100 Refutations: The Weight of a Work

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In 1838, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda boarded a ship to Spain. She drew breath, steadied herself, and looked back at the island where she had lived her entire life. Caribbean incandescence and Atlantic cobalt. A sun like a pinwheel of flames on a naked blue sky. “Beautiful Cuba,” she later wrote, “The ample sail crackles/the anchor is raised…/the ship, trembles….” Twenty-two years on that island, on the sunburnt corner of an Old World map, and on the pale edge of a dark trade. In a Caribbean empire of sugarcane stilts and coffee ground crowns she had watched chains rust around ankles and wrists, people sold as if for parts—the length of arms, the width of backs, the number of teeth—and, as she boarded a ship to Spain, she probably saw another ship come in, and then another, and another.

By 1838, there were an estimated 400,000 slaves in Cuba—the result of 300 years of people crammed into the damp bellies of rotted-plank ships. Six hundred thousand people stolen, stacked, starved, and tens of thousands lost in the voyage.

Somewhere between Portugal and Spain, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda dug her pen into a page and wrote a novel like she was digging a grave. “I have thought…” the hero of her story spoke on the page, 11 years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “…about placing weapons in the chained hands of the oppressed.” A man with tousled hair like a flock of crows in flight, a mind of singular sensibility, and the misfortune of having been born into slavery. “I have thought…” he said, while contemplating how men and women like him labored under the same sun as the soldiers who kept them in line and the masters who kept them in chains, “…about tossing, in their midst, a howling for liberty and revenge.”

Three years after she left Cuba, in the same year that slaves building the Aldama palace in Havana rebelled and were, one by one, laid to waste, Gómez de Avellaneda’s novel was published and shipped in crates back to Cuba—back to that island of 22 years, of 300 years, of thousands of years and thousands of people before—where a few Spanish officials inspected the books like they inspected all merchandise—the length of sentences, the width of pages, the weight of a work—and then sent them back. The New World, they decided, could bear the weight of 400,000 slaves, but not the weight of a single book calling for their freedom.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

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To help more directly, please visit:

Hispanic Federation: http://hispanicfederation.org

Hope for Haiti: https://hopeforhaiti.com

Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation: https://www.sahf.org

Bios

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

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Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V. (100 Refutations translator and editor) earned MFAs in creative nonfiction writing and literary translation from The University of Iowa. She is the author of Drown Sever Sing from Anomalous Press and Don’t Come Back from Mad River Books, as well as editor, with Sarah Viren, of the forthcoming anthology Essaying the Americas. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translation work has been featured in journals including Bellingham ReviewChicago ReviewFourth GenreBrevityPoets & Writers, and The Sunday Rumpus, among others. She won Best of the Net and Iron Horse Review’s Discovered Voices Award, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and is a Rona Jaffe fellow. She moved from Colombia to China to Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an assistant professor for Virginia Commonwealth University. Visit www.linawritesessays.com. ******************************************************************** Amanda Dambrink (100 Refutations co-editor) works as an editor for the University of Wisconsin's Continuing Education, Outreach & E-Learning program in Madison, Wisconsin. She also holds an MA in creative nonfiction from Ohio University, and her previous work has appeared in Prairie Margins and The Normal School, among others.

Copyright (c) Lina M. Ferreira C.-V., 2018.