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Caribbean as imperial frontier, planetary borderland, worldly crossroads

In 1969 two histories of the Caribbean were published with the same title, From Columbus to Castro, one authored by Eric Williams and the other by Juan Bosch, both intellectuals and heads of state, the former of Trinidad-Tobago and the latter of the Dominican Republic. The subtitle of Bosch’s book, the Caribbean Imperial Frontier, can serve as basis for conceptualizing it as a prime space of inter-imperial formations, where all European empires and the American empire, develop technologies of imperial statecraft and forms of competition, strategies of labor exploitation and capital accumulation, cultural and epistemic imperialism, since the long 16th century until today. Instead of imperial border, I translate it as imperial frontier, following the distinction made by Mezzadra and Neilson, who argue that while border conventionally signifies relatively fixed demarcating lines, frontiers evident from the narrative around -which one of the foundation myths of U.S. identity is constructed, is by definition a space open to expansion, a mobile “front” in continuous formation, pointing to the constitutive role of the colonial frontier. From this perspective, the Caribbean represents the first site of colonial modernity, constitutive of western capitalist modernity, primary referent for primitive accumulation, chattel slavery, conquest and colonization, and to the process of defining a great Atlantic frontier between the so-called old and new worlds.

In that key, we theorize Caribbean archipelagos as borderlands, following Gloria Anzaldua’s understanding of borderlands as being and living at crossroads, interlocking borders that are at once physical and symbolic, simultaneously social, ethnic-racial, gender and sexual. In tune with Mezzadra’s and Neilson’sadoption of Perera’s notion of borderscapes as a “shifting and conflictual’ ’ zone in which ' ‘different temporalities and overlapping emplacements as well as emergent spatial organizations'" take shape, (while) the simultaneous expansion and contraction of political spaces (are framed by) the ' ‘multiple resistances, challenges, & counterclaims’" to which they give rise to (Mezzadra and Neilson 10).

Caribbean borderlands are crossroads of western and subaltern modernities, their diverse yet intertwined geo-historical landscapes are contested terrains between imperial and decolonial practices and projects. The great Caribbean, a translocal geography that articulates the Antilles with the continental basin in Central and South America, as well as to spaces where the island repeats itself in world cities such as New York, Paris, London, Miami, and Toronto; constitutes a federation of diasporas and a planetary archipelago. Stuart Hall contends that the Caribbean is the first Diaspora, a diasporic space par excellance, shaped by historical processes of violent dispersions and dislocations such as conquest, slavery, revolutions, and migrations.6 This diasporic condition implies challenging monolithic views of the nation, and analyzing Caribbean identities as fluid, plural, and relational, as such formed and transformed through processes of transculturation and creolization.

As Hall, we see diasporas not as citizens outside of the territory of the nationstate, but as translocal formations of peoplehood, dispersed yet connected, who could develop common identifications within their diversity, as expressed in Paul Gilroy’s category of the changing same. A key historical example is the African diaspora, a principal constituent of the Caribbean region. In fact, the very category of Africa is a product of modern/colonial bordering of the world as divided into continents, the same process where Africana subjects where disseminated primarily within the Atlantic system, constituting a diasporic formation, conceived in slavery and its afterlives in racial/patriarchal capitalism, and through the houses that race built through Black struggles, movements, and counterpublics. The African diaspora as translocal space, as a transnational field of aesthetic creation, cultural production, social and political movements, and ethnic-racial identification, is grounded in what WEB DuBois conceptualized as double consciousness, an uneasy sense of belonging to the nation, accompanied by affinities and identification with a larger landscape of African and Black histories, cultures, and politics.

The Caribbean also has a protagonist role in the production and refashioning of the African Diaspora by Black historical agency, providing world leadership from Pan-Africanism in the late 19th century to the current campaign for historical reparations from the multiple injuries (economic, political, symbolic, psychological) caused by the institution of slavery and its aftermath. However, as Hall himself argues, the Caribbean is much more than African, it is indeed, a world crossroads where African, Arab, East Asian, and South Asian Diasporas intermingle with Amerindians and Europeans.

