To say conflict exists where there is none bolsters a dangerous idea that plays into the hands of Dominican and Haitian elites, elites interested in sowing divisions among ordinary people. Currently, far-right elements and the racist Dominican state rely on this artificial idea of a conflict to spread fear, racism, and xenophobia.


In the poem you quote, I think Jacques Viau Renaud concluded that the division of the island was a result of colonial violence as well as of the recurring violence of dictatorial rule. Specifically, I am referring to the 1937 Haitian massacre carried out by Trujillo. Trujillo’s dictatorship finished the dirty work that the Marines started for Big Capital as Trujillo also decimated the nascent labor movement, incapacitating it for more than two decades. This small but combative labor movement had made contacts with Haitian anti-imperialist and labor activists. To a certain degree, the Trujillo regime bore some responsibility for stalling the collaboration between Haitian and Dominican labor, progressive and radical intellectuals. Imagine what other route these two societies, Haitian and Dominican, could have taken had there been no foreign military occupations or authoritarian regimes on the two sides of the island?


However, while Dominican elites encouraged animosity against Haitian immigrants, ordinary Dominicans challenged the state every time the opportunity arose, collaborating with Haitians in many endeavors. Historically, class struggle and natural disasters brought Haitians and Dominicans together. This is still the case. In 1965, Haitian exiles like Jacques Viau Renaud sided with the Dominican people during the revolution, and the subsequent anti-imperialist war against US occupying troops. What brought Haitians and Dominicans together was the fight for democratization and social change. That moment of unity and collaboration from the 1960s will most likely happen again given the deepening crisis of capitalism. If anything, the ecological crisis affecting the island of Hispaniola offers an opportunity for collaboration. Recently, Dominican progressive organizations picketed the Haitian consulate in solidarity with the Haitian people’s struggle to overthrow President Jovenel Moïse, a corrupt and neoliberal regime whose politics mirrors those of current Dominican President Danilo Medina. Today, there is a continuity of Haitian-Dominican solidarity, which is a clear sign of the fraternal bonds that unite the people of the island of Hispaniola.


Raj Chetty: One central reason why Viau and his poetry matter is that he offers a viable alternative narrative to these entrenched ideas about “fatal conflict,” as Sophie mentioned. His poetry, his activism, and the literary circles he moved in—all of these point to the possibility for imagining a different Haitian-Dominican relationship. So thinking about Viau in relation to, say, José Francisco Peña Gómez—Dominican of Haitian origin and immensely popular political leader, organizer, revolutionary activist, mayor of Santo Domingo, and presidential candidate—opens up cultural inquiry focusing on what moments of solidarity have and do exist, while at the same time opposing reactionary and oppressive forces intended to keep Haitian and Dominican people down.



(Permanencia del llanto by Jacques Viau Renaud. This foundational book was published posthumously in 1965 by the Frente Cultural (Cultural Front) led by painter and militant Silvano Lora. Cover:Silvano Lora.)


(Haitians and Dominicans marching together during the funeral procession for Jacques Viau Renaud. Photo: Milvio Pérez. Source: Archivo General de la Nación.)

 SMM & NHD: Building on the previous question, what role, if any, does the concept of translation play in Viau-Renaud’s negotiation of the concept of “patrie” in this collection?


Sophie Maríñez: Lucky for us, the French term “patrie” is equivalent to the Spanish “patria,” so there was not much to discuss or to negotiate. What we did  discuss was to which “patria” Jacques Viau Renaud may have referred: Haiti? The Dominican Republic? As I have said elsewhere, not only is he referring to both nations, since one was his birth country and the other his adopted country, but he also had in mind an idea of a nation, an imagined community of oppressed people —be they on the island or in the rest of the Americas— who are comrades, partners, and fellows sharing the same fight of freedom. This was his beloved patria, and he was willing to die for it, as he ultimately did.


