Peer Reviewed

Exclusive to M/m Print Plus

Desdoblamiento after Colonization: Julia de Burgos’s Latinx Modernism

Black and white photograph of woman's face
Fig. 1. Julia de Burgos. Courtesy Miriam Jiménez Román, Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library and Archives, Hunter College, City University of New York.


Julia de Burgos (1914–53), one of Puerto Rico’s greatest poets, haunts the American literary imagination from the borders of the modern.[1] Her ghostly presence, desperate and furious, searches for interlocutors on the bridge to Welfare Island, historically a warehouse for the poor, the criminalized and sick just east of the United Nations. Julia’s barefoot figure wandering across that bridge in her bata, just as she describes in letters to her sister Consuelo in 1953, positions her to catch the eye of today’s visitors to the newly restored and renamed Roosevelt Island, which offers no physical reminders of this important Puerto Rican and American poet’s residence there. Nothing in the island’s glistening white granite park mentions the two poems Burgos wrote in English when Roosevelt Island was Welfare Island, months before her death in Spanish Harlem.

Her invisibility on the island today recalls Burgos’s marginality in scholarship on literary modernism.[2] But her writing should figure in these discussions, especially since the rise of “new” and “bad” transnational modernisms, which as Marissa K. López signals, are only beginning to “grapple seriously with the Americas and to consider the violence against people of color upon which imperial modernity depends.”[3] Burgos transgressively writes from the borders of an empire city with a decolonial critique that, as Simon Gikandi has argued, makes modernism possible.

Just off Manhattan in the East River, the Roosevelt Island tour jumps from indigent nineteenth-century European immigrants and the Smallpox Hospital to the Estonian immigrant architect Louis Kahn without stopping for a minute in the pre-McCarthy Era when Burgos did time in the island’s hospitals. The park’s perspectival focus and carefully spaced little-leaf linden trees along perfectly combed gravel allées lead to a ceiling-less granite room at the southern end of the tiny island, which the great modernist architect Kahn envisioned as “an extension of self” (fig. 2, fig. 3).[4]

Photo of large block with inscription
Fig. 2. Louis Kahn's "Four Freedoms Park." Courtesy of Arne Maasik of the Louis I. Khan Foundation.


Black and white photograph of modern hospital
Fig. 3. Goldwater Memorial Hospital. Courtesy of Charles Giraudet. See his photo essay, “Autopsy of a Hospital: a Photographic Record of Coler Goldwater on Roosevelt Island,” available at, a Publication of the Architectural League of New York.


Kahn’s representation of his stable, granite-walled “self” contrasts with Julia de Burgos’s poetic self-representation as fragmented, emerging from nothing, and silenced: a representation of unresolved contradiction as possibility. Slivers of air separate the thick walls of Kahn’s stone room and permit the visitor to gaze out but limits the outsider’s ability to see in. An enormous bust of Roosevelt and a quote from his 1941 State of the Union address on the Four Freedoms lies at the center. Whereas Kahn’s grandiose memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt fixes the fortified North American individual, Burgos’s use of desdoblamiento (an untranslatable that means both “unfolding” and “splitting”) makes legible the performance of her “yo, multiple” (Burgos; I, multiple; Obra poética, 11), which I read as a key to her Latinx modernism, a term that refers to an aesthetic that diverges from the mainstream modernism characterized by abstraction and self-referentiality that dominated literary and art institutions in the mid-twentieth century.[5]

Kahn and Burgos figure the subject differently within their respective modernisms—the former honored by the Museum of Modern Art and the Ivy League and the latter remembered mostly in Puerto Rico, the Latinx diaspora, or in histories of great women poets, at least until quite recently.[6] Similarly, Roosevelt and Burgos’s practices of freedom were in tense relation, if not virulently at odds. Some may remember Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” as the culmination of his progressive 1930s New Deal (to which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” alludes), as a bedrock for the welfare state and as fortifying still embattled freedoms of speech and basic rights to food and shelter. But Burgos encountered Roosevelt’s “freedoms” through the policies and leadership of liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, whom Roosevelt appointed to head the new Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) in 1940 and who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs (1944–45), the years when Burgos was working as a translator and secretary for the CIAA. Rockefeller’s vision for Caribbean and Latin American economic development promoted U.S. business interests and warded off “nationalist and communist threats to corporate endeavors overseas.”[7] Roosevelt’s administration under Rockefeller’s guidance did not tolerate movements for Puerto Rican independence nor workers’ rights, much less freedom of speech for Burgos’s “anti-colonial, anti-imperial politics.”[8]

The four freedoms announced by Roosevelt in 1941, glorified by Kahn in 1973, and reaffirmed upon the park’s renaming in 2012, were not available for Burgos and many like her. In 1953 on Welfare Island, she clamored against her “encarcelamiento” (Burgos, Cartas a Consuelo, 216; incarceration), and catalogued her metaphorical and literal hunger in letters to her sister, Consuelo Burgos: “tengo hambre de Libertad” (216; I hunger for freedom).[9] The politically motivated firing from her job, repression in Puerto Rico under the thumb of Roosevelt’s appointees (such as the Georgia-born Governor of Puerto Rico between 1934–1939, Blanton C. Winship), and racialized economic precarity of the Caribbean migrants in New York inform her self–portrait as silenced in the era of Roosevelt’s outspoken defense of the “four freedoms.”

Burgos’s poetry and letters register this imposition of silence. For example, a poem from her second collection, Canción de la Verdad Sencilla (1939), reiterates in three different stanzas her status as “callada” (silenced), an effect of a suppression to which she responds with irrepressible repetitions.[10] The two closing stanzas of “Yo fuí la más callada” (I was the most silenced) associate silence with anguish, and poetry as a remedy:

               Yo fui la más callada.                                                

La voz casi sin eco.                                                   

La conciencia tendida en sílaba de angustia,               

desparramada y tierna, por todos los silencios.            

               Yo fui la más callada.                                                

La que saltó la tierra sin más arma que un verso.         

¡Y aquí me veis, estrellas,                                          

desparramada y tierna, con su amor en mi pecho!      


              I was the most quiet

The voice almost without echo.

The conscience spread in a syllable of anguish,

scattered and tender, through all the silences.

               I was the most quiet.

The one who leapt from earth with no weapon [except a verse.]

And here you see me, stars,

scattered and tender, with your love in my breast!

(“Yo Fui la más callada,” Obra poética, 79; I Was the Most Quiet,” Song of the Simple Truth, 111)

Burgos claims poetry as the only weapon she uses to express her “syllable of anguish,” spilled or dispersed (desparramada) in a war zone, despite the risk. This poem performs her silencing and her refusal to remain silent. Privileged U. S. citizens who enjoy freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from hunger and freedom from want rarely attend to Latin Americans in their homelands, nor Latinx migrants on the mainland. Burgos's poetic voice was so inaudible that the poet's colloquy was only with the night’s stars. Whereas she defends the masses in rebellion in Puerto Rico and even position herself amongst them (as we shall see), Burgos' verse breaks silence on the margins of mainstream aesthetics and articulates a rebellious Latinx modernism that foregrounds its relationship to colonization.

Burgos worries the precise lines of the Four Freedoms park as a disruptive figure of Latinx modernism, an emerging field that scholars such as John Alba Cutler, Yolanda Padilla, David A. Colón, López and others are elaborating as an intervention into modernist and Latinx studies, in a move analogous to Jesse Alemán and Rodrigo Lazo’s generative reimagining of nineteenth century studies.[11] Cutler’s research signals the large, insufficiently explored archive of infrequently translated Spanish language literature in periodicals in the United States between 1890–1945, and aims to reconnect Latinx and modernist studies by showing how Latinx modernism has always been at the crossroads of and has helped transform hemispheric literary movements, including modernism.[12] Burgos haunts us because of her continuing marginality in modernist literary history and in the public memory of her “segunda casa” (second home) despite Manny Vega’s and Yasmín Hernández’s murals in El Barrio, the U.S. postage stamp with Burgos on it and Spanish Harlem’s Julia de Burgos Performance and Arts Center.[13] Even with the appearance of major publications related to her biography, feminism, and textual corpus––her letters, a diary of an extended stay on Welfare Island, and two previously uncollected poems––modernist studies has yet to acknowledge Burgos’s contributions.[14] Through poetic revolt, Burgos’s Latinx modernism affords a decolonial escape from imperial modernity’s silence.

Desdoblamiento and Decoloniality

Yo quise ser como los hombres quisieron que yo fuese:        

un intento de vida;                                                              

un juego al escondite con mi ser.                                         

Pero yo estaba hecha de presentes,                                      


I wanted to be like men wanted me to be:

an attempt at life;

a game of hide and seek with my being.

But I was made of nows,                             

(“Yo misma fui mi ruta,” Obra poética, 38; “I Was My Own Route,” Song of the Simple Truth, 57)          

The first Director of Puerto Rican Studies at Rutgers University and thus an early practitioner of the interdisciplinary field that has become Latinx Studies, the poet, and playwright Víctor Fragoso (1944–82) underscores the signature device of Burgos’s modernist innovation: desdoblamiento. In the opening sentence of his unpublished essay, “La Pasión de Julia de Burgos” (The Passion of Julia de Burgos), Fragoso observes how the Burgos's psychic anguish informed by colonization shapes her poetic form. Burgos’s poetry self-consciously stages the fragmentation of the poetic persona, a classic modernist gesture: “Su obra poética es la plasmación de ese proceso [de desdoblamiento] en toda su contradicción, en su desgarradora dualidad”; her poetic work is an expression of this process [of desdoblamiento] in all its contradictions, in its gut-wrenching duality (Fragoso, “La Pasión de Julia de Burgos,” MS page 1).[15] An effect of her strong dissatisfaction with her two islands' historical conditions and social expectations, Burgos’s “process” of desdoblamiento evokes the tension between her passionate pursuits, and the expectation of her submission and self-censorship. Quoting Burgos’s letters (which in the 1970s was an archive to which he had unique access as a member of the poet’s extended family), Fragoso notes the tension between desire and social expectations when he quotes her description of feeling trapped by her own circumstances and even by her own attempts to raise herself up: “siempre he caído arrastrada en mis propias alas para quedar enredada en la más inmovible realidad” (Burgos to Consuelo Sáez Burgos, 9 mayo 1940, Cartas a Consuelo, 35; quoted by Fragoso, “La Pasión” MS page 1; I have always fallen, dragged down by my own wings and tangled in the most immobile reality). The process of desdoblamiento proves her most effective response to a seemingly immutable set of circumstances that hindered Burgos from soaring to stardom as the major writer that she was.

