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Areíto por todos

Me sacaron como apache de la llanura y del viento
me arrojaron como inca de la barca del silencio
pero vengo de la sombra
del pasado y del futuro
me sacaron como indio
pero vuelvo como negro.
 
Me sacaron como negro del tambor de la esperanza
me negaron el trapiche para moler mis adentros
me negaron en yoruba
en bantú carabalí
pero vuelvo en la manigua
cimarrón en blanco y negro.
 
Me sacaron por judío, por latino, por moreno
me sacaron por hispano, por guloya y por negrero
me sacaron de las nubes donde desnudé la lluvia
me sacaron de los montes donde desnudé la tierra
pero vuelvo como indio, pero vuelvo como negro.
 
Per vuelvo en español, en yoruba y en taíno
regresando por los montes estrenando un rostro nuevo
vengo con el mascarón de los que no tienen patria
me sacaron, me sacaron, pero vuelvo, pero vuelvo.

—César Sánchez Beras

Ritual Song for Us All

They tossed me away as Apache from the plains and the wind
they tossed me out as Inca from the bark of silence
but I come back from the shadow
of past and future
they tossed me aside as Indian
but I return as Black.

They tossed me away as Black from the drumbeat of hope
they denied me the sugar mill used to grind my insides
they denied me in Yoruba
in Bantú in Carabalí
but I return to the scrubland
as runaway slave in white and black.

They tossed me away as Jew, as Latin, as Moor
they tossed me away as Hispanic, as Gullah, as slaver
they tossed me out of the clouds where I denuded the rain
they tossed me out of the hills where I denuded the earth
but I return as Indian, I return as Black.

But I return in Spanish, in Yoruba and in Taíno
trekking back across the wild trying on a new face
I come wearing the mask of those who have no country
they tossed me away, tossed me away, but I return, I return.

—César Sánchez Beras, Areíto por todos (Eng. trans. by Rhina P. Espaillat)

Rhina Espaillat reads César Sánchez Beras’ “Areíto por todos”

Transcription of Commentary

“Ritual Song for Us All” is my English translation of a poem in Spanish, titled “Areíto por todos” by César Sánchez Beras, a poet who was born in the Dominican Republic and, like me, has lived in the United States for many years.

I've chosen this particular poem to read for the “Poetry of America” Project because it deals with Immigration and Migration from an unusual point of view, with a passion and urgency that befits the importance of the issue, but with a breadth that humanizes and universalizes the issue, rather than narrowing it down to the interests of any one group.

The speaker of the poem conveys, in his first-person narrative, the situation of the many displaced human beings who, over the centuries and into the present, have been forced by countless circumstances to leave their birthplaces and roots, and begin life over somewhere else.

The word “areíto” comes from the Taíno language spoken by the native people of the Caribbean islands. It means “group ritual” or “tribal invocation,̶ and suggests cultural unity, the sense of belonging that is fundamental to the traditional notion of identity. But in this poem, Sánchez Beras refers not only to the Tainos who presumably formed part of his own ancestry and mine, but also to the Apaches, the Incas, the various African people who were brought to the Americas as slaves—Yorubas, Bantus, Carabalis—and then, widening the circle to include still others who have wandered the earth and settled far from home, he goes on to the Jews, the Gullahs, and by implication “Others” from every culture.

Speaking for that multitude he invokes, the speaker lists his dispossessions, his many losses: he has been denied the landscapes he once inhabited, the future, his hopes, the fruits of his labor, his liberty. But, he says, each time he is dispossessed, he returns, even if in a different guise: sometimes as the next wave of Others, sometimes, ironically, as a member of the very group that once tossed him out. Even the conqueror and the slaver turn up in the speaker's list of guises, and rightly so, because they, too, are part of our history, and even—for some of us—our ancestry, our present families, our children, and therefore our unborn descendants. Those of us who intermarry know perfectly well that “identity” is not a stable construct but an ongoing process, and that the blood of those who were once “enemies”; is now mingled forever with our own. That knowledge, and its acceptance as a reality of our national life, is one of the glories of America.

The poem would be a recital of fruitless travels and endless alienation if it were not for the phrases—repeated nine times—“pero vengo” and “pero vuelvo,” meaning "I come, I return." That stubborn phrase, meant to convey the natural tenacity of every living thing, transforms the poem into a challenge, a triumphal promise that man makes to himself: “Whoever I may be, however I may be perceived and treated over time, however often I may be tossed from place to place, I return in some form or other, because I am indomitable.”

That implied statement resonates with me, as the daughter of political exiles, but it applies equally to those “tossed out” of their place in the world for any reason at all, be it political, religious, economic, or military. And the poem does more than that: it suggests that the human race is—as the science of genetics now affirms—one race, one huge family, linked inexorably, interdependent, whose members are destined to return from every exile, changed but persistent, and continue to braid together, unbraid, and braid again, as long as we exist.

“Areíto por todos” by César Sánchez Beras, Lawrence City and Other Poems / Ciudad de Lawrence y otros poemas.

Wellington House Publishing Co., Lowell, 2007.

By permission of the author.

English translation by Rhina P. Espaillat.

Rhina P. Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat

Read “Translation” by Rhina P. Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat (1932- ) grew up in New York City after being exiled from her birthplace in the Dominican Republic. She is the author of 11 collections of poetry and has published work in both English and Spanish. Espaillat is a recipient of the Richard Wilbur Award, the T.S. Eliot Prize, and three Poetry Society of America prizes. She has also received numerous honors for her work in translation, most notably her translation of Robert Frost’s poetry into Spanish. Photo Credit: Curt Richter.

Learn more about Rhina P. Espaillat at The Poetry Foundation

César Sánchez Beras

César Sánchez Beras

César Sánchez Beras (1962-) was born in the Dominican Republic and educated at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. A prolific writer of both poetry and children’s literature, he won both the Annual Prize for Poetry and the National Children's Literature Prize in the Dominican Republic. He currently teaches Spanish and literature at Lawrence High School in Massachusetts.