Continuous crossing of multiple borders is characteristic of Caribbean quotidian cultural, political, and epistemic praxis. Intoning this tune, we define the Caribbean as Federation of Diasporas and as a world crossroads. More than mere

Caribbean borderlands and traveling theories 265 figure or trope, crossroads operate here as concept-metaphor, a category to theorize a geo-historical space that is a kind of microcosm of global encounters, imperial competition, capitalist development, and antisystemic struggles.

In African cosmologies, crossroads, as places of multiple crossings, are privileged spaces for understanding the possibilities of being (ontology), as well as the varieties of analysis (epistemology). In Yoruba tradition, Exu-Eleggua, Orisha, or deity of the crossroads, opens and closes pathways of life, while presiding over interpretation as Hermes in the Greek Pantheon. In this beat, as world crossroads, Caribbean borderlands are the kingdom of Exu-Eleggua.7 In key, Wilson Harris, in his essay Creoleness: The Crossroads of Civilization, identifies Legba as the deity of creolization in Haitian Vodou, who reveals an insecurity in the pantheon of gods around the world that run counter to secure ideologies or dogmas in which immortality is described as the grain and blood of hierarchical privilege. Here, Legba signifies a culture of resistance, a decolonial praxis embedded in a creolized Afroamerican spirituality that Harris identifies with Marronage -another key category in Caribbean critique.

In his Freedom as Marronage, Neil Roberts contends that marrons inhabit a liminal space between slavery and freedom, constantly crossing, transgressing, and negotiating such borders, thus revealing the relative and contested nature of freedom. Roberts articulates a long tradition in Caribbean critique, where marronage is a political-epistemic perspective, of living inside & outside of dominant regimes of knowledge and power, forging fugitive zones, vernacular polities and epistemes, guarding from the dangers of capital and empire, while engaging them. This is the sense in which Frederick Douglas and WEB DuBois characterized the nascent state of Haiti in the 19th century as a Black marron nation (Hooker). Marronage constitutes a liminal space in-between that as such operates through a logic of creolization. In this vein, creolization signifies a praxis of relationality between multiple bodies, cultures, identities, communities, knowledges, economies, that serves as a historical foundation and as a method of production of critical knowledge as argued by Jane Gordon, Paget Henry, and Neil Roberts.

For the most, Caribbean discourse, devices its politics and poetics, its theory and critical strategies with the gaze that Fernand Braudel terms as the perspective of the world. Playing this drum, Glissant crafts the standpoint of the totality with his philosophy and poetics of relation, with a worldly vision that he calls the tout monde, literally all the world, also using the creole tout moun which means everybody, pursuing a logic of archipelago thinking, namely understanding the planet as an archipelago of islands who has their own ontological dimension at the same time that they exist in relation to each other. He relates archipelago as epistemic mode and method, to Deleuze’s concepts of assemblage and rhizome, as key categories for a relational ontology of process and difference, where the totality is defined by plural articulations of parts which have relative autonomy as well as their own temporalities and spatialities. In this beat, bodies, territories, continents, oceans, subjects, peoples, polities, currents, and movements are conceptualized as archipelagos, islands entangled within larger landscapes of agency, power, history, and geography. In this key, Glissant understands what is calledglobalization: a process in which the whole world is archipelogizing and creoliz-ing, where what I call creolization (is) the meeting, the interference, the schock, the harmonies & disharmonies between cultures, in the realized totality’ of the world-earth. Here, there is a sort of Caribbeanization of the world, understood as a planetary archipelago. In this beat, global cities are key spaces for the multiples crossings we call liquid borders, a kind of world crossroads. As we demonstrated at the beginning of this article, this is not a new phenomenon as claimed by most of the globalization literature, given that New York was a world city where Cuban and Puerto Rican nationalisms where forged in the late 19th century.

