Another America/Otra America

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By Barbara Kingsolver

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From a bestselling and beloved author, an intensely personal collection of poetry “rich with political and human resonance” (Ursula K. LeGuin)

Before becoming the bestselling author we know today, Barbara Kingsolver, as a new college graduate in search of adventure, moved to the borderlands of Tucson, Arizona. What she found, she says, was “another America.”

Interweaving past political events, from the US-backed dictatorships in South America to the government surveillance carried out in the Reagan years, Kingsolver’s early poetry expands into a broader examination of the racism, discrimination, and immigration system she witnessed at close range. The poems coalesce in a record of her emerging adulthood, in which she confronts the hypocrisy of the national myth of America—a confrontation that would come to shape her not only as an artist, but as a citizen. With a new introduction from Kingsolver that reflects on the current border crisis, Another America is a striking portrait of a country deeply divided between those with privilege and those without, and the lives of urgent purpose that may be carved out in between.

Excerpt

Introduction to the 2022 Edition

For writers, looking back on our early work is a precarious business. There’s trepidation, always, for the landmines of naivete we’ll step on, along with bursts of relief for a few nice turns of beginner’s luck. But beyond the writing, what looms large is the younger self staring back at us. In reintroducing this book three decades after its first release, I’ve had to sit down and break bread with a woman in her twenties, barely more than a girl, with a passion for writing she had always pursued very privately. At that age I was still nowhere near ready to declare myself a writer, but I did share a few poems with friends, who encouraged me to brave open mic readings, or even submissions. At what point, though, does youthful writing reach publishable maturity, and how can the writer know? It’s usual to look at craft as the defining essential, but my instincts told me something else: a writer needs skill, yes, but also knowledge. I couldn’t see imposing myself on readers unless I had something useful to tell them. Up to that point in life, I really hadn’t. My childhood, strange and dappled as it was, felt like a murky pool without much context or ethical clarity. That was about to change. This collection of poetry, written mostly in the early 1980s, I pushed into the world as my first adult work.

I’d moved to Tucson, Arizona, as a new college graduate with empty pockets and vague plans, unprepared for the revelations that would soon ink themselves onto my psyche. In my original introduction to this book (published in 1992) I put it this way: “I came to the Southwest expecting cactus, wide open spaces, and adventure. I found, instead, another whole America. Not picture postcards, or anything resembling what I’d previously supposed to be American culture. Arizona was cactus all right, and purple mountains’ majesty, but this desert that burned with raw beauty had a great fence built across it, attempting to divide north from south. I’d stumbled on a borderland where people perished of heat by day and cold hostility by night.”

I was learning to call this prickly landscape my new home, paying the dues of young adulthood in all the ordinary ways of love and loss, poverty and menial jobs. But I met some people who were not ordinary. They ran an underground railroad, providing sanctuary to hundreds of Latin American refugees who faced death in their own countries but were legally barred from ours. They understood that what’s legal and what’s morally right are sometimes at odds. Beyond just knowing, they acted, risking their own safety because they couldn’t live with the immoral choice of allowing innocents to die. I found I agreed, and soon was sharing my home with refugees, listening to stories of terrors they’d fled. I was stunned to learn that the brutal regimes in their countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile—were supported and armed by my government. Our taxes helped train and fund the armies that strafed, tortured, raped, and murdered civilians. And our taxes paid the border patrols that stopped these war-weary families, turning them back to fates that really could be worse than death.

I wasn’t prepared for the knowledge of what one nation will do to another. Knowledge arrived, regardless. I saw things I couldn’t unsee, heard anguished or sometimes eerily detached accounts of what these women and men and children had endured. I fit the pieces together, understanding my own complex position in the brutality that was forcing South and Central American and Mexican people onto this road, to shelter in my house for a while, then furtively move on. I’d used the word “American” all my life without thinking about these other Americans. The national myth I’d signed on to was a hypocrisy. Now that two-edged blade cut deep, slicing off layers of complacency, starting to shape the citizen and artist I wanted to become. I learned that every story has more than one side, and that the real crux of the matter might be the one you haven’t heard yet. I saw how truths that sit comfortably and righteously in one place can be utterly wrong in another. I learned Spanish. I learned to be still and listen.