Amaury Rodríguez: As far as I know, there is not an equivalent of “patria” in English as the translation of “Estoy tratando de hablaros de mi patria” [I’m Trying to Tell You of My Country] shows. While translating that poem for a special “Dominican Black Studies” issue of The Black Scholar, I remember Raj Chetty and I struggled a bit with that title. At the end of the day, the word “country” did the trick of conveying the poet’s personal vision. I think different readers might have different interpretations of this poem and other poems where Viau set out to explore his relationship with his “patria” and beyond the Haiti-DR border, the Caribbean, Latin American and North American region. More importantly, there is the vast literary/cultural and political homeland that Viau pays homage to when he alludes to contemporary events (for instance, the revolutionary fervor of the 60s, the Black Liberation movement, and marginalized afro-Dominican religious communities), as well as the words of Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Pedro Mir, and others.


Raj Chetty: I’ve had some opportunity to think about translation as a concept across regions and histories—blackness, nation, revolution—and Viau is at the nexus of all of these categories of translation. Of course, our project is about translating Viau’s poetry for a wider audience (to English, to French), but the project also raises questions for me about how to translate black cultural politics and the lived experiences of blackness, to borrow from a translation of Frantz Fanon’s “l’expérience vécue du noir,” in Peau Noire, Masques Blancs. It is to wrestle with the question that Brent Hayes Edwards poses in The Practice of Diaspora, on the ability “to translate [internationally] even a basic grammar of blackness” (Edwards 5). In terms of translating Viau’s work, one of the most generative discussions was about how to translate into French the term “negro” in “A un líder negro asesinado,” a poem written in homage to the Black American civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. I’m not sure we resolved that question, but the grappling with “noir” and “nègre” throughout the translation that Maria Luisa Ruiz prepared was fruitful. As Amaury put it, we hope readers will grapple with these translations, too.



SMM & NHD: As Daniel Huttinot explains in the introduction to the dossier on Viau’s life and works, this is a multi-generational piece of scholarship. From the handwritten translation by Georges Castera in the 1970s to Raj Chetty and Amaury Rodríguez’s 2015 publication of “I’m Trying to Tell You of My Country,”  Viau’s life and work took many hands to piece this volume together–– how does a project sustain itself over a period of nearly forty years? What were some of the challenges along the way?


Sophie Maríñez: Yes, as you noticed in our bibliography, Jacques Viau’s poetry has been edited multiple times in Spanish, since its first publication in 1965, including a re-edition in 1985 by Ediciones CEDEE, a complete poetry edition in 2006, by Miguel D. Mena, editor of Cielonaranja, and a recent edition in 2015 by Fundación Juan Bosch. It has also been part of three anthologies published by Casa de las Américas: one edited by Roberto Fernández Retamar in 1974, another by Mario Benedetti in 1977, and the last one by Mercedes Santos Moray, in 1978. One of his poems also appeared in a Haitian anthology in 2000. It has also been the object of multiple homages and tributes, one of them a video-recital, spearheaded by pioneering art curator Alanna Lockward, in which some of us read Jacques Viau’s poetry in French, Spanish and English, thus bringing together Dominicans and Haitians, and opening the door for more friendships in the making.


The reason why Jacques Viau elicits so much interest and enthusiasm over so many decades is that his poetry, life and death tap into our desire for love and friendship, solidarity and engagement. Many of us are just tired of the politics of division and hatred and racism, and we strongly believe in the power of stories to bring people together and to tap on our commonalities. Jacques Viau Renaud humanizes the figure of the “Haitian” in a collective psyche still haunted by stereotypes and a complicated past. He tells Dominicans: “I was your friend, we were your friends, and we are still friends. Let’s work together, let’s look at our common oppression and fight together against the sources.” So all of this is very powerful for those of us inside.


Amaury Rodríguez: When I first brought up the name Jacques Viau Renaud to Daniel Huttinot, he told me a story about a group of US-based Haitian activists and poets who set out to translate Viau’s poetry in the 1980s. Even if that first translation project faltered along the way, Daniel and his friend Georges Castera kept it alive in their hearts and minds. I think that’s quite a feat. By the way, Castera, who is still alive, received a copy of the book from Daniel. Daniel felt so accomplished after that.


