What is Negrismo?

Negrismo was a term born in the Hispanic Caribbean at the beginning of the 20th century. As a literary movement, it emerged with the francophone Negritude between World War I and World War II. Here, we should also consider the Harlem Renaissance in the US. Negrista poets largely emphasized the biological and cultural hybridity of AfroCaribbean people, centering on the performative aspects of poetry such as AfroCuban dancers, singers, and percussionists.

(Initially, negristas were not AfroCaribbean but whites who had better access to institutions and told the stories of African descendants and not always in fairness or the best light.)

With this, it is important to note that AfroCaribbean poets did not all view blackness or Africaness the same (similar to some of us today). There were poets who dedicated themselves as encompassing nations, whereas others positioned themselves as encompassing solely Africa. 

Above, Nicolas Guillen wrote “Balada de los dos Abuelos”:

Sombras que solo yo veo,
Me escoltan mis dos abuelos,
Mi abuelo negro,
Mi abuelo blanco (Summa Poetica 91) 

[Shadows that only I see,
My two grandfathers escort me,
My black grandfather,
My white grandfather.]

Contrasting, Arsenio Rodriguez wrote less of this hybridization in “Yo Naci del Africa”

Yo no soy Rodriguez
Yo no soy Travieso
Tal vez soy Lumumba
Tal Vez soy Kasavubu
Yo naci del Africa
Si, Africa
Soy el Congo
Tu eres mi tierra, mi tierra linda.

[I was born in Africa
I am not a Rodriguez
I am not a Travieso
Perhaps I am a Lumumba
Perhaps a Kasavubu
I was born of Africa
Yes, Africa
I am the Congo
You are my homeland]

Rodriguez’s poem reflects the difficulty of Black Cubans to become full fledged citizens upon Cuba’s independence (see ‘A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in 20th Century Cuba by Alejandro de la Fuente’). 


So here (briefly), we see through even 20th century poetry that there has not always been a consensus on what it means to be an African descendant from the Hispanic Caribbean. Some of us hold different positions and express ourselves therefore differently even today. It’s important that this discussion continues, that we consider history, literature, psychology, etc as we place 'AfroLatin@’ into context.


Negrismo and Negritude in The AfroCaribbean Cultural Labyrinth by Mamadou Badiane