If I ever hoped to say something useful, it dawned on me that I should start learning there and then: that the American proverb has many angles, can be told in other languages. That injustice doesn’t disappear just because you look away. That unspeakable things can be survived, and should be survived, because sometimes there is joy on the other side. I learned all these truths from people who had lived them. Some of them became my friends, some disappeared into places I’ll never know. One became the translator of this book.

The poems collected here, whatever other stories they may tell, are the record of an emerging adulthood. My unsettling political education helped precipitate my emotional coming of age. The book’s first two sections, “The House Divided” and “The Visitors,” engrave individual lives onto a freshly drawn map. “The Lost” confesses to the hopeless depths of the world’s brokenness, balanced by other poems in “The Believers” and “The Patriots” bearing witness to love, solidarity, and redemption. A handful of poems I wrote in the ’90s, as a mother of young children, were added to a subsequent printing, completing this small cosmos.

Some of the writing refers to political events that now feel historically distant. The people’s rebellions against US-backed dictatorships in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala have all run their courses to different ends, varying from compromised improvement to tragic disappointment. Fledgling human-rights organizations in the US survived massive, intimidating government surveillance during the Reagan years (mine was one of the many phones tapped), and matured into a layered modern movement reaching from immigrant support into broader issues of economic, gender, and racial justice. The covert US operations supporting trade-friendly dictatorships in Latin America eventually moved to other continents, and were supplanted by the biggest game changer of all: NAFTA. With the stroke of a pen, cheap US-grown corn—subsidized with our taxes—was allowed to flood Mexico, immediately bankrupting some two million Mexican farmers and displacing whole populations. In the US, simultaneously (and not coincidentally), anti-immigrant rhetoric rose to fever pitch. With little discussion of cause and effect, we’ve fallen into a hyperbolic cultural shouting match: the bludgeon of xenophobia versus heartbreaking images of immigrant children in cages. And underneath all the noise it’s still lying right there, that ugly, double-edged American sword. Our own tax dollars are helping to push people north to our border and also building walls to turn them back.

In the years since this book was first published, I’ve become a different writer in a different world. But I’m struck by what hasn’t changed. The ice-water shock of unapologetic racism recorded in “What the Janitor Heard in the Elevator” still delivers the same shudder. The routine humiliations described in “Street Scenes” are the #MeToo moments of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Loss remains an indelible qualifier of life, and so does hope. I stand behind these decades-old poems, because I still believe what I wrote then, to introduce them: that wars are everywhere, little or large, and every life contains its own world of clamor and glory. My home is far from the border now, but I still live among people who are running for their lives and people who rest easy with privilege. And others who work hard to find a place of honest living in between. My way of finding that place is to write one. This is my testament to two Americas, and the places I’ve found, or made, or dreamed in between.

Barbara Kingsolver,
January 2021




Introducción a la edición 2022

Para los escritores, dar una mirada atrás a nuestros primeros trabajos es un asunto delicado. Siempre hay temor, porque pisaremos las minas terrestres de la ingenuidad, pero también existen resplandores de alivio por los buenos giros de suerte para los principiantes. Pero más allá de las sutilezas de la escritura, se cierne sobre nosotros el yo más joven devolviéndonos la mirada. Al volver a presentar este libro, tres décadas después de su primer lanzamiento, he tenido que sentarme a compartir el pan con una mujer de veinte años, apenas más que una niña, con una pasión por escribir a la que se dedicaba en secreto.

A esa edad todavía estaba lejos de estar lista para declararme escritora, pero compartí algunos poemas con amigos, quienes me animaron a enfrentarme a las lecturas de micrófono abierto, o a presentar mi trabajo a editoriales. Sin embargo, ¿en qué momento llega la escritura juvenil a la madurez necesaria para publicar, y cómo puede saberlo el escritor? Es habitual ver el trabajo del artesano como la definición esencial, pero mis instintos me dijeron algo más: un escritor no necesita solo habilidad, sino que también conocimientos. No podía interesar a los lectores a menos que tuviera algo útil que decirles. Hasta ese momento en mi vida, no lo tenía. Sentía que mi infancia, extraña y salpicada de claroscuros, era como una piscina turbia sin mucho contexto o claridad ética. Eso estaba a punto de cambiar. Esta colección de poemas, escritos en su mayoría a principios de los ochenta, fue de seguro mi primer trabajo adulto.