Just to expand more on Daniel’s observation about the multi-generational nature of this translation project, I would also add that this project was both transnational and international; and that bringing Viau’s work to the fore was a project of the Left. The primary reason is that Viau had close ties with both Haitian and Dominican Left organizations. Viau was, in fact, a member of the 14th of June Movement, at the time the largest Dominican revolutionary organization of the 1960s. Daniel comes from a left-wing tradition, too. Viau was also involved with the radical literary scene that emerged after the fall of the Trujillo regime. Raj Chetty’s essay in the book is a welcome contribution to the history of that period. It is not an overstatement to say that Viau’s death was a blow to the members of that counter-cultural scene of the 60s who were so eager to bury the legacy of thirty years of conservatism and obscurantism under the Trujillo dictatorship.


In the Dominican Republic, activists and writers of the Left kept alive Viau’s legacy, introducing his poetry to new generations along the way. I mean, Miguel D. Mena, who anthologized Viau, is a former militant, and now an independent publisher who works in counter-cultural spaces. Antonio Lockward Artiles, a writer and former member of the maoist Dominican Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular Dominicano), published Viau’s work posthumously to honor his deathbed wishes. There is the late Alanna Lockward, a relative of Antonio Lockward Artiles, whose multimedia works expanded Viau’s reach and vision. Alanna came from a West Indian Dominican family and she considered herself Black. I mention that because I am sure her awareness of her afro-Caribbean background allowed her to relate more to Viau and Haitian immigrants in general. Nevertheless, she was also politically conscious and someone from the Left, though her militancy manifested itself more through her social and political outlook. Although she was an art curator who did interesting work, I believe people will remember her more for her Dominican-Haitian solidarity work than for her art and writing. It shows the impact of the work of this gadfly visionary.



(Propaganda poster by artists from the Frente Cultural.Photo:Bernard Diederich. Source: Centro León.)


Throughout the 70s and 80s, young writers looked up to Viau for guidance as they embarked in artistic explorations. Some of the writers from the Joven Poesía movement imitated him. There are probably more than a dozen poems dedicated to Viau dating back to the 1970s and 1980s; some of these were written by well-known poets such as Jeannette Miller and René del Risco, while others were written by lesser known poets like Federico Sánchez. A few days ago, the poet Dagoberto López Coño handed me a copy of a poem he dedicated to Viau written in 1978. As far as I am concerned, those disparate efforts are pieces of this mosaic-like translation project, an idea that finally came to fruition more than fifty years after Viau’s tragic death.



(A Frente Cultural poster alluding to the 1963 Constitution which symbolized the democratic ideals of the ‘65 revolt. Photo:Bernard Diederich. Source: Centro León.)


SMM & NHD: We noticed the deliberate choice to place Viau’s poetry at the forefront of the volume, rather than beginning with an introduction or preface like many critical editions do. Was it difficult to resist further annotating poems that might benefit from greater historical context? Is there something to be gained by letting the poetry be, so to speak?


Sophie Maríñez: The choice of not having an introduction at the beginning of the book was a request from our editor, Rodney Saint-Éloi, who is a poet and a writer himself. His request made a lot of sense because it is important for the poetry to speak for itself. Besides, this is Jacques Viau’s book, not my book, not Daniel’s book, not Amaury’s or Raj’s or even Rodney’s. This is his book, and all we are doing here is giving Viau the place he deserves: this first, unmediated contact with the reader. It is also the readers’ book, and thus an opportunity for readers to form their own ideas and have their own experience, unmediated by what I (or we) think they should understand about his poetry. So instead of an introduction we have a dossier at the end, a compilation of very short essays, interviews, homages, photographs, and a bibliography, put together for those interested in knowing more about the author, the historical and political context, and references of other resources in connection to his work.


Amaury Rodríguez: I am thinking here of Edward Gorey and his philosophy of not saying everything, of letting the poetry (or the artwork) speak. At one point in my life, whenever I would purchase cassettes or CDs, reading the liner notes became an intrinsic part of the ritual. At times, however, there would be the unusual recordings without liner notes, without any explanation; that gave the listening experience a sense of expectation, an element of surprise. There is joy in finding the marvelous on your own. We can leave the X-rays at the door occasionally. My hope is that the reader who encounters Viau’s poetry without any prior knowledge of his oeuvre will feel moved by an original, powerful voice.


