Junot Díaz recently gave students at the University of Missouri a lesson on the history of sexual violence.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, the featured speaker at an MU celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 22, shared his thoughts on white supremacy, privilege and immigration.
KBIA, the National Public Radio member station in Columbia, Missouri, posted excerpts from his speech on Tuesday. After opening his talk with a reading of his award-winning novel The Wondrous life of Oscar Wao, the Dominican-born novelist spoke about slavery and the sexual violence that led to the mixing of races.
“My work, among many of the things that it wrestles with, wrestles with the kind of, the often invisible and vigorously disavowed, long shadow of enslavement,” Díaz said. “I’m very much interested in how people like me, who are part of the African Diasporic community, and how do we deal with the consequences of the fallout from the calamity that we call slavery.”
He continued: “And most specifically, I’m kind of interested in how do bodies like mine that were raped into existence – our community doesn’t look the way it looks without systematic rape – and so how do communities like ours, with this long history of sexual violence and sexual predation, how do we as a consequence of that wrestle with the possibility of intimacy? In other words, where does love reside in bodies that spent centuries being told that they could not partake in love?”
“How do communities like ours, with this long history of sexual violence and sexual predation, how do we as a consequence of that wrestle with the possibility of intimacy?"”
Dominican artist Zahira Kelly-Cabrera shared a similar perspective with HuffPost last month in a conversation about how sexual harassment and sexual assault manifests differently for women of color.
“The Dominican Republic is where some of the early slave ships arrived in the Americas; it was the place of some of the early indigenous massacres,” Kelly-Cabrera said. “Colonists thought, ‘You’re wearing a little bit less than the women where we’re from, so you deserve to be sexually assaulted.’ And that’s applied to both native and African women.”
“That’s how we ended up mixed; it wasn’t some beautiful white and native love stuff,” Kelly-Cabrera said. “It was not ‘Pocahontas.’ It was mass rape toward native women and toward the African-enslaved women that they brought to Latin America and everywhere.”
You can listen to more excerpts from Díaz at the University of Missouri event at KBIA.org.