Eduardo Lalo was TORCH Global South Visiting Fellow during Trinity Term 2019. He is an award-winning writer, artist and professor of literature and creative literature living in Puerto Rico. Ahead of Eduardo’s visit, Lidia Zanetti-Domingues and myself (Maria del Pilar Blanco, academic host of Eduardo) organized a series of events that would showcase a number of Eduardo’s talents and interests. His visit comprised three seminars on “the mis-invention of the Caribbean”; a creative writing workshop; and an exhibition of a collection of Eduardo’s photographs, titled Deudos/Death Debt.
The seminars, which were held on Wednesdays of Week 3, 5, and 6, were attended by people from the University of Oxford community and beyond. Eduardo used the title of “the mis-invention of the Caribbean” to address a number of key texts detailing the encounter between Europeans and native Caribbean people, and later Europeans and the black populations of the Antilles: Christopher Columbus’s Diary from the first voyage (1493), annotated by Bartolomé de las Casas; Spenser St. John’s Hayti, the Black Republic (1884), and James A. Froude’s The English in the West Indies or the Bow of Ulysses (1888). In each of these seminars, Eduardo captured different aspects of the Europeans’ perception of their cultural others, focusing on the idea, originating in Columbus’s own narrative of entender (Spanish for “to understand”). The seminars demonstrated the multiple impasses in understanding between these cultural groups and the perseverance of Columbus’s brand of alienation in travel narratives from the nineteenth century.
On Wednesday of Week 4, Eduardo held a writing workshop with a group of 10 students. After an initial Q&A session on writing practice, we were led through a number of exercises in which Eduardo demonstrated the importance of thinking of writing as writing in space (the space of a page, for example). It was a great opportunity to discuss the reasons why, where and for whom we write.
The exhibition Deudos/Death Debt was up in the Barn at St. John’s College from 18 to 25 May. We held a reception on Thursday, 23 May and welcomed guests from across the university.
There is very little in the way of Spanish Caribbean studies at the University of Oxford and Eduardo’s visit is a way to address it. Given the fact that Eduardo wears many hats, as it were, we are proud that we were able to hold different activities that speak to his different interests and talents. The photographic exhibition was an especially powerful way of bringing Puerto Rico to Oxford: the black-and-white images, taken from 2012 to 2018 (before and after Hurricane Maria) tell a very powerful story about life in the world’s so-called “oldest colony”. Given the university’s interest in opening up archives of its participation in colonial history, Deudos helps us understand colonialism from a contemporary standpoint.
As Eduardo’s host, I continue to be particularly interested in bringing more awareness to Oxford about the Caribbean and particularly Puerto Rico’s position within contemporary geopolitics. I held a one-day symposium last year (June 2018) that focused on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
I would be very interested in continuing to collaborate with artists and writers from the island (and the Caribbean more widely) to expand our community’s awareness of a region that has seen endless waves of colonialism and the accompanying social, economic, and cultural turmoil.
Dr María del Pilar Blanco is Associate Professor in Spanish American Literature and Fellow and Tutor in Spanish, Trinity College. She was Eduardo Lalo's academic host during his fellowship in Oxford.
You can see pictures of Eduardo's activities during his time as TORCH Global South Visiting Fellow here.