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LA ÑAPA

In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to "the little extra" added on at the end. Just when you thought you'd gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker's dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.

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I thought I'd share the speech I wrote and my cousin Juan TomÁs Tavares translated and read at the awards ceremony for the Caonabo de Oro, 2018, a medal awarded each year to Dominican writers and journalists who have advanced the practice of their craft over the course of a lifetime. This is the first time that the medal has been awarded to a writer of the Dominican diaspora who writes in English.

Quisiera Yo Tocar -- I Would Like to Touch

Julia Alvarez

I feel very honored to receive this award which represents inclusion in the country of my heart, of my ancestors, and my extended familia. We who are part of a diaspora often feel left out of both our homeland and our adopted land. We live on borders and perhaps for that reason I've always felt solidarity with those left out. But your welcome reminds me that in the world of the imagination such borders don't exist. To be honored by my fellow Dominicans, who can hear my Spanish in my English and who acknowledge that I have carried our stories and history far from home into another country and language is a very special honor indeed.
One of the things that we learn through literature is inclusion. "Cada cabeza es un mundo." Every human being has a story and literature embraces them all. There is no hierarchy, no class system in this world of the imagination. Terrence, the Roman playwright, who was a slave and freed himself with his writings, put it this way: I am a human being, nothing human is alien to me. That is the writer's credo, the reader's credo. When we read we become other people very different from ourselves: a Danish prince, an African slave, a Spanish madman, a Haitian girl. Borders fall away.
In these grim and divisive times, I find in this is a flame of hope. That we can connect deeply through story and be reminded of our common humanity. Everyone is welcomed at the table of literature. No one is barred. There is nourishment for all. I love the poet César Vallejo's description of his job as a writer:
Quisiera yo tocar todas las puertas,
y suplicar a no sé quién, perdón
y hacerle pedacitos de pan fresco
aqui, en el horno de mi corazón.
I wish I could knock on all the doors
and ask someone's forgiveness,
and make little pieces of fresh bread for him
here, in the oven of my heart . . . !
The writer's wish is to knock on every door. To provide the bread that feeds the imagination and enlarges the spirit. We ask forgiveness because we know that what we create won't feed the whole human family. We can't feed those who don't know how to read. We can't feed those who don't have access to books or education. We can't feed those who don't have the basics, a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs. And yet we have to continue making our small amount of bread in the oven of our hearts as if it can make a difference.
But that is not enough. The privileges we have enjoyed must be extended to everyone else. We are all one human family. The challenge for all of us is how to take that knowledge off the page and beyond our own families and friends and make the words flesh, deeds, action. Unless we do that, the books we write and the books we read remain the exclusive domain of the lucky and privileged few.
And so, again, I thank you for this honor. I congratulate my fellow premiados, Jeanette Miller and Bolívar Díaz Gómez, and my cousin Juan Tomás Tavares for bringing my words to you tonight.* And most of all, I want to call out to the next generation of writers. We need your help, your hope and fresh perspectives to continue the work of inspiring and feeding each other! There are so many doors to knock on, and the oven of any one heart is too small to make all the bread that is still needed to feed our human family.
* Spanish translation --by Juan Tomás Tavares below

Quisiera Yo Tocar -- I Would Like to Touch

Julia Álvarez

Me siento muy honrada de recibir este reconocimiento que significa inclusión en el país de mi corazón, de mis ancestros y de mi familia extendida. Las personas que somos parte de una diáspora con frecuencia nos sentimos excluidas tanto de nuestra patria como de nuestro país de adopción. Vivimos en fronteras y quizás por eso siempre he sentido solidaridad por los excluidos. Pero su bienvenida me recuerda que en el mundo de la imaginación esas fronteras no existen. Ser reconocida por mis paisanos dominicanos, escuchando mi español en mi inglés y reconociendo que he llevado nuestra historia y nuestras leyendas lejos de casa hasta otro país y otro idioma, es en verdad un honor muy especial.
Una de las lecciones que aprendemos de la literatura es la inclusión. "Cada cabeza es un mundo." Cada ser humano tiene su historia y la literatura las engloba todas. No hay jerarquía ni sistema de clases en este mundo de la imaginación. Terencio, el dramaturgo romano, esclavo que se liberó con sus escritos, lo expresó de esta manera: "Hombre soy; nada humano me es ajeno." Este es el credo del escritor, el credo del lector. Al leer nos transformamos en otra gente muy diferente de nosotros: un príncipe danés, un esclavo africano, un loco espaéol, una niéa haitiana. Las fronteras desvanecen.
En estos sombríos tiempos divisivos, esta es una llama de esperanza. Poder conectarnos por relato y recordarnos de nuestra humanidad compartida. Todos estamos bienvenidos en la mesa de la literatura. Nadie queda excluido. Hay alimento para todos. Adora la descripción del poeta, Cesar Vallejo, de su oficio como escritor:
quisiera yo tocar todas las puertas,
y suplicar a no sé quién, perdón,
y hacerle pedacitos de pan fresco
aquí, en el horno de mi corazón...!
El deseo del escritor es tocar a cada puerta. Proveer pan que alimenta la imaginación y engrandece el espíritu. Pedimos perdón porque sabemos que lo que creamos no alimentará a toda la familia humana. No podemos satisfacer a los que no pueden leer. No podemos alimentar a las personas que no tienen acceso a libros y educación. No podemos alimentar a quienes no poseen las necesidades básicas, un techo para guarecerse, alimentos en sus estómagos. Pero debemos seguir haciendo nuestra pequeéa cantidad de pan en el horno de nuestros corazones como si esto hiciera una diferencia.
Pero no es suficiente. Los privilegios que hemos disfrutado deben ser ampliados a todos. Todos formamos una familia humana. El reto que tenemos todos es como extraer ese conocimiento de la página y más allá de nuestras familias y amistades para hacer de las palabras carne, hechos, acción. Si no hacemos eso, los libros que escribimos permanecerán del exclusivo dominio unos pocos afortunados y privilegiados.
Entonces de nuevo les agradezco este reconocimiento. Y felicito a mis colegas premiados, Jeanette Miller y Ramon Colombo, y agradezco a mi primo Juan Tomás Tavares, por presentarles mis palabras esta noche. Y sobre todo, quiero aprovechar para hacer un llamado a la nueva generación de escritores. Necesitamos de su ayuda, su esperanza y perspectivas frescas para continuar la tarea de inspirarse y alimentarse mutuamente. Hay tantas puertas que tocar, y el horno de un corazón es demasiado pequeéo para hacer todo el pan requerido para alimentar a nuestra familia humana.
Julia Álvarez
October 9, 2018
Copyright © Julia Alvarez 2018-2018.
All rights reserved. No further duplication, downloading or
distribution permitted without written agreement of the author
(please contact my agent, Stuart Bernstein).
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