Brandon Rigby: Representations of the “Other” and the Work of Poet Urayoán Noel

Graduate Student Research Project

Puerto Rican flags on display in windows on the Lower East Side / courtesy Brandon Rigby.
Puerto Rican flags on display in windows on the Lower East Side / courtesy Brandon Rigby.

Visitors to Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx on a summer afternoon might think that they have been transported from the South Bronx to one of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands. Between children playing tag in Dominican-tinged Spanish, vendors selling piraguas, or Puerto Rican snow cones, and groups of retired men playing dominoes, it is slightly difficult to imagine that Yankee Stadium is only two blocks away. This vibrant, multicultural atmosphere provided an invaluable depth to my research on the poet Urayoán Noel that has allowed me to better contextualize the diaspora of Caribbean culture in New York.  

I traveled to New York City in June 2013 to research the connection between the city and Puerto Rico, and to also interview Noel. As a Puerto Rican poet who has lived in New York City since 1999, Noel is perfectly situated to confront and critique our increasingly globalized world from a uniquely Caribbean Latino perspective. As I walked with Noel through his adopted New York neighborhood, we talked about the aesthetic and cultural similarities of the South Bronx with Puerto Rico, and the transnational link that the Puerto Rican diaspora has established in the area.

I’ve always been struck by the prominence of locality and liminality in Noel’s poetry, as the poetic voice emanates from a space between two very different but interconnected worlds. It was eye-opening in New York to be able to view, document, and interact with this “diaspora in motion,” a way of living this in-betweenness for millions of Caribbean Latinos. As with any great writer, Noel is shaped by the milieu around him, but he also is able to re-present it in a way that depicts our interconnected planet, using the transnational Puerto Rican diaspora in New York as a microcosm for our globalized world.

—Brandon Rigby is a PhD student in the Department of Romance Languages, and he is also completing a Master’s of Nonprofit Management in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management. His research trip to New York was partially funded by a CLLAS Graduate Student Research Grant. His research interests include bilingualism, self-translation, diaspora studies, and service-learning.