By Rachel De La Cruz
In exploring love, identity, and purpose, Melania Luisa Marte engages with the fiery pulse of the Afro-Latinx experience and demands revolution. The writer, poet, and musician leads the charge, brandishing her words like sharp blades as she tackles colorism, co-opting of Afro-Latinx culture, the history of a small Caribbean island divided by a river, and so much more.
Marte’s debut poetry collection, Plantains and Our Becoming (out Aug. 22 by Tiny Reparations), is unwavering in its admonitions and oozes self-assured confidence and vitality. It’s a welcome and precious addition to a growing field of writing about the diaspora.
Marte is unafraid to tell us what’s what as she takes on the colorism and bloody history that loom over our community. She writes love letters to her dark skin and celebrates her kinky hair. She exudes Black Girl Magic as she praises the energy and vibrancy of often criticized Black women like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. She questions the silence and compliance we keep over our island’s history, desperate to learn from our ancestors and past revolutionaries how we can overcome. She refuses to hold back as she goes in on the immigration and voting policies present in America, while the same people upholding this system vacation and pillage our bountiful island.
As much as Marte’s words cut to the center of a system built on and against Afro-Latinx people, she also invites readers to engage in rest as revolution. Resting on a hammock, with a fruity cocktail in hand, is a refusal to participate in capitalism. And no, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it because it’s what the ancestors would have wanted for us. To take back joy and to find love and beauty (within yourself and others) is the ultimate act of rebellion. Marte’s love is felt like a reassuring embrace throughout this collection.
These moments of respite are placed alongside vignettes of Marte’s life and childhood. Some memories feel warm and familiar—Marte transports us to tranquil moments in her grandmother’s garden, summer nights in the campo lit up by candles, and making meals alongside the powerful women that raised us. These are juxtaposed with other hallmarks of the Afro-Latinx experience. The always-messy entanglement of immigration and marriage, speaking Spanish so Black it flows and makes others stop to listen, and the complex mathematics of sending money to family back home. Marte is at her most vulnerable in these moments, and it is a luxury and blessing to revel in these shared experiences with her.
An unapologetically Black Latina, Marte’s refusal to be made lesser, to be one or the other, is refreshing to say the least. For too long, children of the diaspora have forced ourselves to transform our identity into something palatable. Plantains and Our Becoming is a reminder that we are everything, our ancestors are with us, and the island wind whispers our names.
Visit our bookshop to purchase a copy of PLANTAINS AND OUR BECOMING.
About the Author:
Melania Luisa Marte is an American writer, poet, and musician from New York living between Dallas and The Dominican Republic. Marte's poetry explores her Caribbean roots, intersectionality, and self-love. Her most viral poem “Afro-Latina” was featured by Instagram on their IG TV for National Poetry Month and has garnered over 9 million views. Her work has also been featured by Ain’t I Latina, Mitu, The Root, Teen Vogue, Facebook, Telemundo, Remezcla, Pop Sugar, AfroPunk, and People En Español.
Melania’s won two Audie awards for her most recent voice-over work co-narrating novel-in-verse, CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo. Marte’s latest commissioned work includes a commercial poem for McDonald’s ‘Hacer Mas’ scholarship campaign as well as starring in and writing a unique poem for Facebook’s 2020 Heritage Month celebration. Last year Melania co-wrote and starred in Instagram´s Somos Limitless campaign and this year she has had the honor of performing for White House´s Virtual Celebration of Afro-Latino Heritage.
For Melania, music has become “another fountain of endless poetry to unravel the spirit.” As a seasoned writer, she has challenged herself to expand past any limitations and explore the dynamic creativity of her artistic projects. Marte´s current writing project is exploring Black preservation through land cultivation, herbal-ism, and naps as a bridge to connect to ancestral knowledge.
Marte is currently working on a poetic musical project to be released next year. You can follow her journey on social media: @MelaTocaTierra.
Rachel De La Cruz is a Dominican reader and writer(she/her). She earned her Communications AA from Union College (NJ), where she served as president of the American Honors Council and worked in the college's archives. She is passionate about literature, history, and advocacy. Rachel is currently pursuing her BA at Amherst College.