Desdoblamiento, a literary and psycholinguistic untranslatable in the sense defined by Barbara Cassin, refers in Spanish and Latin American letters to the doubling of the author or narrator, often through the inclusion of the author’s name in the literary text.[16] But this marvelous poetic and philosophical resource exemplifies untranslatability in Burgos’s hands. In Burgos’s poetry it reveals modernist impulses of self–invention, without arriving at any easy resolution to formative contradictions. Scholars have discussed desdoblamiento in work by Miguel de Unamuno, Jorges Luis Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti, Carlos Fuentes, among others.[17] A classic example is Borges’ 1960 story, “Borges y yo,” which invents a persona for “Borges” in the text that diverges from that of the historical author while retaining uncanny similarities, so it becomes difficult to tell them apart. In conversation with Willis Barnstone, Borges expresses admiration for Walt Whitman’s poetic self–invention as a “divine vagabond,” a persona distinct from the man who died in Camden, who figures by name in his poetic text, and finally, as the persona invented by many readers each time they hold him in their hands.  Santiago Rojas observes that Borges' reading of Whitman identifies the Argentine's own practice of desdoblamiento, which gives Whitman multitudinous futurity, in a way that pertains to Burgos' desdoblamiento.[18]

Burgos echoes Whitman and prefigures Borges without settling upon a fixed alter ego to a boring or unhappy authorial self. Burgos' "yo" remains more fragmented and particular than either Whitman or Borges's:

Yo, múltiple,                                                  

como en contradicción                                  

atada a un sentimiento sin orillas                  

que me une y me desune                                


I, multiple,

as if in contradiction, 

bound to a feeling without borders

that unites and disunites me.

(“Momentos,” Obra poética, 11; Song of the Simple Truth, 14–15, Agüeros translation modified)

If Whitman is large and contains multitudes and Borges invents a fantastic, fictional alternate self, Burgos posits multiple, contradictory personas, sometimes in conflict. Burgos enjoys Whitman’s sense of borderlessness and at the same time describes feeling undone by such overwhelming expansiveness, an intense feeling that simultaneously fragments her "yo." Unlike Whitman and Borges, Burgos's desdoblamiento acknowledges contradictions and violence among the these selves, shards of a non-unitary, fragmented subject. She breaks the lyrical “I” into multiple psychic locations, divided by class, the color line, language, levels of conformity to prescribed gender-sex roles and by social class.

Desdoblamiento contains contradictory meanings such as “elucidation” or “unfolding,” alongside the violent disjuncture of “splitting.” [19] Burgos’s poetic desdoblamiento performs the impossibility of a single translation. More than a doppelgänger, or an imaginary persona that contrasts with the unremarkable or miserable life of the staid author, Burgos’s desdoblamiento maps the severing of the speaking subject from her body at a moment of violent apprehension or denigration. In the process of self-invention, Burgos’s multiplicitous “I” refuses to anchor through her “otherness” the pretention of the authorial self or authoritarian state. Offering an escape route from colonial and gendered violence, her desdoblamiento also figures a way out of embodied victimization, by representing the psychic effects of the resulting trauma. desdoblamiento permits Burgos to explore in writing experiences of nonsovereignty and breakdown––in post-occupation Puerto Rico, during several hospitalizations in New York, and in the aftermath of the F.B.I.’s interrogation of Burgos, which led to the loss of her last stable employment in Washington, D. C.

Burgos’s poetry teaches us that we cannot understand the emergence of U. S. American modernist literary forms apart from the colonial and imperial violence carried out by the U.S. in territories acquired through military invasion and occupation. If modernism refers in the broadest terms to aesthetic and philosophical movements featuring self-reflexivity, responding to the world-historical crises of the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, and experimenting with aesthetic form, Latinx modernism represents the effects of imperial modernity from both sides of U. S. borders: that is, from the perspective of the occupied, annexed or colonized, and of the migrant and her descendants inside the United States. It is this border perspective, including the borders of two imperial languages—Spanish and English—that gives Latinx modernism a peculiar intimacy with and divergence from Anglo and European-American modernism. Burgos’s poetry exemplifies how Latinx modernism exists in between and in relation to U. S. American modernism, but is not reducible to it.[20]

Latinx modernism and “high” modernism in New York belong to a common space of colonial encounter, but these could not become intelligible as coterminous and distinguishable from each other without a decolonial critique. I follow Ramón Grosfoguel, Aníbal Quijano, and Walter Mignolo in distinguishing the intertwined and interdependent formations of coloniality and modernity—two sides of the same coin—from historical processes of colonization and modernization. Per Grosfoguel, even if decolonization has resulted in a postcolonial nation-state (or a “freely associated” state or territory such as Puerto Rico), structures of epistemic coloniality persist. Burgos’s Latinx modernist poetics express an epistemic decoloniality, more trenchant than “old nationalist liberation or socialist strategies of taking power at the level of the nation-state,” because her writing addresses gendered, racialized forms of coloniality, before and beyond decolonization.[21]

This essay connects Latinx modernist aesthetics to the historical period when Burgos lived and worked, from post-1898 Puerto Rico up through nationalist leader Lolita Lebrón’s armed attack on the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954.[22] Burgos belongs to the period marked by U.S. annexation and colonization: she undergoes the sea change when the Foraker-Jones Act of 1917 transformed Puerto Ricans from “wards” into passport bearers who could be recruited to fight in U.S. wars but could not vote in presidential elections. Operation Bootstrap’s rapid and violent industrialization of the island pushed hundreds of thousands into poverty and then to the United States en masse in the 1940s and 1950s as part of an exodus that included Burgos and has been surpassed only by post-Hurricane María outmigration beginning in 2017. She belongs to a Latinx modernism that created literary forms in the afterlives of colonial displacement, including violent suppression of nationalist, student, and workers’ movements, as for example in the Ponce massacre of 1937, the Ley de Mordaza of 1938, and the imposition of English as a language of educational instruction throughout the island until 1949. Although Roosevelt’s administration pushed strongly for English-only schooling, stronger resistance in Puerto Rico returned Spanish as the main language of instruction.[23] According to Joshua Miller, the early twentieth century belongs to a phase of U.S. literary history in which multilingual modernists “decenter U.S. English as the singular ‘American Language.’”[24] Burgos belongs to this project too. In addition to the effect of immigrants transforming English through the persistent sounds and structures of other mother tongues, the annexation of an island or the northern half of Mexico demands that our theorizing of language difference consider the trenchant legacies of coloniality and empire in the Americas. Moreover, our theorizing of modernism in the United States ought to draw upon Spanish and English theoretical resources too, in order to think through untranslatables such as desdoblamiento.

The fragmentation and nonsovereignty of Burgos’s multiple “yo” reveal, moreover, the influence of the modernist practice of Baudelaire and his late nineteenth century contemporaries. Arthur Rimbaud posits a non-singular first person that shocks the bourgeoisie and fragments the subject with his cryptic and famous phrase, “Je est une autre” (Rimbaud, Complete, trans. ed. Wyatt Mason, 572, 366;Je est un autre”; “I is another”).[25] Burgos’s desdoblamiento reiterates this disjointed poetic “I.” Several of Burgos’s readers discuss the rhetorical salience of desdoblamiento in her most memorable poems, but few relate it to the modernist aesthetics that dominated Burgos’s world when she was growing up in Puerto Rico (1914–1939), when she resided and studied in Cuba (1940–1942) and during her sojourn in New York (1940, 1942–1953).[26] Burgos’s desdoblamiento stages the contradictions she embodied, between her desires and socially acceptable submissiveness, between herself as poet and as decorated author who speaks for the nation, and between the rebellious laboring darker-skinned classes in which she grew up and the bourgeois Eurocentric values she felt compelled to emulate. Burgos’s poetic refusal to adhere to prescribed forms, her self-invention, and embodiment of a decolonial route all signal Burgos's contributions to Latinx modernism.

Latinx and Other Modernisms

Burgos composes in the mode Gikandi has referred to as “other modernisms,” a grouping to which Latinx modernism belongs.[27] Living in New York as a migrant, Burgos describes herself as “partida en dos” (split in two) and torn “entre la esencia y la forma” (between form and essence), a figurative breaking that evokes the gap between her birthplace in a rural, recently occupied colony and the urban space of 1940s New York City (Burgos to Consuelo Burgos García, March 1, 1940, Cartas a Consuelo,18). Burgos refers to this contrast euphemistically as Puerto Rico's sadness, even as she reveals her ambivalent attachment to New York, which filled her with both alienation and creativity, as Li Yun Alvarado has argued ("Ambivalence and the Empire City" 75). According to her poetic descendant, Fragoso, Burgos was “de origen campesino” (Fragoso, “Dos poetas puertorriqueños desde Nueva York,” MS, 1); of agricultural laboring class-background), and grew up in Carolina, Puerto Rico, in a family of thirteen children, in which six of her siblings would die of malnutrition before reaching adulthood. With the major migration of Puerto Ricans to the metropole in the 1940s and 1950s, the split holding apart the colonized island and the modern empire city itself collapses.[28] Thus U.S. and Latinx modernities interact in what Kevin Meehan has called a “decolonizing contact zone,” a space of two-way contact that serves as a fundamental point of departure for Latinx modernism.[29] This contact does not begin with the mid–century migration to New York, but much earlier, with the U. S. occupation of Puerto Rico.