Me mudé a Tucson, Arizona, con un título universitario, los bolsillos vacíos y planes indefinidos, sin estar preparada para las revelaciones que estaban a punto de grabarse en mi mente. En mi introducción original a este libro (publicado en 1992) lo dije de esta manera: “Llegué al suroeste esperando cactus, amplios espacios abiertos y aventura. Encontré, en cambio, otra América. Ni postales ni nada parecido a lo que antes suponía que era la cultura estadounidense. Arizona era cactus, claro que sí, y la majestad de las montañas púrpuras, pero en este desierto que ardía con una cruda belleza, se había construido un gran cerco que trataba de dividir el norte del sur. Me había topado con una tierra fronteriza en donde la gente perecía de calor durante el día, y de una fría hostilidad por la noche”.

Estaba aprendiendo a llamar a este paisaje espinoso mi nuevo hogar, pagando el precio de la edad adulta en las formas comunes de amor y pérdida, pobreza y trabajos mal pagados. Pero conocí a algunas personas que no eran comunes. Habían organizado un ferrocarril subterráneo, proporcionando santuario a cientos de refugiados latinoamericanos que huían de la muerte en sus países de origen, pero que tenían bloqueada la entrada a los Estados Unidos. Comprendían que, aquello que es legal y lo que es moralmente correcto, a veces están en conflicto. No solo lo sabían, sino que lo llevaban a la práctica, arriesgando su propia seguridad, porque no era posible vivir con la opción inmoral de permitir la muerte de inocentes. Descubrí que estaba de acuerdo, y de pronto me encontré compartiendo mi casa con refugiados, escuchando las historias del terror del que habían huido. Me sorprendió saber que los regímenes brutales de sus países, como El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, contaban con el apoyo y las armas de mi gobierno. Nuestros impuestos habían contribuido a entrenar y financiar a los ejércitos que acribillaban, torturaban, violaban y asesinaban a sus ciudadanos. Y nuestros impuestos pagaban a las patrullas fronterizas que detenían a estas familias cansadas de la guerra, devolviéndolas a destinos que podrían ser peores que la muerte.

Yo no estaba preparada para comprender el alcance de las crueldades que una nación puede concebir para imponerse sobre otra. Pero esto cambió cuando vi cosas que no podía dejar de ver; oí relatos angustiados, inquietantes, distantes, de lo que estas mujeres, hombres y niños habían soportado. Uní los pedazos, comprendiendo mi propia compleja posición ante la brutalidad que estaba obligando a sudamericanos, centroamericanos y mexicanos a emprender este camino, a refugiarse en mi casa por un tiempo, y luego seguir adelante sigilosamente. Había usado la palabra “americano” toda mi vida sin pensar en estos otros americanos. El mito nacional con el que había vivido era una hipocresía. Ahora la hoja de dos filos me había herido en lo profundo, cortando capas de complacencia, empezando a dar forma a la ciudadana y artista en la que quería convertirme. Aprendí que cada historia tiene más de una cara, y que la verdadera esencia del problema podría ser la que aún no has escuchado. Vi cómo las verdades justas y cómodas que se sitúan en un lugar pueden estar completamente equivocadas en otro. Aprendí español. Aprendí a quedarme quieta y escuchar.

Si alguna vez esperé decir algo útil, me di cuenta de que debía empezar a aprender de inmediato: que el proverbio “americano” tiene muchos ángulos, y que se puede expresar en otros idiomas. Que la injusticia no desaparece solo porque miras hacia otro lado. Que las cosas indescriptibles que pueden sobrevivir deben ser sobrevividas, porque a veces hay alegría al otro lado. Aprendí todas estas verdades de la gente que las había vivido. Algunos de ellos se convirtieron en mis amigos, otros desaparecieron en lugares que nunca conoceré. Una de ellas se convirtió en la traductora de este libro.