SMM & NHD: While we are on the subject of paratexts, we were struck by the ways in which the voices and labors of translators are centered (quite literally!) in this collection. In the section titled “Les traducteurs parlent,” translators of Viau-Renaud’s poems speak about their experiences working with the texts, outline specific challenges that arose in translating from Spanish into French, and offer their own reflections on Viau-Renaud’s legacy as an activist-poet. The vibrancy and visibility of the community of individual translators at the heart of this project seems evocative of the idea that translation can be a social and collaborative event, one that can take place across time and space. In your minds, what theories about translation—as a process and a politics—does this collection offer?  


Sophie Maríñez: Yes, we wanted this translation project to be a collaborative project, the result of a combite, or collective work that would reflect the idea that Viau’s poetry belongs to all of us and that we can all breathe new life into his poems as we bring our own experiences to the translation task. At the same time, by having his work translated by poets and writers who live in Chile, Haiti, New York and Canada, we are contributing to putting his poetry onto the global literary stage, of course, but we are also inflecting the translated text with the mark of diaspora, intertextuality, and multilingualism, all of which are the hallmark of what French Caribbean poet and thinker Édouard Glissant theorized as Littérature-Monde. In addition, by putting Viau on the global stage, our work shares comparatist scholar and theorist David Damrosch’s notion of World Literature, which includes all literary works that circulate beyond their point of origin, either in translation or in their original language, but that are actively present in other literary systems. In this case, translating Viau into French allowed us to make him known in his birth country, Haiti, and in the entire francophone world. Still, we also hope that the publishing and academic industries will take it from here and ensure further distribution, circulation, readership, and discussion of topics as specific as the dynamics between Haitians and Dominicans and as broad and global as notions of citizenship, solidarity, and internationalism.


Amaury Rodríguez: Years ago, the work of Traxcala, the international network for linguistic diversity, caught my attention. This idea that one could combat racism, sexism, Eurocentrism and even war via translation work still resonates to this day. In this book, the collective aspect of this translation project points to the possibilities of a form of collaboration that has the potential to rescue from obscurity the work of radical artists and writers shunned by cultural gatekeepers. Another great aspect of this translation project is how each translator left their personal mark, giving the project a broader scope.


Raj Chetty: I think your question is great, because it gave me the answer already: translation is a collaborative and social act. I couldn’t think of this project without Amaury and Sophie and Daniel, nor could I think of it as an individual translation project, whether or not such a project is even possible. Part of this is about the distribution of work, but it also just felt right: Viau belonged to a literary/poetic community and that community, in the conjuncture of the Dominican 60s, pushed him to where he needed to be as a poet-activist willing to give his life for Dominican decolonization. In other words, he wasn’t there right away, but he got to that commitment in and through his work within communities. The collaborative nature of the production of the book honors that process.


 SMM & NHD: About half of the volume, the entire second part, is a dossier dedicated to the life and work of Viau. In this dossier you reproduce numerous primary sources, transcribe radio interviews concerning Viau’s legacy of resistance, and foreground the critical and creative work of the editors and translators. Can you speak to the goals of the dossier, how its organization and content attempt to revivify the spirit of Viau’s vision?


Sophie Maríñez: You are right to use the word “revivify” because yes, this dossier is meant to bring back to life a moment that has too often fallen into oblivion. Since Viau is not alive to speak for himself and present his poetry in book tours, we needed to provide as much information as possible to bring back this moment in history in which he was very much alive and engaged. Our essays recount the historical, political, and literary contexts, but we also wanted to give voice to those who knew him or who participated in that moment, as a way to reinforce this “resurrection” effort. Thus, we had the translators write a short paragraph of what it meant to them to translate this poet, whom most of them didn’t know until we invited them to translate one or several of his poems. We wanted to have as many Haitian voices as possible, so we consciously selected Haitian translators Paul Bertoni, Edgar Gousse, and Michèle Voltaire Marcelin, and included an interview with former combatant Lionel Vieux, who shared his testimony about the role of the Comando Haitiano during the 1965 U.S. occupation. We also included an interview between the Dominican of Haitian descent, political leader José Francisco Peña Gómez, and the Haitian journalist Jean Dominique, founder of Radio Haïti Inter. Peña Gómez was a child survivor of the 1937 massacre perpetrated against Haitians and Afro-Dominicans by dictator Trujillo. In the second half of the twentieth century, he became the most charismatic, revolutionary leader in Dominican political history. It was with his bid for the presidential elections in the 1990s that anti-Haitian rhetoric took the new, virulent overtones that we still see today. The inclusion of this interview implicitly shows how the intersections between politics and racism function. Last, but not least, we included various pieces of tribute written by his friends and contemporaries, as well as photographs of Viau and his friends and of his funeral, to illustrate the great extent to which he had been adopted, embraced, and cherished by Dominicans.


