Puerto Rican Diaspora / Esteves, Sandra María
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Sandra María Esteves
Few women’s voices emerged from the Nuyorican poetic movement and Sandra María Esteves was the only one to pursue a sustained literary career. Born in the South Bronx of a Puerto Rican father and a Dominican mother who had separated, she was raised by her mother and a paternal aunt. As many other migrant women of her generation, Esteves’ mother worked in the needlework factories. While she was making a living, she tried to insulate her daughter from all the problems associated with life in the inner city, so she sent her to Catholic boarding school for her elementary and secondary education. After she graduated from high school, she attended New York’s Pratt Institute and graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts in 1978.

Esteves is a poet, playwright, and graphic artist. She often illustrates her collections of poetry with her own graphic designs and has been affiliated with the Taller Boricua, a community-oriented Puerto Rican graphic artists’ collective in New York City. In an interview with journalist Carmen Dolores Hernández (1997), the author has stated that during the early stages of her writing career she approached writing as a different way of painting, and that the themes that characterize her writing have been a process of self-discovery of her Puerto Rican heritage.

Her first published poetry collection was Yerba Buena [The Good Herb] (1980), a book that reflects Esteves’ involvement in the civil rights movement and in various political causes. The book received the distinction of being named the best small press publication of 1981 by the Library Journal. In addition to performing her poetry at the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, the author performed with a socialist musical group ensemble named El Grupo. The group introduced audiences to a poetry that spoke of both personal and political issues--Puerto Rico’s colonial condition, the oppression of people of color, women’s subordination--but, most of all, a touching personal quest for defining and embracing a Puerto Rican identity battered by the forces of racial prejudice and social injustice.

A self-published book, Tropical Rains: A Bilingual Downpour (1984) was Esteves’ second published collection of poetry. This book, however, did not achieve the success of the first, perhaps because of its more limited circulation. One of the best known poems from that collection is "Not Neither." In this poem, the writer attempts to reconcile the different cultural, linguistic, and racial components of her fragmented identity:

Being Puertorriqueña Dominicana, Borinqueña Quisqueyana,
Taíno Africana
Born in the Bronx, not really jíbara
Not really hablando bien
But yet, not gringa either
Pero no, portorra. Pero sí, portorra too
Pero ni qué, what am I?... (26).

From 1983 to 1985 Esteves was a producer and director of the African Caribbean Poetry Theater in New York, an endeavor she described as "a labor of love," and one that had an impact both on her performance and writing skills. The author’s third book was Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo (1990), a poetry volume that conjures up the spiritual world of santería and espiritismo at the tune of Afro-Caribbean rhythms in the voice of a familiar bilingual vernacular. Other later publications include, Finding Your Way: Poems for Young Folks (1999) and Contrapunto in the Open Field (1998). In the same interview previously mentioned, Esteves makes a revealing statement about how she sees her poetic craft: "the poet is absolutely an advocate for the people, whether or nor he or she chooses to be" (61). And her poetry clearly confirms these words.

Autor: Dra. Edna Acosta Bel
Published: September 11, 2014.

Version: 06082924 Rev. 1
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