A Q&A with Afro-Latina author and poet Melania Luisa Marte
She is the author of "Plantains and Our Becoming."
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Melania Luisa Marte is an American writer, poet, and musician from New York living between Dallas and the Dominican Republic.
Marte's poetry often explores her Caribbean roots, intersectionality, and self-love.
She recently participated in a Q&A with AL DÍA News.
First of all, to connect with our Latino readers here in Philadelphia, could tell me a bit about yourself and your family? You were born in New York. Were your parents immigrants? From where?
Yes, my father immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was eight years old and my mother when she was 20. I was born in the Bronx and moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan when I was four years old.
Did you ever think you would be a poet/writer someday?
I’ve always wanted to be a creative and when I discovered spoken word poetry in middle school I became obsessed and knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The hard part was making a living off of my poetry but we figured out a way after many years of hustling and shameless self- promotion.
What pushed you to become a writer, poet?
I’ve been a writer since I was a child. I always found myself coming up with poems and stories in between school and part-time jobs. In my 20s, I would go to open mics and share my poems. The audiences and other poets affirmed me in such a beautiful way and made me feel that my poems were impacting folks and making them feel something. That drive to keep empowering and inspiring others as I also empowered and inspired myself drove me to keep pushing myself and becoming the writer I always dreamed I could become.
When/how did you start to become identified as an “Afro-Latina?”
I’ve always identified as a Black girl, my afrodescendencia was something that I cherished and have always celebrated and as I began learning my history and reading texts by Black historians and creatives, I wanted to help be a part of the culture shifters who help folks understand their own afro-descendencia. It is a beautiful thing to be able to stand in your truth and exist authentically beyond the binaries and boxes society tries to put us in.
How did the idea of this book come up?
I had been learning to farm platanos in the Dominican Republic and I would wake up early mornings and sit in my patio and stare out into nature. I suppose I have my mother to thank for the four acres of land she bought when I was a child in Bonao that was left abandoned. On a visit in 2018, I made it my duty to clean up the land and then during the pandemic, I decided to stay on the island and grow my own food. I felt like this book was meant to be written and that was the perfect opportunity to listent to what the plantains had to say. My first question to them was, How are you still here? How have you and I survived? And I would sit each morning for months in my rocking chair and just listen. Listen to the platanos, listen to my ancestors, listen to the earth. I felt like a messenger, a portal, a spirit who could put pen to paper and unravel all these questions and ask some more.
Is it very different to be Afro-Latina in Texas and NY?
I think the experiences may be different due to the cultural ties and diversity in NY that is much larger than TX but I think the beauty in Afro-descendencia is that you can find your tribe anywhere. The Black Diaspora is vast and everywhere. Sure, you may not have the same access in Dominican culture in Texas because there are obviously not as many Dominicans as in New York but there are pockets of Dominicans in Texas who are working to change that and celebrate their beauty and culture wherever they go.
Is ‘Black diaspora’ a concept that includes being Haitian, as well as being Dominican? Are there are many cultural differences between being Dominican and Haitian?
The Black Diaspora includes folks from all countries who simply have descendants who have come from Africa.
I am from Barcelona, Spain, and as a foreign observer, sometimes I feel in the US the term ‘Latino” includes very different concepts, nationalities, cultures... not sure if there are many things in common between an Argentinian, a Colombian, a Dominican, a Cuban... [so, this isn’t really a question! Feel free to address this however you like. There is, of course, a definition for this term, but feel free to answer this in whatever way makes sense for you].
Thank you for pointing out the flaws in Latinidad. It is simply very difficult to group so many different people with different racializations, cultures, foods, music into one identifier. We are not a monolith and we are more like many diasporas grouped into one which is why I find it best for us to be more specific instead of generalizing Latine people.
In Refinery29, you wrote about your abuelita and the concept ‘matatana’. According to your Dominican family, a matatana is a powerful woman who takes charge of her own life, lives bravely, sheds her own skin, and makes room for rebirth. Do you consider yourself a ‘matatana’?
On my fiercest days, I truly embody my Matatana powers. Essentially, a matatana is any woman who is willing to take ownership of her own body, mind, and spirit and live life on her own terms.
What does poetry mean for you? Is it a means to empower yourself and other woman to become matatanas?
Poetry is a superpower. Poetry has the ability to shift the world and I honor those who have come before me and have inspired me to use poetry to bring about change and I hope in my work I empower others to do the same.