Gikandi attributes modernism to the historical motor of colonialism, a postulation that echoes theorists of colonial modernity and of transculturation, as articulated by Fernando Ortiz in 1940, and as taken up by Angel Rama and Mary Louise Pratt, to insist on the way the periphery shapes the metropole, not just vice versa.[30] Splintering a singular modernism, Gikandi’s theory of “other modernisms” adduces modernity as an effect of “encounter”––or less euphemistically––of violent and intractable conflict. According to Gikandi, these modernisms arise from “perhaps the most intense and unprecedented site of encounter between the institutions of European cultural production and the cultural practices of colonized peoples” (Gikandi, “Preface: Modernism in the World,” 421). Gikandi posits the dependence of European and European-identified (including white U.S.) modernity upon the less powerful, messier colonial or subaltern modernities that appear to be secondary, marginal, invisible, or imitative.[31] The emergent field of Latinx modernism—like Latinx literature more broadly—turns our attention to border sites as generative, rather than ancillary. Here we can see the need for a Latinx modernism not reducible to U.S. American modernism, because it emerges neither from a single nation, culture nor language, but from the friction of a contact zone. If high or imperial modernism develops with and through legacies of colonization, Latinx modernism expresses an agenda of decoloniality. Burgos’s poetics respond to these two-way interactions, from the space between languages, in the empire’s borderlands. This interpretation of Burgos seeks not merely the “inclusion” of a socially marginalized group’s art through the vertical and horizontal expansion of the existing modernist canon, but rather would shift modernist studies so that scholars can and must attend to unresolved struggle such as the New York-Caribbean borderlands.

Burgos––who studied philosophy, psychology, and literature at the University of Havana, and read Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and Stefan Zweig among others—straddled cultural, political, and social borders. She lived the intimate history of U. S. colonization and supported Puerto Rican independence, which makes it possible to consider her also as part of a tradition of poets such as William Butler Yeats, who lived in a world dominated by twentieth-century empires; she also felt she was becoming “universal” by moving to the cosmopolitan city of New York (Burgos to Consuelo Burgos García, 8 Feb 1940, Cartas a Consuelo, 11).[32] Scholars have fruitfully read Burgos in terms of her Puerto Rican contemporaries in la Generación del 30, and in terms of contemporary Latin American or Hispanic poets, both women and men. She belongs to a strand of Latinx modernist writers between the Empire City and the Caribbean threatened by annexation, from José Martí and Arturo Schomburg to Klemente Soto Vélez, Fragoso, and John Peter “Piri” Thomas.[33] Burgos writes mostly in Spanish, but also saw herself “poéticamente acompañada” (poetically accompanied) by European, British, and North American writers, especially after perfecting her English while living in the Northern metropolis.[34] We might read her comparative literary and philosophical influences as an affirmation of the larger multilingual literary field to which she belongs. Her self-ascribed lack of a single influence or illustrious origins comes across as postcolonial pessimism, dark humor, or a prescient awareness of the absence of any immutable ground for self-definition. For example, the poems, “Nada” (“Nothing”) and “Nada Soy” (“I Am Nothing”) parodically toast “el cierto no ser de nuestros cuerpos” (Burgos, Obra poética, 20; the certain nothingness of our bodies) “la nada de nuestros nunca cuerpos” (207; the nothing of our never bodies). These nihilistic commentaries ironically and excessively affirm that bodies matter, while foregrounding self-invention as opposed to a traditional, national, or patriarchal origin.[35] The aesthetic representation of desdoblamiento as an effect of her decolonial consciousness distinguishes her poetry as a Latinx modernist departure from nationalist romanticism.

Desdoblamiento as the Staging of Contradictions

Mienten, Julia de Burgos. Mienten, Julia de Burgos.

La que se alza en mis versos no es tu voz: es mi voz;

porque tú eres ropaje y la esencia soy yo;

y el más profundo abismo se tiende entre las dos.


They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.

She who arises in my verses is not your voice: it is my voice;

because you are mere trappings and the essence is me;

and the most profound abyss extends between them both.

(“A Julia de Burgos,” Obra Poetica, 3; “To Julia de Burgos,” Song of the Simple Truth, trans. Agüeros, 3)

In Burgos’s first, award winning volume, Poema en veinte surcos (Poem in Twenty Furrows) (San Juan, 1938), the poetic “I” becomes disjointed and at odds with itself through desdoblamiento. These first and most renowned verses draw upon this signature rhetorical device that articulates a decolonial and feminist route among contradictory fragments. Each of the twenty poems inside this self-published volume is a fertile row that the reader is invited to cultivate and harvest along with Burgos. She used the award money to print copies of the book and then sold them herself by travelling from town to town, raising funds for her mother’s cancer treatments. The title foregrounds the displaced rural mode of production that U.S. tutelage replaced with rapid urban industrialization during Operation Bootstrap, in the years after the U.S. military occupation that marked the young Burgos’s childhood indelibly.

Burgos’s poetic desdoblamiento plumbs the abyss between the poem’s speaking subject and the historical persona associated with the author’s name. In the collection’s first poem, “A Julia de Burgos,” tension congeals between the second person “tú,” referring to the author “Julia de Burgos,” and the “yo” of the poet who writes against her false, trapped namesake. The uncanny tethering and shocking tension between these two interlocutors becomes increasingly acute over a series of couplets that address contradictions of coloniality through the prisms of gender and class respectability. Through anaphora and repetition, the poem indicts its addressee gradually until it brings the contradiction to crisis.

“A Julia de Burgos” criticizes the social pressure for an unmarried woman of a certain class and color to cling to the role of an egotistical, bourgeois-aspiring “señora” by seeking the protection of a man, an elite class or colonial institution like the Catholic Church, as a route to social respectability. The poet figures Burgos as trapped by the threat of “el qué dirán” (Burgos, Agüeros trans., 2–3; what they will say), and reduced to a “fría muñeca de mentira social” (Burgos, Agüeros trans., 2–3; cold doll of social lies). This doll-like consumer––beholden to, as the poem specifies, the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall, the car, jewels, banquets, champagne, heaven and hell, and gossip––tries in vain to meet the expectations of the Church, the spouse, her family. As a resigned and submissive housewife and as “la grave señora señorona” (Burgos, Agüeros trans., 2–3; the serious lady, very madame), the author is supposed to pursue the predilections and prejudices prescribed by coloniality, patriarchy and capitalist modernity.

By contrast, the poet bristles at this expectation and rebels against a ladylike dependence upon and identification with the aristocratic elite. This critique permits the emergence of another “yo” (“I”) in formation, as the violent possibility that would come after, or through a culminating conflict. But the poem offers no resoution. desdoblamiento figures here as an unresolved dualism, dichotomy, and division between two contrasting and entangled forces:

Tú, flor de aristocracia; y yo, la flor del pueblo.         

Tú en ti lo tienes todo a todos se lo debes,                 

mientras que yo, mi nada a nadie se la debo.              


You, flower of the aristocracy; and I, flower of the people.

You in you have everything and you owe it to everyone

while me, my nothing I owe to nobody.

(“A Julia de Burgos” (To Julia de Burgos), Agüeros, trans. ed. Song of the Simple Truth, 2–5)

The caesura mid-line highlights the split between the poetic persona and the status seeking author. It figures a crisis in the process of self-definition, a derailed revolutionary project. The poet indicts the self who is a woman of the aristocracy for her lack of self-determination, while affirming its absence, or the penniless poet’s “nothing,” as a source of liberation. Thus, the poet makes this indebted, elite woman a figure for colonial dependence: “Tú en ti misma no mandas: a tí todos te mandan” (Burgos, Agüeros trans., 2–3; you in yourself have no say; everyone governs you). Against such dependence, the poet produces herself as a woman who feels and thinks freely, for herself, not owing her body and thoughts to an institution, to an imposed tradition, nor to a man. This poem affirms a modernist, feminist, and decolonial possibility of emergence from patriarchal and colonial control.

Desdoblamiento stages contradictions and projects a crisis without offering synthesis or resolution. It hopes for a future liberation. The poet’s becoming arises through critique, and, self-critique:

Contra ti, y contra todo lo injusto y lo inhumano

Yo iré en medio de ellas con la tea en la mano


Against you, and against all that is unjust and inhuman

I will be in the midst of them with the torch in my hand.

(“A Julia de Burgos,” Agüeros, trans. ed. Song of the Simple Truth, 4–5)

Combining feminist, proletarian, decolonial, and modernist rebellion, the poet creates an allegory for the revolt of one part of herself against the other. This intimate tension initiates the duel to the death, figured here as the seven virtues protesting, torches in hand, against the seven sins, with the intent to burn down everything. desdoblamiento makes visible the tension between a patriarchal social elite and the working masses, between the superficial effect of an “estático dividendo ancestral” (Agüeros translation modified, 4–5; static ancestral dividend) and the living, mobile spirit of “uno en la cifra del divisor social” (Agüeros translation modified 4–5; one inside the cipher of the social divide). Disrupting the logic of dividends and statistics, the poem introduces an unruly human factor. It imagines this tension culminating in the poet joining a militant protest against a part of herself, in a struggle between the classes and cultures the poet and her namesake represent: “somos el duelo a muerte que se acerca final” (4–5; we are the duel to the death which fatally approaches).

