Updated: Oct 7
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a remarkable event that celebrated the Josefina Baez Papers, now part of the Latino Arts and Activisms Collection at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the founding curator of LAAS and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, highlighted the monumental significance of the Josefina Báez archive, emphasizing its pivotal role in charting the narratives of Latinos in New York, global Black thought, and performance history.
The attendees witnessed thought provoking discussions by esteemed scholars, emphasizing its relevance, depth, and impact on their lives and on diverse fields. The scholars in attendance were:
Prof. Emilia María Durán Almarza, Associate Professor, Department of English Philology, University of Oviedo.
Prof. Lorgia García Peña from the Effron Center for the Study of America, Department of African American Studies, Princeton University.
Prof. Inmaculada Lara Bonilla, Associate Professor, Modern Languages, Humanities Department, Hostos Community College.
Prof. Sharina Maillo-Pozo, Assistant Professor, Department of Romance Languages, University of Georgia.
If you do not know Josefina's work, here are five essential things you should know about Báez pa' que no pasen verguenza:
Innovator of “Performance Autology”: Josefina Báez introduced a novel creative method known as “Performance Autology,” which emphasizes art-as-research. This method meticulously weaves personal narratives across lifetimes, accompanied by physical training to foster organicity, alertness, well-being, and “radical joy.” The Columbia archive is a repository of rich materials related to this practice.
Dominican Identity in Báez’s Artistry: Báez’s experiences as a Dominican immigrant serve as the bedrock of her art. Through various mediums, she continually navigates and portrays the intricate lives of Dominicans in a global context, challenging and extending traditional Latinx theatrical boundaries.
Signature Works by Báez: Among Báez’s diverse creations, three standout pieces particularly resonate with themes of migration and identity: Dominicanish (2000), Comrade, Bliss Ain’t Playing (2008), and Levente no. Yolayorkdominicanyork (2011).
Ay Ombe Theatre – Báez’s Brainchild: Established in 1986, Ay Ombe Theatre stands as a testament to Báez’s commitment to amplifying hyper-personal artist stories. The Columbia collection offers a vivid snapshot of her travels and performances, documenting her profound impact on global theater.
Báez, the Children’s Author: Beyond her extensive theatrical endeavors, Báez has also crafted a heartwarming children’s book, “Why is my name Marysol?” The Columbia collection provides an unparalleled look into the book’s creation.
In 2019, the Dominican Writers Association paid tribute to Josefina Baez during our inaugural Dominican writers conference, marking a memorable moment of recognition and appreciation.
Josefina herself graced the event with a 20 minute reading of her most popular texts, offering insights into her creative process. The event was an enriching experience celebrating the Latino arts, heritage, and the enduring legacy of Josefina Baez.
Speaking of Legacy....
Josefina Báez is more than just a writer, performer, and artist; she embodies the spirit of a generation, a bridge between two worlds: the Dominican Republic and the bustling streets of New York. Her works have delved into the intricacies of identity, migration, and cultural assimilation, providing a voice to the often unheard stories of the Dominican diaspora.
For the Dominican Writers Association and the broader Dominican writers community, Báez is a beacon of inspiration. Through her groundbreaking works like "Dominicanish," she paved the way for future writers to explore the nuances of being a Dominican in a global context. Her commitment to authenticity has shown that stories do not need to be universal to be universally understood. They just need to be told with sincerity, passion, and truth.
The techniques and methodologies she pioneered, like the "Performance Autology," have offered writers and performers a unique lens to view and portray their narratives, intertwining personal experiences with larger societal issues. This holistic approach to storytelling ensures that the tales are not just heard, but also felt.
Furthermore, her establishment of the Ay Ombe Theatre provided a tangible platform for Dominican artists to express, experiment, and evolve. Through this initiative, Báez not only showcased her commitment to the arts but also fostered a nurturing environment where Dominican voices could be cultivated and amplified.
Her exploration of the Dominican-York identity, the in-between world of being Dominican and New Yorker, has been a compass for many writers navigating the complexities of dual identities. Through her words and performances, she has illuminated the path for many who grapple with the beautiful challenge of crafting stories that carry the weight of two worlds.
Báez's dedication to the Dominican writers community goes beyond her literary contributions. By consistently pushing boundaries, challenging norms, and creating spaces for dialogues, she has set a precedent for what it means to be a Dominican writer in the contemporary world.
In essence, Josefina Báez's legacy is not just in the works she leaves behind, but in the minds she has inspired, the voices she has empowered, and the community she has enriched. As we at the Dominican Writers Association move forward, we do so with the knowledge and inspiration that giants like Báez have walked before us, illuminating the path.
Thanks for reading me.
Josefina's website- https://www.josefinabaez.com/
Ciguapa Unbound: Blackness, Gender & Transnational Geographies of Marronage-https://www.latinxproject.nyu.edu/sp2021/ciguapaunbound
Las casas de Josefina Báez-https://www.zendalibros.com/las-casas-de-josefina-baez/
Chewing English and Spitting Spanish: Josefina Báez Homing Dominican New York-https://institutofranklin.net/en/publications/chewing-english-and-spitting-spanish-josefina-baez-homing-dominican-new-york