Amaury Rodríguez: The dossier is an attempt to present Viau’s life and legacy to Haitian readers and a francophone public previously unaware of his work. One particular contribution to the dossier was that of Clément Viau Renaud, Jacques’ younger brother. Our conversation with Clément gave us more insight into his brother’s upbringing and family life. Another important contribution that I consider vital to the study of the 1965 revolt in Santo Domingo and the role of Haitian exiles like Jacques Viau, is the interview of Haitian combatant Lionel Vieux by Nathalie Lamaute-Brisson, a Haitian intellectual and daughter of an anti-Duvalierist fighter murdered by the dictatorship. By the way, Lionel attended the book launch in Port-au-Prince and spoke highly of his former comrade and friend Jacques Viau.


The dossier, in my view, is a companion to Viau’s writings since it places him in a specific historical and cultural context. One can also read it separately from his work. I think any literary scholar or historian conducting research on Haiti, Santo Domingo, and the Caribbean region would find the dossier useful.


 (Jacobo Rincón, a working-class Dominican, confronts a U.S. Marine. Photo: Juan Pérez Terrero.)


SMM & NHD: While offering a radical politics of unification in the context of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Viau Renaud’s calls for resistance to forces of racial and class oppression resound within the larger geography of the Americas. In poems such as “À un leader noir assassiné,” an ode to African-American civil rights activist Medgar Evers, North America emerges as an important site of struggle for racial equality within Viau’s poetry. Could you speak to the ways in which Viau Renaud’s vision for Haitian and Dominican solidarity is perhaps located in a larger project of transnational unification in the Americas?


Raj Chetty: In some of my other work, I situate Viau in black internationalist politics, in the wider Caribbean, the broader Americas, and internationally. This is in the spirit of what Sophie has invoked, Glissant’s Littérature-Monde, but perhaps with a more materialist edge. We can only imagine what Viau would have written had he lived past his twenty-three years, but he gave clues to his intellectual and literary commitments that point to the internationalist, anti-colonial and anti-racist commitments that have animated other Caribbean radical writers and thinkers, from Fanon to Aimé Césaire, Claudia Jones to C. L. R. James, Sylvia Wynter to Audre Lorde. I want to stress, however, that solidarity and unification are different political projects. I think Viau pointed to the former but in a way that underscored the historical moments in which the latter worked. I think we engage his work best by bringing it to bear on anti-blackness, anti-Haitianness, and xenophobia today, in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, to be sure, but also as those same forces vie for power in Chile, Brazil, the Bahamas, and, of course, the U.S.


Amaury Rodríguez: Raj is correct to say we engage Viau’s work best “by bringing it to bear on anti-blackness, anti-Haitianness, and xenophobia today, in the Dominican Republic and Haiti” and other countries. I think his poetry and legacy have been instrumental in disrupting notions of race, class, and citizenship carefully constructed by the white, European-descended dominant class in the Dominican Republic. Besides Viau, there were other radical artists and writers creating from an anti-colonial vantage point in the 60s. The name of Aída Cartagena Portalatín comes to mind. She was much older, but still, her contributions were invaluable to the 60s generation. She even mentored Viau.