Fragoso dramatizes the splintering of Burgos’s “I” into factions at cross-purposes through a staging of Burgos’s letters and poetry. The play’s title, “Dadme me número,” which Consuelo Martínez Reyes recovers and translates as “Call My Number,” is also the title of a poem that recreates Burgos’s agonizing wait for her turn to die (Burgos, “Dadme me número,” Obra poética, 169–70; Song of the Simple Truth, 194–95). Fragoso’s play gives form to desdoblamiento by casting multiple actors who represent warring fragments of the poet’s persona. In his provocative staging of “A Julia de Burgos,” the poetic “I” becomes an other quite tangibly through the division of Julia’s role between two actresses: one who speaks as the poet, while a dancer plays Julia de Burgos’s “distorted, superficial” image. Fragoso’s stage directions call for “a violent confrontation between the simple free poet (ACTRESS) and the frivolous, manipulated, artificial woman (DANCER).”[36] To enact the contradiction, Fragoso calls for a physical altercation on stage: “for a moment she (DANCER) tries to confront her (ACTRESS) but finally flees intimidated by the poet’s force” (68). The fragmented persona does not merely exist in disarticulation but parts of the self actually engage in a conflict on stage between the artificial bourgeois wife and the unmarried poet who expresses and acts upon her desires.

Although it is unnerving to imagine Burgos writing as the rapist and the rapist’s victim, I read “Pentacromía” (“Pentachrome”)—another poem from her debut chapbook––as a stunning critique of any freedom that is at odds with another’s freedom. This critique echoes in Burgos’s later poems and prose that call attention to the inaudibility of the victims of military occupation, of political censorship and of sexual violation, to which I turn in the next section. This poem explores an angle of desdoblamiento that does not indulge the hope of redemption through torch-lit rebellion.

Quite different from “A Julia de Burgos” in its closing stanza, in “Pentacromía” the poetic persona becomes a masculine aggressor who violates a woman whose name is that of the author herself. This poem contrasts the conventional feminized object of male desire (the victim, we recall, who has the author’s name) and the sovereign desiring subject (the poet) who tragically imagines freedom as becoming someone with the power to violate another:

Hoy, día de los muertos, desfile de sombras...               

Hoy, sombra entre sombras, deliro el afán                    

Don Quijote o Don Juan o un bandido       

o un ácrata obrero o un gran militar.                           


Hoy, quiero ser hombre. Subir por las tapias,                

burlar los conventos, ser todo un Don Juan;  

raptar a Sor Carmen y a Sor Josefina,                          

rendirlas, y a Julia de Burgos violar.                           


Today, day of the dead, parade of shadows

today shadow among shadows, I delight in the desire de ser

to be Don Quixote, or Don Juan, or a bandit

or an anarchist worker, or a great soldier


Today I want to be a man. Climb the adobe walls

mock the convents, be all a Don Juan;

abduct Sor Carmen and Sor Josefina,

conquer them, and rape Julia de Burgos.[37]

The “afán” (“desire”) to assume the position of a great author or political leader coalesces with a scandalous and transgressive desire to rape the nuns, Sor Carmen and Sor Josefina, in the final stanza. The verb “rendirlas”––with its feminine objects––connotes “to subdue,” “to conquer,” and “to produce or to yield.” In this verb, productivity, colonial conquest, and fantasy of rape comingle. Burgos further implicates the European literary canon along with leftist leaders by mentioning heroic male characters––Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Don Juan––who model the ideal of literary creation and masculine self-definition through chivalrous conquests or rape––alongside self-sacrificing anarchists, sweating workers, malcontents, and soldiers. The poem does not differentiate between real and fictional, conservative and rebellious, elite and working class, ethical and criminal. All are masculine subjects who philander, violate, and enjoy impunity in a society that normalizes rape, especially of women of color. Here the author’s name splits radically from the “I” when “Julia de Burgos” becomes the victim of heroic military or literary exploits, even the poet’s own. Through desdoblamiento, the poem asserts the poet’s right to the untrammeled freedom of the masculine subject and reveals the violent effects of such freedom in her own body. The freedom to enact toxic masculinity (a common weapon of empire) depends upon the other’s, which is to say her own violation and silence.

Burgos’s letters and biography illuminate how the U. S. military occupation and colonial government, relationships that ended in divorce, and machista discourses of male and female propriety may have shaped the desdoblamiento of her earliest poems. Critics—part and parcel of the culture of “el que dirán” that Burgos takes on in her poetry––have sometimes paid more attention to judging or redeeming Julia de Burgos’s “character,” by calling attention to or criticizing her romantic entanglements and the “imprudence of her desire” (the eloquent phrase ironically proffered by Lena Burgos-Lafuente) ("Prólogo: Yo, múltiple: las cartas de Julia de Burgos xxix). The sensationalized circumstances of her death due to addiction and poverty have long shadowed the memory of her literary legacy.[38] As legend has it, in Jack Agüeros’s retelling, after her body was found without identification in El Barrio, the City of New York cut her towering stature down to size in order to accommodate her in a generic city-issued coffin for paupers (Agüeros, observing Burgos in Spanish Harlem, notes that she was "a tall woman, as tall as the tallest man, and taller than several of them" and Molly Crabapple notes that Burgos was 5'10").[39] Molly Crabapple aptly reads Burgos as not merely physically, but also figuratively “too big” for her time and place, her home and her exilic place of residence.[40] Diagnosis in criminal and medical investigation can pathologize body and psyche to facilitate the disciplining of docile producers, submissive wives and good citizen–subjects, but Burgos refused to be domesticated. Beyond the oft-cited and beloved poems we've considered above, let's turn now to how Burgos’s more recently published letters reveal a desdoblamiento of race, class and language. Her self-invention in letters unmoors her from the poverty and claustrophobic mores of her island and from the lack of freedom she experienced in New York, during the same years when Roosevelt pronounced the four freedoms sacrosanct.

Breakdown between the Caribbean and New York

Political and medical diagnoses snowballed in the half decade after the Dominican leftist intellectual and Burgos' partner and lover, Juan Jiménez Grullón, broke off their relationship first in 1940, due to pressure from his leftist and light-skinned, well-to-do family. These tensions become more exacerbated after a difficult decade in working class, mostly nonwhite neighborhoods in New York, defined by redlining and raced forms of economic precarity. A former schoolteacher and recipient of several major poetry awards in Puerto Rico, Burgos supplemented her income from poetry readings with various odd jobs as a census taker, lampshade salesperson, and factory worker. Burgos lost her last desk job as clerk and translator in the audit section of Rockefeller’s Office of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) in Washington, D.C. in 1944, after an F.B.I. investigation uncovered her prior acquaintance with the Harvard-trained, Puerto Rican independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos, her work as editor of a section on cultural events in the Spanish-language weekly Pueblos Hispanos between 1943–44 and the content of her poetry as grounds for firing her under the Hatch Act of 1939 (which sought to prevent “pernicious” political activities).[41] Harris Feinsod rightly underscores the diametrical opposition between the ideological positions of Rockefeller, the Museum of Modern Art’s influential Trustee and close associate of Henry Kissinger, and of Puerto Rican nationalists Juan Antonio Corretjer and Consuelo Lee Tapia, who were Burgos's her editors at Pueblos Hispanos.[42]

Burgos’s correspondence registers discreetly the poet’s precarity after leaving Pueblos Hispanos, and after losing her job at the CIAA. Despite “luchando tremendemente,” organizing readings where she barely broke even, in the end Burgos finds herself without the means to eat (even though she managed––for a time––to send part of whatever she had to her surviving siblings back home) (Burgos, 39). This economic vulnerability reveals Burgos’s contradictory position not only as a victim of racism, but also as masochistically complicit with common anti-Blackness of Latinx, Caribbean and Latin American cultures which Silvio Torres-Saillant has explicated, while she traversed the color line in segregated urban spaces.[43] Indeed, Burgos’s own description in letters to her sister of fellow Caribeños of African descent who speak “slang malo” (“bad slang”) and who “permanecen casi salvajes” (“remain almost savage”) suggests how she reproduces anti-Blackness, even toward people of Afro-Caribbean descent like herself, offering an example of racial desdoblamiento.[44] Although Burgos's poem, “Ay ay ay de la grifa negra” (“My, Oh My, Oh My of the Nappy-Haired Negress”), affiliates the poetic persona with blackness and makes an African country into a verb (“mi chata nariz mozambiquea”; my flat nose Mozambiques, Agüeros trans. 32–33), this correspondence reveals Burgos’s complicity with a possessive investment in whiteness that signifies freedom of movement, over and against an impoverished, excluded, visibly Black group of fellow migrants.[45]

Burgos’s white-passing affiliation reveals her anxious strategy of preserving a tenuous claim to white privilege, ironically, given that this sequence of events occurs during her difficult return by bus to New York, after she barely survives Jimenez Grullón's racialized rejection. After years of promising to marry Burgos, Grullón bought her a one-way ticket from Havana to Miami, and abruptly ended their relationship in 1942, as his mother demanded. Finding herself alone and without funds, this difficult bus ride coincides with a breakdown related to Burgos’s rejection of Afro-Latinx solidarity in Washington, DC.[46] The letters shed light on Burgos’s complex location beyond the common frameworks of heroic martyrs and racialized victims of the urban metropolis.

Burgos comments in a 1945 letter to Consuelo on “la ilusión salvaje del capitalismo” and “la bomba atómica” as the horrific guarantee of freedom, as she became increasingly haunted by despair (Burgos, 24 agosto 1945, Cartas a Consuelo, 198; the savage illusion of capitalism; the atomic bomb). Several hospitalizations provided a solitary refuge in which she could write after separating from her second husband, Armand Marín. The penultimate section of this essay turns to recently recovered posthumously published poetry that further complicates the projection of revolt as a hopeful resolution to psychic, cultural and poetic desdoblamiento.

Desdoblamiento and Revolt in the “Campo” Poems

Modernism sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalist, anti-fascist Spanish Republicanism, Soviet, and Mexican revolutionary aesthetics and experimental representation are palpable in Burgos’s militant poetry, including in the Campo poems.[47] A subsection of Burgos’s poetry that we might refer to as “militant” depicts the violent outburst and transfiguration of the grieving, exploited campesino class in Puerto Rico and around the globe, set afire in pursuit of justice. In the protest of several decades of U. S. military occupation that began with an invasion of sixteen thousand soldiers in 1898, students, peasants, and syndicalist worker federations engaged in widespread strikes in 1934. Puerto Ricans mourned in fury after police opened fire on a peaceful civilian protest, killing nineteen and wounding hundreds in the Ponce Massacre of 1937. Dictatorships arose in Franco’s Spain and Trujillo’s Dominican Republic. In response to these ominous political developments, the militant poems collected in Agüeros’s 1996 edition explore desdoblamiento’s additional senses of “unfurling” and “uprising.” These verses represent the distance between the ardent desire for freedom and the reality of working a sugarcane harvest for a foreign landowner, as for example in Burgos’s two late poems “Campo–1” and “Campo–2,” which appeared in the posthumous collection, El Mar y Tú (1954).

