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Author explores writing Afrofuturism and identity in Latina/o Studies Program event

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Author and poet Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro hosts her Zoom call with the UNC Latina/o Studies Program on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.

Author and poet Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro began a Zoom call hosted by the UNC Latina/o Studies Program (LSP) on Wednesday with the introduction of one of her short story collections, “las Negras.”

“They were very happy people being slaves — this was the first line I learned in the third grade from our history and social studies teacher,” she said.

During the call, the Puerto Rican writer discussed her award-winning fiction and poetry, which promotes historical recovery and the discussion of Afro-identity and sexual diversity. 

Arroyo Pizarro was the winner of the 2012 and 2015 National Short Story Prize awarded by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. The collection “las Negras” explores the stories of enslaved women who actively dissent hierarchies of power and Western ways of thinking. 

Arroyo Pizarro said during the discussion that she wanted to make the article lowercase and the noun uppercase in the book's title, "las Negras," to focus more closely on the noble rebellion of the book's female protagonists and examine the Western ideals that were pushed onto them. 

Her writings were inspired by stories her grandmother told her, which were passed down from women in her lineage. Arroyo Pizarro encouraged event listeners to reflect on the stories of their own ancestors.  

“I take on the responsibility of awakening spirits, and giving them shape on every page, in every act of resistance,” Arroyo Pizarro read aloud from a manifesto in an upcoming book.

In the discussion, she said that she was invited to read her books to students in Puerto Rico. 

One of the books she read to them, “Captain Cataño and the Magical Cornrows,” explores the importance of being proud of African hair styles. 

“My abuela always said to me that the only good thing that comes from oppression is creativity,” she said.

Joshua Cody Ward, a doctoral candidate in the English department and a digital content coordinator for the LSP, said he believes public facing discourses like Arroyo Pizarro’s readings can combat negative cultural stereotypes. 

According to Ward, going to students in elementary schools before their minds are made up by negative stereotypes provides them with positive images of aspects of their identity, such as their hair.

He said he was fascinated by Arroyo Pizarro’s hybridity between genres of her work, which showcases not only science fiction, but also historical recovery.

”It’s this imaginative space where we can think about our own culture,” Ward said. “And we can think about potential problems that would evolve in the future based on the logics in operation in our current society.”

Dailihana Alfonseca is an author and graduate student in Health Humanities in the English department. She is the creator of the Afro-Latina/o/X Resource Aid, a database through LSP that curates free academic research and resources concerning Afro-Latine politics, identity and culture. 

Alfonseca is a first-generation immigrant from Puerto Rico. She said she often writes from a perspective of not feeling seen.

“I've always been in a state of limbo, where I’m not American enough but also not Puerto Rican enough,” she said. “When I go home and I go to my island, I feel like an outsider who no longer understands my own culture, my own people, my own food even.”

By engaging with Arroyo Pizarro’s lecture, she said she hoped to navigate her own identity in a world that pushes her to ascribe to a certain ideology and aesthetic. 

According to Alfonseca, hosting writers like Arroyo Pizarro who are Afro-Latine and Puerto Rican can help diversify understandings of identity and how it is formed. 

“There’s a lot of pushback from society right now that says we need to curb the way we show children things, but I think children have always known that there is more than one type of identity,” she said.

More information about guest speakers hosted by LSP, including writer Elías Miguel Muñoz on Nov. 14, and the program can be found on its website

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Arroyo Pizarro’s next book, “Prietagonistas,” is set to be published in 2024.

@melinsophia

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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