I end this chapter highlighting three political dimensions of this strand of Caribbean critique. The first refers to the politics of knowledge. Together, these constructs and concept-metaphors constitute what Fernando Coronil defined as non-imperial geo-historical categories, against and beyond Occidentalist mappings of time and space. Coronil argues that Occidentalism, rather than the counterpart of Orientalism, is its condition of possibility, and offers the following definition: by the term Occidentalism I allude to the sum of representational practices that take part in the production of conceptions of the world, which 1. separate the components of the world in isolated units; 2. de-link histories that relate to one another; 3. transform the difference into a hierarchy; 4. naturalize said representations, and therefore 5.intervene, albeit inadvertently, in the reproduction of existing asymmetric power relations. I contend that the repertoire of categories of Caribbean critique we presented here constitute a fundamental endowment for a post-occidentalist non-imperial traveling theory. In this key, we advocate for epistemologies of the south as well as for creolizing theory by crossing political-epistemic borders as in Jane Gordon’s readings of Rousseau through Fanon thus exercising a sort of double critique. According to Cesaire and Fanon, this implies the end of the age of Europe along with an inter-culturalization of critical theory and the politics of liberation by means of transcultural dialogues to make them truly worldly.

The second political dimension of this discussion is what we can define as the question of subjectivity and agency. In this register, we posit a transmigrant subject, who is plural, inhabits at once a variety of spaces and scales, and tends to simultaneously dwell in travel. This trans self could be a diasporic subject, the figure of the refugee, as well as the translocal wretched of the earth of Fanon. To conceive her as a subject-agent of liberation, entails to engage in what Jacqui Alexander term pedagogies of crossing across an array of differences (sexual, ethnic-racial, class, geo-political, gender, generation, etc.), and to enact in praxis and critique what Claudia de Lima Costa and Sonia Alvarez call translocal feminist translations, a methodology of dialogue through difference to build complex unity (as in Maria Lugones) for constructing political community. In this feminist beat, I postulate an intersectional politics of translocation, that combines the multiple mediations of power that constitute the sources of the self, with the diversity of scales (from local to global) that configure the Tout Monde as a translocal space.

The third and last point corresponds to Mezzadra’s and Neilson’s argument for border as method as a means for constructing a politics of the commons. Here

Caribbean borderlands and traveling theories 267 a crucial quest is how to create common grounds in light of the proliferation of differences. How to forge complex unity within a highly fragmented world? The historical making of collective identity through processes of creolization and transculturation, as explained above, compels us to analyze cultural and political identities as contested and changing, as constituted through struggles and the play of differences, without denying their ontology as key sources of self and community. In this tune, the standpoint of the totality in this lineage of Caribbean critique does not collapse into a postmodern denial of universals, it rather entails a situated universalism and a subaltern cosmopolitanism. In the critical discourse of Sylvia Wynter, this means moving from the exclusionary politics of Man, that she characterizes as the coloniality of power, knowledge, being, and citizenship, to a decolonizing radical democratic politics of the Human. Playing this drum, a robust decolonial politics of liberation necessarily entails a continuous process of crossing borders (gender, sexual, ethnic, racial, cultural, class, geographic, ecological, epistemic) through practices of transculturation and creolization. In this key, we present the following phrase as political blueprints: Dismantling the Multiple Chains of Coloniality and Oppression, Building Rainbows of Solidarity for Liberation.


  • 1 For two different understandings of Caribbean critique, see Henry, Nesbitt, Torres-Saillant.
  • 2 On this topic, see Said, Lugones, Mezzadra and Neilson.
  • 3 See Duany, Flores, Lao-Montes (“Islands at the Crossroads”), and Sanchez.
  • 4 On this topic, see Cornejo Polar, and Morana.
  • 5 See Glissant: Tout-Monde, Poetics of Relation, and Traité du Tout-Monde.
  • 6 On this topic, see Hall, both “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” and The Fateful Triangle.
  • 7 See Gates and y Lao-Montes (Contrapunteos).


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