While the “Campo” poems emit revolutionary slogans, they also utter a gendered–subaltern response to violence in the militarized countryside. They explore the feminist, anti-patriarchal valence of the term "Latinx," which begins as a queer critique of homophobic machismo of Latino cultures of all political stripes. These lines caught the attention of the F. B. I. whose employees offered the first—highly distorted––translations of Burgos’s poetry into English in order to use the poems as evidence against Burgos, as Feinsod has noted:

¡La tradición está ardiendo en el campo!

¡La esperanza está ardiendo en el campo!

¡El hombre está ardiendo en el campo!


Tradition is on fire in the countryside!

Hope is on fire in the countryside!

Man is on fire in the countryside!”[48]

This countryside evokes Burgos’s rural home of Carolina in the aftermath of military occupation and economic domination. Fragoso’s previously cited essays on Burgos––revealing his own socialist political commitments––contextualize these images of a countryside in flames after the violent disruption of an agricultural economy. During the years after the 1929 stock market crash when Burgos began to publish her poetry, Puerto Rico “se econtraba en asedio político, económico y cultural” (Fragoso, “La Pasión” MS page 4; was in a state of siege, politically, economically and culturally). This situation led many peasants, workers, and students––hearts ablaze––to revolt and to strike.

The “pacification” and “Americanization” of this countryside in flames had differently gendered effects for the rural inhabitants of the campo, eviscerated by the colony economy and military repression. In “Campo – 1,” a girl remembers a bitter morning when she awoke, washed her face in the river and lost her innocence. The speaker does not verbalize this childhood memory with the intimacy of the first person as she does often in Poema en Veinte Surcos (1938) and Canción de la verdad sencilla (1939). Instead, a girl––described in the third person––awakens alone to the bitterness of unacknowledged, displaced violence:

¡Esa niña que va descalza tumbando mariposas!

¡Esa mañana amarga que se lava la cara en el arroyo!


This barefoot girl who goes about knocking off butterflies!

That bitter morning when she washes her face in the creek!

(Burgos, “Campo – 1,” Obra poética 243; Song of the Simple Truth, translation modified, 344–345)

In response to the fiery slogans of the first poem of the countryside, “Campo – 2” depicts the incendiary violence from the angle of a girlchild. It evokes the limits of revolutionary slogans to articulate this child’s sense of loss. The poem attaches the possessive determiner to this child’s “my” without introducing the first person pronoun: “No es un cuento de ira lo que quiere este niño. / Mi infancia busca infancia!” (Burgos, Obra poética, 245; Song of the Simple Truth, 346–48; It is not a story of ire that this child desires/ My childhood searches for childhood!). The child, particularly the girl, remembers the flames of revolt, colonization and gender-based violence as forces that colluded to destroy her as a child.

As if in response to Cutler’s call for recovery and translation of the ephemeral literary Latinx modernism that has languished forgotten in early twentieth century Spanish-language U. S. periodicals, Cristina Pérez Jiménez recovered two of Burgos’s posthumous prose poems published in 1954, ably translated by J. Bret Maney. One of these poems, “La novia del campo” (“The Country Bride”) glosses the Campo poems and their images of stolen childhood. Pérez Jiménez notes how these late poems, which Burgos describes herself writing in Cuba and still working on in 1942, transform the youthful rebellion of “Campo 1,” and the childlike nostalgia of “Campo 2” to “a mournful cry, an anguished whisper, and, finally, a deathlike silence.”[49]

“La Novia del campo” (“The Bride of the Countryside”) describes more specifically the violation of a child who screams inaudibly that she is being carried off. In this harrowing scene of violence irrupting in a bucolic country setting, her cries for help echo unheard in space:

––¡Me llevan!...¡Me llevan!...

––Y en la voz de la niña hubo un llanto de lomas... y de reinitas asustadas... y de angustiados robles.

¿A donde?...Un eco se perdió en el espacio. La niña miró al cielo, todavía sin estrellas, y se perdió corriendo por encima del aire.


––”They take me!....They take me!...”

––In the girl’s voice was a cry of the hills...and frightened bannaquits and anguished trumpet trees.

Where to? echo was lost in space. The girl beheld the sky, still starless, and got lost, running above the air.[50]

This prose poem evokes the moment of desdoblamiento when the poem’s protagonist, a girl in the countryside, departs her body as it is being seized. It depicts a dissociation or out-of-body experience, in which the violated body appears as an object separate from the narrating consciousness. The poem resignifies the erotic exchange between the poet and the river as lover in “Río Grande de Loiza” (Burgos, “Río Grande de Loíza,” in Agüeros, trans. ed. Song of the Simple Truth, 8–11). Revisiting the river setting amidst lush tropical flowers and trees in this poem renders the violation more terrifying because the scene is familiar to the poet and her readers.

When the girl’s cry goes unattended, the poet takes flight. Fantastically, she begins to run “por encima del aire” (above the air) toward an impossible, unlivable space. The poem dramatizes subjective fragmentation as a survival strategy, through recourse to fantasy as we saw in “Pentacromía” and “A Julia de Burgos”––but with a key difference. In the posthumous poem, the poet’s speaking subject does not align itself with the freedom of the man who rapes or with the revolutionary who attacks the class structures that privilege the proper, bourgeois wife. Instead, this poem mourns, listens to, and stays with the girl, even after she is violated. The poem closes with the image of the “niña, derrotada y confusa, arrodillada ante la cruz de su alma” (Pérez Jiménez and Maney, “From the Archives,” 103; girl, destroyed and confused, kneeling before the cross of her soul). The line reveals the girl’s brokenness and confusion in the wake of this crucifixion, and makes the girl victim, survivor, and witness, affiliated neither with the resistance nor with the military power.[51]  That the poet narrates this painful scene in these late poems suggests that the girl’s desire for a way out eventually becomes utterable, audible, and at last impossible to ignore.

Disquieting Silences and Untendered Eyes on Welfare Island: Linguistic Desdoblamiento

Burgos writes from Welfare Island, in English, at the end of her life, as both an object of psychiatric diagnosis, modern experimental treatment, political censorship, and as a poet of Latinx modernism. Before she died, infamously alone, without identification, in Spanish Harlem’s barrio at the intersection of 105th Street and Lexington Ave, she wrote poems that self-consciously underscore her location on the geographic and cultural margins of the modern metropolis.[52] The Welfare Island poems, her only work in English, inscribe the poet’s haunting presence and attempts to make herself heard. As they perform Burgos’s desire to engage an English-language audience in her second home, they also evoke another kind of desdoblamiento. The poet doubles herself by addressing an English-language readership for the first time. With this linguistic desdoblamiento, Burgos addresses not only the dominant literary establishment in her second country, but also a Puerto Rican diaspora and other Latinx readers who may have lost or might yet lose their mother tongue. She evokes the “linguistic terrorism” (a term Gloria Anzaldúa gives us) that some readers would have to survive in order to move back and forth between dominant global English and the Spanishes of migrant Puerto Rican New York.[53]

Latinx modernism congeals in the linguistic borders, barrios and sometimes in the second language of the Empire City. Like many post-occupation Puerto Ricans, Burgos learned English as a second language and a language of access even before landing in New York and maintained Spanish as an act of rebellion. Yet Burgos affirms her mastery of English as an essential resource for survival and self–representation in New York.[54]  If the letters admit to grinding poverty and despair in the face of death or hospitalization in the United States, a country she describes as “escandalosamente vacío” (February 20, 1940, Cartas a Consuelo 16; scandalously empty), Burgos’s Welfare Island Poems reveal a desire to cross borders to conjure a heterogeneous audience. These poems hold English-dominant readers responsible to their Spanish language neighbors the next block, town, or country over. For students of American modernism, Burgos's poetry embodies a transgressive alternative to “being included” in a fixed, culturally dominant, mainstream modernism. Burgos offers an exquisitely rebellious verse mingled with a decolonial cry, which articulates a distinct Latinx modernist aesthetic.

The desperate hunger for freedom expressed in the poetry and prose at the end of Burgos’s sojourn in New York relates to constraints the poet faced, when under investigation or even in convalescence. She notes in the transcript of the FBI interview that she was unable to render her feelings about Puerto Rico in English.[55] During her incarceration on Welfare Island, she expresses requests for food or cash in her letters home. Even though staff knew she had no options if she were to be released from Goldwater Memorial Hospital, they threatened to throw her out. In one instance she reports being violated by the medical staff, or “stepped on” in ways that she cannot express in words.[56] Having insufficient income after getting fired for her political views, despite her recognition as an award-winning poet, Burgos’s writing becomes an emergency route in imaginative rather than financial terms (fig. 4).

Black and white photo of trees in rows in an urban park
Fig. 4. Philippe Hugonnard’s photo of Four Freedoms Park. Courtesy of Philippe Hugonnard.


Much as Burgos claimed to “be” her own route in another well-known poem, her writing prompts her temporary departure from Goldwater Memorial Hospital onto a bridge outside so that she might post a letter. This act, which the poet stages in the letter, haunts the space of Roosevelt Island and of her readers:

Te escribo en el puente a la isla, adonde me he escapado por unos minutos de todos los médicos. En mi pabellón todo está trancado. La temperatura es 75. Yo necesito aire. En una batita del hospital estoy. Descubrí un correo para echarte esta breve cartita antes de que las enfermeras me agarren para mi cena . . . Mándame si puedes un par de pesos para comprarme pasta de dientes, jabón, talco y unas chinelitas. Espero la pasta de guayaba

I write on the bridge to the island, where I have escaped for a few minutes from all the doctors. My pavilion is locked down. The temperature is 75. I need air. I’m in a hospital robe. I found a mailbox to send you this quick note before the nurses snag me for dinner . . . Send me if you can a few bucks in order to buy toothpaste, soap, talc and some flip flops. I await the guava paste.

