By Julie Clack
The Department of Spanish and Portuguese sat down (virtually) with Professor Díaz-Quiñones to learn more about the website, his creative process, and what else he has been working on throughout the last nine months of the pandemic.
What was the impetus for getting your digital archive online?
I have given a great deal of thought to one of my favorite texts by Walter Benjamin, “Excavation and Memory,” and to the need of digging in the soil that has nourished us. Digging cannot reconstitute all past experiences, but one finds fragments in the archive that can illuminate both past and present.
In most of my classes and seminars, and in my writings, I focused on the role of poetry, fiction, songs and visual arts as forms of memory and resistance to slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean, especially in Puerto Rico. In this archive I am evoking part of that history. Even digitized, however, archives devoted to colonial dissidents remain vulnerable. Preservation of that memory is a political act.
Archives of resistance are fragmented and vulnerable. But they enable critical questions. The potential of discovering new meanings behind the words has inspired utopian imaginaries throughout a long history of colonial dispossession, slavery, and massive displacements.
What are you hoping having your digital archive online will achieve?
My hope is to preserve and offer wider access to essays, prefaces and conversations not collected in books or difficult to obtain today.
In Puerto Rico, many libraries have been forced to close due to hurricanes, severe budget cuts, and now the pandemic. Online access makes other spaces available.
The same way that my students and colleagues in Puerto Rico and in Princeton have always taught me a great deal, perhaps new readers can move in new directions by changing the questions I pose or by questioning my language and framework.
Throughout the process of getting your work online, are there any projects you’ve revised or spent more time thinking about, particularly in light of current events?
This is a different kind of remembering. It takes time, and it is also about the passage of time. While working on this archive, my thoughts often return to other moments and to the positions I had back then.
At an even deeper level, I remember inspiring conversations with my students, and with writers, artists, musicians, historians and activists. Their words, images, music and stories have, quite crucially, marked my own language and thinking.
In light of catastrophic situations in Puerto Rico, the U.S., and throughout the world, it is important to see how our conflicted understanding of citizenship, rights, and belonging is shaped by long-term decolonizing struggles.
Have you been working on anything else throughout the pandemic lockdowns?
At this stage, I spend more time reading and looking at films and images than writing. I have been learning more about the very violent history of the U.S. empire and its racist, sexist, classist and cultural hierarchies. I have also been re-reading poets and essayists that say much about these dark times.
Most importantly, I am paying close attention to new powerful voices of writers, artists, activists, and scholars whose perspectives are a collective source of hope. There are entire movements, from Puerto Rico to the U.S., from Brazil to Chile, and other countries, where a broader questioning of power and powerlessness is taking place.
Professor Díaz-Quiñones credits Pedro Meira Monteiro, the Arthur W. Marks '19 Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; and Fernando Acosta-Rodríguez, librarian for Latin American Studies, Latino Studies, and Iberian Peninsular Studies, for their encouragement in getting his website project up and running. He is also grateful to Professor Vincent Barletta (Stanford University) for designing the webpage, and to former Princeton graduate student Diego Baena for his assistance in the preparation of the materials.