Viau was a poet of his time whose work offers a prism on the worldwide impact of the three most important historical events that informed his life: The Haitian revolution, the Cuban revolution, and the Dominican Spring that precipitated the fall of the Trujillo regime. Viau represents the aspirations of a generation that rebelled against the ancien régime (the Trujillist dictatorship), which was essentially capitalist. For thirty years, the Trujillo regime cemented the basis for today’s institutionalized racism in Santo Domingo by falsifying history, spreading anti-Haitian and anti-black racism (which also affects Dominicans), and creating a system of labor segregation that is still intact to this day.  


Sophie Maríñez: I agree with Raj and Amaury that Jacques Viau represents an entire generation that came of age in the 1960s and fought against imperialism and brutal capitalism as well as their subsequent constructs of race. It was an extraordinary privilege and honor for us to be able to launch the book in Haiti, in April 2018, in an event that attracted over seventy intellectuals, writers, educators, students, activists and militants of the Haitian Left. We hope the book will continue to galvanize the discourse of solidarity and fraternity between our two nations.



(Image courtesy of Mémoire d’encrier)



Works Cited

Forsdick, Charles. “Translation in the Caribbean, the Caribbean in Translation.” Small Axe 19, no. 3 48 (2015): 147-162.

Glover, Kaiama and Martin Munro. “Translating the Caribbean.” Small Axe 17, no. 3 (2013): 85-88.

Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries. Eds. Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017.

Kitchen Table Translation. Ed. Madhu Kaza. Pittsburgh: Blue Sketch Press, 2017.

Lockward, Alanna. “Jacques Viau Renaud Collective Reading.” YouTube video, 35:06. Posted by Art Labour Archives, February 16, 2015.                                        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCqvqTVpITM

Viau Renaud, Jacques. “I’m Trying to Tell You of My Country,” trans. Raj Chetty and Amaury Rodríguez, The Black Scholar  45, no. 2 (2015): 61-64.

— — — . J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie. Eds. Sophie Maríñez and Daniel Huttinot, in collaboration with Raj Chetty and Amaury Rodríguez.                        Montreal: Mémoire d’encrier, 2018.


Selected Bibliography


Works by Jacques Viau Renaud

Permanencia del llanto. Santo Domingo: Publicaciones del Frente Cultural, 1965.

Y en tu nombre elevaré mi voz: poesía y homenaje a su gesta. Ed. Ángela Hernández. Santo Domingo:

            Fundación Juan Bosch, 2015.

“The Permanence of Weeping,” trans. Patrick Rosal. Connotation Press 10, no. 4 (2010).

Poesía completa: Jacques Viau Renaud. Ed. Miguel D. Mena. Santo Domingo: Cielonaranja, 2006.


Related translations and scholarly works by Sophie Maríñez, Amaury Rodríguez, and Raj Chetty


Chetty, Raj. “‘La calle es libre’: Race, Recognition, and Dominican Street Theater.” Afro-Hispanic Review 32, no. 3 (2013): 41-56.
— — — . “Más Allá del Play: Race and the Dominican Baseball Player in Sugar.Journal of West Indian Literature 27, no. 1 (2019). Forthcoming.

Maríñez, Sophie. “Du massacre de 1937 à la sentence 168-13: conflit fatal ou solidarité? Notes d’un parcours littéraire des rapports entre Haïti et la

                  République Dominicaine.” Chemins Critiques, Revue Haïtiano-Caraïbéenne. Eds. Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis and Franklin Midy 6, no. 1                    (2017): 71-90. 

— — — . “Deux pays: une île,” translation into French of Julia Alvarez’s poem “Two Countries: One Island.” Chemins Critiques, Revue Haïtiano-                            Caraïbéenne. Eds. Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis and Franklin Midy 6, no.1 (2017): 175-185.

— — — . “Alegorías de una hermandad atormentada: Haití en la literatura dominicana.” Memorias:  Revista Digital de Historia y Arqueología desde el

                  Caribe 12, vol. 28 (2016): 61-92.

— — — . “Jacques Viau Renaud: Primera voz poética domínico-haitiana en la literatura dominicana.” Paper presented at and published with the Latin                       American Studies Association. San Juan: Puerto Rico, May 2015.
Rodriguez, Amaury. “El conflicto haitiano en la literatura caribeña.” Memorias: Revista Digital de Historia y Arqueología desde el Caribe 12, no. 28                      (2016):14.