(Burgos to Consuelo, March 27, 1953, from Goldwater Memorial Hospital, Cartas a Consuelo 214)

Her plea “from the bridge” alerts her sister Consuelo in Puerto Rico that she wore only her hospital gown, unprepared for walking outdoors in March, but desperate for mental space to write. The letter chisels a space for the Puerto Rican diaspora and Latinx writer on what is now Roosevelt Island, much as her Welfare Island poems stake a claim to an English-language readership. Burgos speaks from the gap between U.S. modernity’s promise and Latinx modernism’s cry, from a place of agonizing vulnerability, hunger, and silence.

The poems in English self-consciously ask the reader to consider the paradox of her location. Abandoned, isolated, Julia de Burgos emits a furious “cry into the world” that had to come from “here,” a situating adverb that repeats in the first sentence of three stanzas of her poem, “Farewell in Welfare Island”:

It has to be from here, right this instance,

my cry into the world

(Burgos, Obra poética, 252–53; Song of the Simple Truth, 356–57).

Burgos insists that her reader consider the significance of the temporal and geographic locus of enunciation. She refers perhaps to her isolation as a Puerto Rican writer in Rockefeller’s Manhattan, to Latin America and the Caribbean in the preparatory phase of the Cold War, to the hospital complex on Welfare Island, to her island homes, or to the bridge between these silences that her writing becomes.

Carefully indicating “Goldwater Memorial Hospital, Welfare Island, NYC” and the full date below both of the English compositions, the poet enquires mordantly in stanza three of her “Farewell” about the celebrated freedom from want and fear that many migrants might have sought when voyaging to the United States. The relevant question remains:

Where is the voice of freedom,

freedom to laugh

to move

without the heavy phantom of despair?[57]

This quest for freedom to move, to laugh, to speak without despair in 1953 contradicts Roosevelt’s State of the Union address in 1941 on the Four Freedoms. Her poem alludes to the absence of freedoms in a poem she wrote in a hospital on an island and in a country that defines freedom through the restriction of immigration and scapegoating and detention of racialized groups in the 1940s as in the 2020s.

Much as “Farewell in Welfare Island” unsilences Burgos’s haunting of a New York archipelago, her second English poem “Sun in Welfare Island,” calls attention to her isolation and oblivion that resulted in part from her refusal to submit. The poem repeats the refrain of “Solitude!” six times in four of its six stanzas. Although it does not foreground desdoblamiento as in other poems, it reveals an inventive remaking of English grammar with the pun: “untendered eyes.”[58] This phrase suggests the opposite of tenderness, a common attribute of the amorous poet in the first two books of poems. The negation of the verb “to tender” simultaneously evokes the poet’s eyes becoming hardened, or less tender, even as her heart remains “rebellious,” in the last stanza. Her “eyes” (a homonym for her multiple “I”), are not “tendered,” which is to say, not offered in payment, nor presented for acceptance. This wrangling and remaking of the English verb bend the imperial language to the poet’s purpose. Burgos adroitly breaks English’s rules, which is a way of claiming a place in an unwelcoming culture, without selling out or quietly acquiescing to the injustice of silence.

Burgos’s thirteen years in New York did not afford her access to many of the freedoms that Roosevelt proposed to defend. desdoblamiento formally represents self–duplication in the face of violation and censorship. In her book of poetry, Burgos’s “Poema para mi muerte” (“Poem for my Death”), offers a paean to the only freedom that remains hers: the freedom to die. The poem fiercely details how her body will decompose, as she begins to open herself to the “frágil gusano que tocará a [su] Puerta” (“fragile worm who will knock at [her] door”). This poem probes ironically the scarce spaces of freedom available to her:

que en libre momento me dejen libremente              

disponer de la única libertad del planeta                  


that in this free moment they may allow me freely

to make use of the only freedom of this planet.[59]

The repetition of various words evoking freedom––“libre,” “libremente” and “libertad”––in this poem exudes and compounds irony. Not exclusive to one nation, class, caste or sex, the freedom to die remains freely available.

Burgos's “Poema para mi Muerte” (Poem for my death) registers a shift toward aesthetic affirmation in the face of silent despair. It concludes with a poetic tribute to her memory after death. Zeroing in on the death of the author, the poet wonders about a possible afterlife in collective memory and refuses the finality of a death sentence:

¿Cómo habré de llamarme cuando sólo me quede     

recordarme, en la roca de una isla desierta?            

Un clavel interpuesto entre el viento y mi sombra,    

hijo mío y de la muerte, me llamarán poeta.             


What shall I call myself when all that is left

is to remember myself on the rock of a deserted island?

A carnation between the wind and my shadow,

Child of mine and of death, they will call me poet.[60]

Arrogating to herself alone the right to name herself in this poem, Burgos addresses herself in the solitude of an island. She addresses here her “hijo” (“child”), as a salute to the unborn child she eulogizes in several other poems.[61] This “child of hers and of death” also refers, I think, to the reader, whose uncertain arrival she evokes as an ephemeral carnation in the unlikely space between the wind and her own shadow. Despite the lack of a guarantee of future readers, despite the conditions that inform her desdoblamiento, the poet survives in the words she relished while confronting her death. Even during those bleak final years, Burgos knew with exquisite aplomb that some future readers would call her poet.

Burgos leaves us her cry, which she defines as ours as much as hers, a legacy for those who would accompany her silence and attend to her words: “my cry that is no more mine/ but hers and his forever/ the comrades of my silence” (“Farewell in Welfare Island,” Obra poética, 252). The poem imagines us, its readers, as complicit comrades, and the inheritors responsible for her memory. Her poetry foregrounds the colonial violence that defined Burgos’s “presents” (“nows”) and prompted her to invent an escape route to a future we still await (“Yo mismo fui mi ruta,” Obra poética, 37). Demanding solidarity with these ghosts of silenced dead, Burgos’s poems urge us to remember her indecipherable and emergent figure, as she haunts and transforms our understanding of literary modernism.


I would like to acknowledge the Latino Research Institute at University of Texas-Austin, and especially its inaugural director, Deborah Parra-Medina, whose support in 2019–2020 made possible the research and writing of this essay. I wish to thank also Joseph Fremio Sepulveda Ortíz, Kevin Meehan, Monika Kaup, the editors and anonymous readers of Modernism/Modernity for generative criticism of this essay.

[1]Sherezada Vicioso, Algo que decir: ensayo sobre la literatura femenina (Santo Domingo: Editorial Buho, 1991), 96, reports on Pablo Neruda and Juan Bosch’s praise for the poet; Jack Aguëros cites Vicioso in “Julia de Burgos: An Introduction,” in Julia de Burgos, Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1996), xix; ii-xxxix.

[2] Modernism begins to recognize the relevance of writers of Latin American and Caribbean origins in the United States only in the late twentieth century. For example, Julio Marzán’s study The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), makes legible the mixed Latinx origins of the modernist poet William Carlos Williams. Lisa Sánchez González expands upon this thesis in Boricua Literature  (New York: New York University Press, 2001) with her chapter entitled "Boricua Modernism: Arturo Schomburg and William Carlos Williams."

[3] Marissa K. López, Racial Immanence: Chicanx Bodies Beyond Representation (New York: New York University Press, 2019), 87. See Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, “Introduction: Modernisms Bad and New” in Bad Modernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 1–18; and Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” PMLA 123.3 (2008): 737–48.

[4] Louis Kahn, “1973: Brooklyn, New York,” Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal vol. 19 (1982): 88–100.

[5] See Burgos, “Yo misma fui mi ruta,” and “Momentos,” in Obra poética, recopilada por Consuelo Burgos y Juan Bautista Pagán (San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, rev. ed. 2004), 37–38, 11; Lena Burgos Lafuente entitles her essay with this line from “Momentos.” See Lena Burgos-LaFuente, “Prólogo: Yo, mútliple: las Cartas de Julia de Burgos,” in Julia de Burgo, Cartas a Consuelo, ed. Burgos-LaFuente (San Juan: Folium, 2014), xvii–xxix. “Latinx” is a term that opts out of the masculine/feminine binary endings customary in Castillian Spanish, as a queer and feminist refusal of the heterosexual and patriarchal sex/gender system. The “x” also evokes the open-endedness of this ethnoracial category in formation to include groups marginalized within ethnonational terms such as “Chicano” or “Puerto Rican,” as limned by Claudia Milián in LatinX (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019).

[6] With an obituary in the New York Times and a flurry of new criticism, Burgos is slowly gaining readers especially after the centennial of her birth and the first book-length work on her in English by Vanessa Pérez Rosario, translated into Spanish in 2022.

[7] Thomas O'Brien, The Century of U.S. Capitalism in Latin America (University of New Mexico, 1999): 105–107.

[8] Vanessa Pérez Rosario, Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 132. Burgos gave public speeches on the role of women in the nationalist struggle as Secretary of the Frente Unido Pro Convención Constituyente in 1936, when she was twenty-two, according to Ivette López Jimenez, and she appears in a photographs with Pedro Albizu Campo. Her intimate interlocutor for most of her life, her sister Consuelo Burgos, was Secretary of Education and Propaganda for the Communist Party, and appeared as a speaker at an event in New York along with U.S. Communist Party leader William Z. Foster in 1948, precisely the year of a major student strike and the implementation of the Ley de Mordaza in Puerto Rico, according to Lena Burgos-Lafuente, “Yo, Multiple,” xxiv.

