This paper is both a personal reflection and critical analysis of the circulation of the poem “Rotundamente negra” by Afro-Costa Rican poet and cultural activist Shirley Campbell among Afro-descendant women in Latin America. As I heard various recitations and interpretations of the poem at several meetings of Afro-descendant social movements across the Americas, I was also bearing witness to the process by which creative cultural expressions become politicized and popularized by their audiences, especially Afro-descendant women, to reflect a collective desire, goal, and identity.
When the poem was first published in 1994, its circulation was limited among literary circles in Costa Rica and the local Afro-Costa Rican women's movement. Now a quick search on Google reveals hundreds of “hits” on social media sites and electronic magazines, revealing not only the impact of technology, but also of the physical transnational flows of Afro-descendant women and their ideas at conferences, meeting one another, and finding common ground through political activism and poetry. Most significant is the meaning women attach to the poem and the places where it is interpreted, recited, or posted. The circulation and the appeal of the poem signals that Black women in various parts of the Americas are collectively using it not only as a tool of self-expression, but also as a point of departure for consciousness-raising, identity formation, and collective action.
In a region where Black women live doubly-invisible lives amongst the most marginalized of the hemisphere, the poem is both a self-affirmation and a battle cry. The poem relates to the “everyday” of Black women's lives and reveals itself to be a seemingly “innocent” but influential tool of empowerment. Black women recognize themselves in the verses and they “recognize the array of forces controlling their lives” (Bobo 1995, 6). “Rotundamente negra” politicizes as it circulates through the Americas with its message of racial identification and pride that defies the homogenizing tendencies of mestizaje and blanqueamiento. The poem has become an affirming instrument to support, but also a meaningful platform for Black women's organizations, activists, and individuals.