Poetry and prose shed light on borderlands of Mexico, Texas, Puerto Rico, Cuba and more: the Hostos Review

“[B]lind man at the border / exchanging quetzales for dollars / we could not do that math”
Sheila Maldonado, “Shotgun: Road to Guatemala from Honduras,” photo essay, Hostos Review, No. 18

Editor Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla has just rolled out a new issue of Hostos Review / Revista Hortosiana!  This journal features poetry and prose by eighteen Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latina/o writers in Spanish, English, and other languages.  The Latin American Writers Institute (LAWI), housed at Hostos Community College, CUNY, produces Hostos Review.

This eighteenth issue is the fourth that Hostos Review has printed with Benchmark: 156 pages, perfect bound, 100-lb. gloss cover.  We laid out the cover and each page and did the revisions that resulted from rounds of consultation with the editors and writers.

Guest editors Octavio Quintanilla and Keila Vall de la Ville have selected pieces that illustrate the reality of “nepantlas”: a Nahuatl word that means “borderland.”  Quintanilla and Vall de la Ville take the cue from seminal writer Gloria E. Anzaldúa, who poses that nepantla is “the space between two bodies of water, the space between two worlds. It is a limited space, a space where you are not this or that but where you are changing. […] It is very awkward, uncomfortable and frustrating to be in that Nepantla because you are in the midst of transformation.”  A transcript from Anzaldúa’s “A Crosser of Borders” historic lecture series kicks off this issue.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla, Ph.D., chief editor of Hostos Review.

This certainly is not “the pandemic issue,” but the undertone is there. Inmaculada explains that the issue came together “as we were re-emerging… as physical, somewhat dazed beings, outside of homes and screens, as we learned how to live in a different time.”  In “Brainstorm,” Kristen Millares Young writes about the fears of taking an urgent long-distance car trip in May 2020.  In “December’s Cold Moon,” Norma E. Cantú writes of the cross-border solidarity between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo to get vaccines to essential workers that the system had excluded: health workers and educators. 

Among different societal breakdowns, Virgil Suárez reveals common threads.  In “Caged,” as though writing the next chapter for the “sleeping giant” of “I am Joaquín,” he prophesies, “The children / kept in cages will one day rise / to till the soil with their bare hands / upturning the malaise of this age.”   In his poem “Everything Must Go,” he starkly begins, “At the hospitals they systematically / Give immigrant women hysterectomies. / Their caged children sleep wrapped in tin foil blankets.”  Then his narrator forages through flea markets and encounters “A furniture store announcing their demise: / EVERYTHING MUST GO.  Even us. / Even them. The people on this planet.”  Then he makes a realization at once recalling the earliest months of the pandemic and warning of imminent collapse: “This is your last chance to plunder / for the stuff to keep in storage.”  Concise, witty, and searing.

Eugenio de María de Hostos, Puerto Rican nationalist writer, activist, and sociologist, whose name Hostos Community College, CUNY, honors.

In “Sonidos catrachos,” Sheila Maldonado vividly transports us to wander a street in Honduras.  She invites us to learn the distinctive way folks in San Pedro Sula speak, “como dicen ‘s’ los jampedranos / japatos pa’ los jipotes / japatos pa’ los jipotes …” (How “Jampedranos” say “s.”) After you say it a few times, you realize the speaker is selling kids’ shoes (zapatos – cipotes)!  Then, along comes a kid riffing on a tongue twister, “El burro pita y puja / Pita y puja el burro.”  (And what’s a catracho, anyway?  Honoring General Xatruch for leading Honduran and Salvadoran troops to defeat William Walker in the 1800s: “Xatruch” became catracha/catracho to mean “Honduran.”)

The sound of rompe-cadenas (breaking chains) comes through in pieces like Sheila Maldonado’s “Fruit Survivor.”  She writes, “banana plantation survivor / United Fruit – Standard Fruit – Cuyamel Fruit survivor / every American president in the 20th century survivor / every Honduran president in the 20th century survivor.”  With each repetition adding urgency behind the word “survivor,” we see that it is not the voice of one narrator, one family, or one country’s working class, but an experience that touches all of us who live in Nuestra América.  Echoes of Martí and Darío undergird this poet’s voice.

Ultimately, this issue shows that we do not have to accept the boundaries and the inequalities found so boldly at the nepantla; we have so many compañeras y compañeros with whom we can find solidarity and together change our reality.  I highly recommend giving it a read!

Hostos Review No. 18 has ordering information on the LAWI website , and the e-book format is available (no charge) at https://issuu.com/hostoscollege/docs/color_hyperlink_only_hos-8669_no18_10-21-22.

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Hostos Review‘s work is consistent with SDG Target 11.4, “Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.” More about Benchmark’s support for the Sustainable Development Goals.