[9] Burgos to Consuelo, 17 abril 1953, Cartas a Consuelo (San Juan: Folium, 2014), 216.

[10] Julia de Burgos, Song of the Simple Truth: Obra poética completa / the complete poems of Julia de Burgos, trans. and ed. Jack Agüeros (New York: Curbstone Press, 1996).

[11] John Alba Cutler and Yolanda Padilla have orchestrated multiple conversations in this vein and we look forward to their forthcoming work. David A. Colón discusses modernist poetics in the work of Julia de Burgos and William Carlos Williams in “Making it Nuevo: Latina/o Modernist Poetics Remake High Euro-American Modernism,” in John Morán González and Laura Lomas, eds. The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 353–70. Jesse Alemán and Rodrigo Lazo’s scholarly collaboration resulted in their edited collection, The Latino Nineteenth Century (New York: New York University Press, 2016).

[12] John Alba Cutler, “At the Crossroads of Circulation and Translation: Rethinking U.S. Latino/a Modernism,” Modernism/modernity Print Plus vol 3, no. 3 (2018):

[13] Burgos refers to New York as her “segunda casa,” in Burgos to Consuelo, 14 may 1945, Cartas a Consuelo, p. 192. See Oscar Montero, “La Prosa Neoyorquina de Julia de Burgos: ‘la cosa latina’ en ‘mi segunda casa’” Ciberletras 20 (2008). On iconicity of Julia de Burgos see Vanessa Pérez Rosario, Becoming Julia de Burgos. For more information on the Julia de Burgos Performance and Arts Center, see

[14] The May 2, 2018, New York Times obituary entitled “Overlooked No More: Julia de Burgos, a Poet Who Helped Shape Puerto Rico’s Identity,” reinforces the longstanding prominence she has had on the island as opposed to the United States. See Eliana Rivero's eloquent critique of the academic devalorization of Julia de Burgos in part due to her “combative” support for Puerto Rican independence and left politics, which becomes especially transgressive when from a woman-of-color's point of view in “La dialéctica de la persona poética en la obra de Julia de Burgos,” Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana 2.4 (1976): 31–41, 31. Donald L. Shaw explains the persistent marginality of “Hispanic” modernism as a problem associated with the coincidence of “posmodernismo” in Hispanic letters and “modernism” in English, as modernismo begins in the late nineteenth century (but, significantly, not in Spain), and ends with the literary vanguardism of the early-to-mid-twentieth century (Donald L. Shaw, “Hispanic Literature and Modernism,” The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, ed. Peter Brooker et al. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010]: 896–909).

[15] Víctor Fragoso, “La Pasión de Julia de Burgos” unpublished MS, Centro Archives, Víctor Fragoso Collection, Box 1 Bundle II, MS page 1. Special thanks to Milagros Reyes for her work in preserving Fragoso’s memory and for describing his connection to Julia de Burgos to me.

[16] The untranslatable in Barbara Cassin’s sense refers to philosophical, political and literary concepts that defy any (easy) translation and evoke the interminability of translation in Walter Benjamin’s sense: the translator “keeps on (not) translating” the untranslatable (Barbara Cassin, Introduction to Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, ed. Barbara Cassin, trans. Steven Randall et al., trans. ed. Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014, f.p. 2004], xvii). Cassin’s untranslatables acknowledge the difficulty of moving across languages and across cultures, and call attention to the instability of meaning and sense-making. Her philosophical work on untranslatables acknowledges the performative dimension of poetic language within the constraints of time, space, cultural differences and relations of power. All these concepts directly relate to Burgos’ poetics as I show below, but the full explication of them exceeds the scope of this essay.

[17] See Fernando Aínsa, “Del Yo al Nosotros: El desdoblamiento de la Identidad en la Obra de Juan Carlos Onetti,” Alpha 20 (2004): 11–27; Hedy Habra, “Modalidades especulares del desdoblamiento en Aura de Carlos fuentes,” Confluencia 21.1 (Fall 2005): 182–94; and on Unamuno, see Isabel Paraíso, Las voces de Psique: Estudios de teoría y crítica literaria (Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 2001), 17–100.

[18] Borges, “Borges y yo,” El Hacedor (New York: Vintage Español, 2013, f.p. 1960), 65–66; Willis Barnstone, Borges at Eighty: Conversations (New York: New Directions, 2013), 136. See discussion in Santiago Rojas, “El desdoblamiento creador-personaje en Borges: uso y efectos de creación,” Confluencia 11.1 (1995): 76. Cecilia Enjuto Rangel mentions Burgos' use of desdoblamiento as an inscription of gender in and against Puerto Rican national narrative, in “Weaving National and Gender Politics: A Transatlantic Reading of Rosalía de Castro’s and Julia de Burgos’s Poetic Projects.” CENTRO Journal 26.2 (Fall 2014): 156–91, 173.

[19] Emily Apter, Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (New York: Verso, 2014). See Rivero, Vicioso, Kattau and Lomas on this topic of splitting. Israel Reyes’s reading of Manuel Ramos Otero and María del Rocío Contreras Romo’s essay on “el desdoblamiento del yo lírico” have influenced my reading here in addition to Fragoso's essay and play. See Reyes, “Modernism and Migration in Manuel Ramos Otero’s El cuento de la Mujer del Mar.Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 29.1 (1996): 63-75 and Contreras Romo, María del Rocío. “Los caminos de la identidad, la poesía de Julia de Burgos.” Especulo: Revista de estudios literarios. Universidad Complutense de Madrid 43 (2009),

[20] Although it is beyond the scope of this essay, this point suggests the need for further exploration of how Latinx modernism and Burgos's poetry relates to "other" modernisms, Latin American, Caribbean, "Hispanic," and to the dominant traditions of Anglo and European modernisms. 

[21] Ramón Grosfoguel, “The Epistemic Decolonial Turn: Beyond Political-Economy Paradigms,” Cultural Studies 21.2–3 (2007): 211–23, 218–21. This notion of decoloniality proposes epistemic alternatives to Eurocentric racial/ethnic, sexual, and economic hierarchies that persist in both metropolitan centers and in former colonial peripheries, including but also moving beyond the realm of political economy.

[22] Jossianna Arroyo shows resonances between Burgos and Lebrón and is among the first to mention Burgos's modernist aesthetics, “Living the Political: Julia de Burgos and Lolita Lebrón,” CENTRO Journal 26, no. 2 (2014): 128–55, 143.

[23] Solsiree del Moral, Negotiating Empire: The Cultural Politics of Schools in Puerto Rico, 1898–1952 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013); Ana Cecilia Zentella, Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York (London: Blackwell, 1997).

[24] Joshua L. Miller, Accented America: the Cultural Politics of Multilingual Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 276.

[25] Arthur Rimbaud, "Letter to Paul Demeny 15 May 1871," Rimbaud Complete, Vol. 1: Poetry and Prose (New York: Random House, 2013), 366.

[26] An exception is Ronald Mendoza de Jesús’s beautiful essay, which refers to Burgos’s literary modernism. See “Desire, Bent: Temporal Ruptures in Two Poems by Julia de Burgos,” Diacritics 46.2 (2018): 118–35, 121.

[27] Simon Gikandi, “Preface: Modernism in the World,” Modernism/modernity 13, no. 3 (2006): 419–24, 421.

[28] See Juan Flores, “Puerto Rican Literature in the United States: Stages and Perspectives,” in Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity (Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 1993), 142–53, and Juan Flores, ed. Divided Arrival: Narratives of Puerto Rican Migration (1920–1950) (Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner, 2003).

[29] Kevin Meehan, People Get Ready: African American and Caribbean Cultural Exchange (Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 2009), 26.

[30] See Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine D. Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). See Fernando Ortiz, Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar, trans. Harriet de Onís, introduction by Fernando Coronil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,1995; f.p. 1940); Angel Rama, Writing Across Cultures: Narrative Transculturation in Latin America, trans. and ed. David Frye (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); and Mary Louise Pratt, “Modernity and Periphery: Toward a Global and Relational Analysis,” in Beyond Dichotomies: Histories, Identities and the Challenge of Globalization, ed. Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 21–47 and “The Traffic in Meaning: Translation, Contagion, Infiltration,” Profession (2002): 25–36.

[31] I take this term “subaltern modernity” from Ramón Saldivar’s generative study of Paredes’ body of work in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands in The Borderlands of Cultures: Americo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).

[32] Jacob Bender, “‘The Waters and the Wild’: W.B. Yeats, Julia de Burgos, and Romantic Wilderness,” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 50, no. 2 (2017): 31–55, 32.

[33] Burgos dedicated several poems to José Martí, including her rewriting of one of Martí's Versos sencillos in “Romance de la Perla,” (Obra poetica, 256–58) and “A José Martí (Mensaje),” (259). For discussion, see Lomas, “The Unbreakable Voice in a Minor Language: Following José Martí's Routes” in Hispanic Caribbean Migration: Narratives of Displacement, ed. Vanessa Pérez Rosario (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 23–38.

[34] Burgos’s diary describes encountering a collection of poetic biographies, and she adds her contemporary Dylan Thomas to the list of poets who figure in Henry and Dana Lee Thomas eds., Living Biographies of Great Poets (New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1941), while hospitalized on 27 April 1948. See Burgos Lafuente, “Yo, múltiple,” xviii, for discussion.

[35] Burgos responded to a fellow Puerto Rican letrado and her editor, Jorge Font Saldaña (a journalist, seven years her senior, founder of the Partido Popular Democratico, and member of the Ateneo Puertorriqueño), who asked the award-winning poet why she dyed her hair and where she came from. To this indiscreet line of questioning, Burgos towering above him as a rising star at twenty-three: “Like you, from nothing.” See Gladys Neggers, “Clara Lair y Julia de Burgos: reminiscencias de Evaristo Riberta Chevremont y Jorge Font Saldaña.” Revista/Review Interamericana, Special Edition 4 no. 2 (1974), 258–63, qtd. Agüeros, “Introduction,” xxiv.

