Grisel Acosta



Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta is an associate professor at the City University of New York-BCC. She is the editor of the recently published Routledge anthology, Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity. Select works can also be found in the American Studies Journal, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, The Lauryn Hill Reader, and the forthcoming sci-fi anthology, The Latinx Archive. Dr. Acosta is a Macondo Fellow, a Geraldine Dodge Foundation poet, and a regional representative for the Modern Language Association. Her website is

REVIEW OF Roberto Carlos García, black/Maybe. Detroit, Michigan: Willow Books, 2018; 68 pages, ISBN 978-0-9992232-9-1 (paper)


Roberto Carlos García’s hybrid poetry collection, black/Maybe, is both a Caribbean/U.S. history lesson and an intimate view of how colorism and systemic racism in the Latinx community—and among those who interact with Latinos/as—hinders the possibility for intimacy and worthwhile friendship or familial bonding. Five movements in the book are separated by stark black pages, which is how one might imagine narrow-minded people might perceive any and all color, without the nuance that García expertly depicts and explores in all the pages in between the inky separations. This work, in García’s own words, points out that “the Latinx community, has some serious reckoning to do with racialism and racism” (Mendez 2018). The author is writing directly to Latinos who have not come to terms with Latin America’s African ancestry and accepted their own family lineage. However, it also asks African Americans, and other folks in the United States, to know the history of their Latinx friends and peers, to understand that some of us are just as Black as someone who is not of Latino descent.

There are many epigraphs in black/Maybe, from authors and leaders like Aimé Césaire, Amiri Baraka, and James Baldwin that, essentially, create a DJ sampling of the context of García’s world, demonstrating to the reader that a Black Latino’s experience in the U.S. is parallel to anyone who is Black in the U.S. Indeed, the author starts us with imagery of “the two-family homes…leaning like they partied too hard” in the spaces where he was raised, which included Harlem, Washington Heights, the Bronx (9). As he reflects on this past, his new circumstances, in the suburbs, bring on neighbors who drop microaggressions within a casual chat, stating, “you should repave that sidewalk….This ain’t the hood, you know” (10). The complexity of this interaction lies in multi-layered memories of Afro-ancestry harkening back to the Euphrates, and then memories of hunger in el Barrio, and finally the realization that the goal of a single-family home does not come without a price. This is not a nostalgic view of the ‘hood or an idealistic view of attaining one’s goal of owning a house. All the situations are complicated for the Afro-Latino.

 We can imagine the Afro-Latinx subject mowing his lawn and reflecting on how he got to this place, and the first significant interaction he recalls is with Mamá Ana, who the narrator converses with throughout the collection. He asks her about her “flat nose” and the subject becomes a shut door when she answers, “We’re not black, we’re tan   Now callate!” (13). This kind of denial still occurs today among many Afro-Latinos, mainly due to the policies in various Latin American countries that force them to deny their Afro-ancestry or face dire consequences such as deportation or death. García, who has multiple works in the collection that are more essay than poetry, covers this subject extensively in the last section of the book, where he references the work of Willie Perdomo and Trujillo’s violent racism towards his own people. It is significant to note that, currently, the dictator’s grandson is running in the 2020 general election in the D.R., and many folks are concerned that this will bring back the divisive fascism that the elder held over the country. In other words, the denial of Blackness in the Latinx community continues to permeate the collective psyche. Garcia’s answer to is be radically open-minded to counteract the neoliberal tendencies in Latin America. He states that Dominicans who arrived recently to the U.S., “watched me suspiciously…my easygoing nature with black, white, gay, and straight” people (62). His motto was, “fuck your racist bullshit. You don’t even know your history” (62).

However, the most painful rejection comes in the form of a more educated class of Black man who denies a connection with García because a Black Latino is not an African American, and therefore, is not Black. In the poem, “The day a poet I looked-up-to clowned me” he states, “I just finished saying my last name/when he smiled real big/& nudged me aside” (20). Even though García had found solace in the same literature and subjects as this poet, the poet also refused to see his Blackness, just like Mamá Ana. When an Afro-Latino is denied by both family and literary colleagues, the sting is formidable. García traces this pattern of categorization and denial to the Castas paintings, which are depicted on the cover of the collection. When the Spanish came, they had to figure out an economic system that kept those who they wanted to keep as slaves in their place, and the Castas imagery created that system. The heteronormative grid depicts a series of possible interracial marriages and where they are in a hierarchical order. Races imagined to be “purer” are at the top and races that are generally darker in skin color and more “mixed” are at the bottom. In his poem, “Casta,” García follows the chronology of our racial categories, starting with the conquest, continuing with the Castas, and continuing with current racial categories found on the census forms of today, all with the repeated refrain, “And It Goes On” (23-24). One can see how white supremacists might continue to use these categories, as it is in their nature to create these separations, but what García thoughtfully points out is how everyone perpetuates these separations, even those of us who have a shared history.

García reminds the reader of a similar irony in his poem, “Irony,” which recalls Israeli Minister Eli Yishai’s attacks on undocumented African immigrants in Israel, where Eritrean, Sudanese, and Darfurians were tragically burned alive in a building. He references “The Merchant of Venice,” in the poem’s closing lines:

We are pricked & bleed

We are poisoned & die

                           If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that (46).

The needless violence against Black men is echoed in a later poem, “Art imitating death,” where García recalls the murder of 18-year-old Israel Hernandez-Llach, who was shocked in the chest with a Taser by Miami police and was killed. This was in response to Hernandez-Llach being a graffiti artist. García writes, “Zzzzzzzap Zzzzzzzap/(high fives)  (hooting)  (hollering)/Hey  He’s not moving” (49).

What García, in effect, does with this collection is show the timeline of dehumanization of the Afro-Latino, how that affects not only one’s identity but also how one is perceived by others and, ultimately, the violence that occurs as a result of this dehumanizing categorization. García notes in multiple poems that this racism/colorism goes hand in hand with sexism and misogyny/toxic masculinity. I would urge folks to read black/Maybe alongside works by Willie Perdomo and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. All the collections explore the Black experience in similar ways and/or in ways that contrast and supplement each other, particularly in terms of microaggressions experienced in a variety of contexts and the isolation that one can feel when in academic or privileged environments. García’s collection is definitely in the same category in terms of themes and quality.


Mendez, Jasminne. “Roberto Carlos García.” Platano Poetry Café. 15 Apr. 2018.

         5 May 2018.


The Acentos Review 2019