Los poemas recogidos aquí, con otras historias que puedan contar, son el registro de mi emergente edad adulta. Mi inquietante educación política ayudó a precipitar mi madurez emocional. Las dos primeras secciones del libro, “La casa dividida” y “Los visitantes”, graban vidas individuales en un mapa recién dibujado. “Los perdidos”, confiesa las profundidades desesperanzadas del quebrantamiento del mundo, equilibradas por otros poemas, “Los creyentes” y “Los patriotas”, dando testimonios de amor, solidaridad y redención. Un puñado de poemas que escribí en los noventa, como madre de niños pequeños, fueron añadidos a una edición posterior, completando así este pequeño cosmos.

Algunos de estos escritos hacen referencia a acontecimientos políticos que ahora parecen históricamente distantes. Las rebeliones del pueblo contra las dictaduras respaldadas por los Estados Unidos en El Salvador, Nicaragua y Guatemala han dirigido sus pasos hacia diferentes fines, variando desde los cambios comprometidos hasta la trágica decepción. Las organizaciones de derechos humanos en los Estados Unidos sobrevivieron a una vigilancia masiva e intrusiva del gobierno durante los años del presidente Reagan (el mío fue uno de los muchos teléfonos intervenidos), y maduraron hacia un movimiento moderno que se extendía desde el apoyo a los inmigrantes a cuestiones más amplias de justicia económica, de género y racial.

Las operaciones encubiertas de los Estados Unidos encaminadas a los cambios de régimen en América Latina finalmente se trasladaron a otros continentes, y fueron sustituidas por el mayor de todos los cambios del juego: el Tratado de Libre Comercio. Con un golpe de pluma, el maíz barato cultivado en Estados Unidos, subsidiado con nuestros impuestos, pudo inundar México, lo que arruinó de inmediato a unos dos millones de agricultores y desplazó a grandes sectores de la población. En los Estados Unidos, simultáneamente (y no casualmente), la retórica antiinmigrante mexicana se elevó a un estado febril. Con poca discusión de causa y efecto, hemos caído en una lucha de clamores culturales hiperbólicos: el golpe de la xenofobia contra las imágenes desgarradoras de niños inmigrantes en jaulas. Y debajo de todo el ruido, aún se encuentra escondida la grotesca espada estadounidense de doble filo. Nuestros propios dólares de impuestos están ayudando a empujar a la gente hacia el norte hasta nuestra frontera, al mismo tiempo que se construye muros para enviarlos de vuelta.

Genre:

  • Barbara Kingsolver belongs in the company of such poets as Clifton, Levertov, Hogan, Forché and Rich. Her pure American voice, chorded in both the great American languages, is rich with political and human resonance.”—Ursula K. LeGuin
  • “Each poem is a true story; with some I was moved to tears.”—Isabelle Allende
  • “These poems made me stop mid-book, telephone a friend and brave saying the unsayable – palabras del corazón that often go unsaid.”—Sanda Cisneros
  • “The best of American political poetry, melding emotion and analysis, daily life and national issues, voice and heart.”—Booklist
  • “This powerful collection of poetry deals with protest against political and social repression experienced by ordinary people, particularly women, under military regimes in Central and South America during the last 20 years. Through vivid imagery and compelling messages, Kingsolver makes a passionate appeal to end the suffering of victims of revolution, oppression, and war.” —School Library Journal
  • “[Kingsolver’s] poems present a vision of an underprivileged America redressed, and are, in that respect, songs of hope and longing as opposed to howls of protest and despair.”—Foreword Magazine

On Sale
Feb 22, 2022
Page Count
144 pages
Publisher
Seal Press
ISBN-13
9781541600577

Barbara Kingsolver

About the Author

Barbara Kingsolver is the author of sixteen books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction and is the recipient of the National Humanities Medal. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the founder of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. She lives with her husband on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Learn more about this author