Statement by the artists,” trans. Amaury Rodriguez. Marxist Internet Archives, 2013.

Political Slogans from the Constitutionalist Revolution,” trans. Amaury Rodriguez. Marxist Internet Archives, 2014.

Canto to Vertical Santo Domingo,” trans. Amaury Rodriguez. Marxist Internet Archives, 2015.

Canto to Jacques and the Rest,” trans. Amaury Rodriguez and Raj Chetty. Marxist Internet Archives, 2016.

Digital Humanities: Documents from the History of Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Research, transcription and translation of material pertaining to the history of social movements, radicalism, foreign intervention and dictatorial rule in both Dominican Republic and Haiti for the Dominican Republic and Haiti sections of the Marxist Internet Archives (MIA):


From the Haiti section of the MIA archives

Hundreds Killed by Marines in Haiti

Latin-American Exiles Granted Asylum in Cuba

Dictatorship in Haiti Decrees Death for “Communists

Famine Strikes Haiti


From the Dominican Republic section of the MIA archives

U.S. Invasion of Dominican Republic Stirs World-Wide Anger

China Condemns U.S. Aggression Against Dominican Republic

Famine Strikes Dominican Republic

Haitian-Dominican Solidarity Against Deportations


En Español

Yanquis bombardean

Solidaridad de Brasil durante la intervención norteamericana

Consignas de la Revolución Constitucionalista

La mujer en la guerra patria

Una repatriación incalificable


Footage and Reporting from the 1965 Revolution from The Belgian Public Broadcasting Radio Television

“Abril de 1965,” YouTube video, 4:24, posted by “canalcaribe,” September 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0pqku3WIPg



Sophie Maríñez is Associate Professor of French and Spanish at City University of New York, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and the author of NEH-funded Mademoiselle de Montpensier: Writings, Châteaux, and Female Self-Construction in Early Modern France (2017). Her articles on Dominican national identity and the dynamics between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have appeared in numerous journals and volumes, including, most recently, The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature (2018). She has also published poetry in The Caribbean Quarterly, The Caribbean Writer, Small Axe Literary Salon, The Cincinnati Romance Review, and Mondes Francophones, and has translated into French poetry by Julia Alvarez and Frank Baez.


In addition to launching J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie with co-editors Daniel Huttinot, Raj Chetty and Amaury Rodríguez in Haiti and New York in the spring 2018, she presented the book at the Maison de l’Amérique Latine in Paris in June 2018 and has spoken about Jacques Viau Renaud at the Latin American Studies Association (San Juan, 2015), BEBOP –Black Europe Body Politics—a conference curated by Alanna Lockward and Walter Mignolo (London, 2018), the Caribbean Philosophical Association (Dakar, 2018), and the Dominican Studies Association (New York, 2018).


Amaury Rodríguez is an independent researcher, mail artist and translator originally from the Dominican Republic. He holds a B.A. in History and a M.A. in Bilingual Education from City College of New York. He is the co-editor with Raj Chetty of “Dominican Black Studies” (2015), a special issue of The Black Scholar journal. His work has appeared in NACLA, Marxists Internet Archives (MIA), InTranslation, Tripwire, Memorias: Revista Digital de Historia y Arqueología desde el Caribe and Esendom magazine. He is also the editor of Brigadas de la palabra, a poetry newsletter.

Raj Chetty is an assistant professor of English at St. John’s University in Queens, NY, who specializes in Caribbean literature across English, Spanish, and French, with a focus on black and African diaspora. His book (in progress), Of Refusal and Recognition: Disparate Blackness in Dominican Literary and Expressive Cultures, studies representations and performances of Dominican blackness from the 1940s through the present. The book analyzes street and popular theater, baseball and literature, 1960s literary and cultural journals and groups, and includes studies of Aída Cartagena Portalatín, Junot Díaz, Jacques Viau Renaud, and Frank and Reynaldo Disla. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Small Axe, Journal of West Indian Literature, Callaloo, Anthurium, Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, Afro-Hispanic Review, and Meridional: Revista Chilena de Estudios Latinoamericanos.