[36] Fragoso, “Call My Number,” Not the Time to Stay, trans. Consuelo Martínez Reyes (NY: Centro Press, 2018), 68.

[37] Julia de Burgos, “Pentracromía,” Obra poética 19; trans. Agüeros, Song of the Simple Truth, 27.

[38] María Solá, “La Poesía de Julia de Burgos” in Julia de Burgos, Yo Mismo Fui Mi Ruta, ed. María M. Solá (Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1986), 7–60 and Rubén Ríos Avila, La Raza cómica (Río Piedras: Ediciones Callejón, 2002), warn against the danger of moralizing readings of Julia de Burgos.

[39] See Agüeros, “Introduction,” iii, and on the myth of leg amputation, xxxv. See Ivelisse Rodriguez’s fictional rendering, “The Simple Truth,” in Love War Stories (Feminist Press, 2018), 57.

[40] Molly Crabapple discovers a creative genius too big not just for the pauper's coffin, but for both the island and for the provincial “tribes of New York” in the 1940s and 1950s: “The tragedy was that New York was too small for her, as well. America, in the early 1940s, had no space for a Latina woman of five-ten, her skin bronze and hair curly, her background working-class, her love life complicated, her politics leftist, her pride unbroken, and her talent confrontational and startling. De Burgos did not break because she left home. She broke because the world was too constricted for anywhere to be her home,” in “‘The Fatal Conscience’: Puerto Rico’s Greatest Poet,” New York Review of Books (April 26, 2018): 18.

[41] Burgos tells her sister Consuelo about her job in January 1945: “Rockefeller es mi jefe ¡Que te parece! Se cree que toda la organización nuestra pase ahora al Depto. de Estado, donde él ha sido nombrado subsecretario. Yo me quiero ir a Puerto Rico lo antes posible a poner mi esfuerzo a la liberación total de nuestra patria. (Cartas a Consuelo, 184; Rockefeller is my boss. What do you think of that! They are saying that the organization will be relocated to the Department of State where he has been named Assistant Secretary. I want to go to Puerto Rico as soon as possible to put all my efforts into the total liberation of our patria). Harris Feinsod notes that although Muriel Rukeyser also was interrogated under the Hatch act, she did not lose her job, in “Between Dissonance and Good Neighbor Diplomacy,” CENTRO Journal 26, no. 2 (2014): 98–127, 116.

[42] Earl Browder, Victory—And After (New York: International Publishers, 1942), 219; Feinsod quoted in Harris 100. Corretjer was Secretary General of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and was allied with Earl Browder, Secretary General of the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Feinsod raises the useful question of whether Julia de Burgos may have used “her position at the CIAA to work covertly on behalf of Puerto Rican Nationalism,” or if her aim was to distance herself from her previous employers due to disagreements, as she states in the transcript of her F. B. I interview (Feinsod 100 and transcript of F. B. I.  interview, 56; rpt. Burgos, El diario de Julia y otras verdades sencillas, ed. Carmen D. Lucca [New York: Asociación Pro-Cultura Hispánica-Puertorriqueña and Lola Books, 2015], 215).

[43] See Silvio Torres-Saillant, “Afro-Latinidad: Phoenix Rising from a Hemisphere's Racist Flames,” in John Morán González and Laura Lomas, eds. The Cambridge History of Latina/o American Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 276–305.

[44] Burgos faced gossip and disdain as a young divorcée, especially as a working-class bohemian of color. Of African descent on her mother’s side but light enough to pass, Burgos, who fell in love with Jiménez Grullón when he was lecturing in Puerto Rico and who spent time with him in New York and Cuba, walked on both sides of the color line and reacted with alarm at racial segregation for people of African descent in the United States. Her letter to Consuelo Burgos reveals her observation of racial segregation in Washington, DC: “Esta ciudad ofrece muchas cosas interesantes, pero otras muy crueles. El prejuicio racial es de lo más inconcebible. Los negros tienen escuelas, bibliotecas, restaurantes, hoteles y todo aparte. Es horrible” (Cartas a Consuelo, 15 de mayo de 1940, 37; This city offers many interesting things, but others are very cruel. The racial bias here is inconceivable. The blacks have schools, libraries, restaurants, hotel and all separate. It is horrible). But Burgos ends up reproducing the racist and anti-African assumptions about her fellow migrants of African descent. In another letter she offers problematic racializing descriptions of Harlemnites she has been counting for the 1940 Census in New York: “Imagínate que me ha tocado en pleno distrito de Harlem, el centro de los negros norteamericanos, que dicho sea de paso, permanecen casi salvajes. Estos negros no saben hablar ni inglés. Hablan un slang malo, entre dientes, y no saben ni cómo se llaman, ni dónde nacieron. Es duro trabajar en este sitio. Pero en fin, no encontré otra cosa que hacer. En todo mi distrito—como de 1000 personas—no he encontrado ni un solo latino, ni un solo blanco norteamericano.  La mayor parte de esos negros son de Islas Vírgenes y Bermuda, Martinica, etc.-cocolos, que llaman. Viven en ritos salvajes, haciendo 'brujerías' y quemando inciensos, prendiendo velas, etc. Todo esto lo he visto con mis propios ojos, pues he tenido que meterme en las casas, sentarme con ellos y oír y ver su manera de vida. Es interesante, pero molesto y peligroso. Son ellos muy rencorosos con el hombre blanco que los ha humillado y proceden malcriados y brutales” (Burgos a Consuelo Burgos García, 9 abril de 1940, Cartas a Consuelo, 27; Imagine, I had to work in Harlem, the center of Black North Americans, whom, it is worth mentioning, persist as almost savage.  These Blacks do not know how to speak English.  They speak a bad slang, between their teeth, and do not know their names nor where they were born.  It is hard to work in this place.  But, in the end, I found no other option. In my whole district—of 1000 persons—I have not encountered a single Latino, nor white North American. The majority of these Black people are from the Virgin Islands and Bermuda, Martinique, etc.—they call them cocolos. They engage in savage rituals, working "witchcraft" and burning incense, lighting candles, etc. All this I have seen with my own eyes. It is interesting, but tedious and dangerous.  They are very bitter about the white man who has humiliated them and they continue, brutish and ill-behaved).

[45] See Roberto Marquez’s excellent translation of this and many other poems in Puerto Rican Poetry: An Anthology from the Aboriginal to Contemporary Times, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 223–24.

[46] Ironically, Burgos receives assistance from an Afro-Puerto Rican family, Dr. Lanauze and his daughter, during her difficult return by bus to New York after Jiménez Grullón leaves her in the lurch. The Lanauze family offered to organize a recital in the black community at Howard University to help Burgos raise funds. Burgos refuses their offer, for “entonces no podría yo ir a ningún sitio público que no fuera de negros, ni a los parques” (undated, Cartas a Consuelo, 38; then I would not be able to go to any public site that was not for blacks, not even to parks). Despite her poem about her blackness, “Ay ay ay de la grifa Negra” (“Ay, ay ay of the Kinky-Haired Negress”) (Agüeros, 32–33) and the racist and demoralizing treatment from her lover's family based on her background, she fears being associated publicly with Blackness in the United States, even with the Afro-Puerto Ricans in Washington, D. C., who had come to her aid. Not only internalized anti-Blackness in Latinx culture, but also the peculiar brutality of white racism in the United States prompts this racial desdoblamiento.

[47] For examples of her militant poetry see “Desde el Puente Martín Peña” (“From Martín Peña Bridge”) which urges workers to revolt against hunger and misery “como alzaron en Rusia (as they rose up in Russia);” see “Ochenta mil,” which decries fascism in Spain, and “Ya no es Canción,” which articulates a “grito proletario” (“proletarian scream”), “desintegrando tiranías” (“disintegrating tyrannies”) “para anunciar el ímpetu rojo del presente” (“to announce the red impetus of the present”), “de mentes que se libertan” (“of minds that free themselves”) in Obra poética, 26–27, 34–36, 260; and “Canción a los Pueblos Hispanos de América y del mundo,” “Es nuestra la hora,” “Ibero-America resurge ante Bolívar,” “Somos puños cerrados,” “Canto a la federación libre,” “Despierta (A la mujer puertorriqueña),” “Una canción a Albizu Campos,” “Gloria a tí,” and “Canto a Martí” among many others in Song of the Simple Truth, ed. Agüeros.

[48] Julia de Burgos, “Campo – 1, Campo – 2,” Obra poética, 243–46; “Countryside – 1, Countryside – 2,” Song of the Simple Truth, 344–45. The F. B. I. mistranslates these lines as: “Treason is burning in the countryside,/ Hope is burning in the countryside,/ Man is burning in the countryside” (U. S. Bureau of Investigations, 6 July 1944; qtd. in Feinsod, 106).

[49] Cristina Pérez Jiménez's introduction to this and one other lost Poem applauds Agüeros’s work to recover many of Burgos’s poems previously unpublished or collected in “From the Archives: Two ‘Lost Poems’ by Julia de Burgos,” trans. Bret Maney CENTRO Journal 29.2 (2017): 88–103, 94–95.

[50] Burgos’s poem “La Novia del Campo” (“The Country Bride”) is reprinted in Jiménez and translated by Maney in “From the Archives: Two ‘Lost Poems’ by Julia de Burgos.” CENTRO Journal 29 no. 2 (2017): 102–3.

[51] The poem leaves open the identity of the perpetrator. As Donette A. Francis has observed in "'Silences Too Horrific to Disturb': Writing Sexual Histories in Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory," Research in African Literatures 35, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 75–90, Danticat's Haitian narrators were victimized by the Caco resistance and by the U.S. Marine occupiers, and even by family members. She notes that splitting becomes a strategy of survival of this sexual violence (83).

[52] Burgos’s “Certificate of Death” lists “Cirrhosis of the liver” and “jaundice” as causes, July 15, 1953; rpt. Lucca, El diario de Julia y otras verdades sencillas, (2015), 334.

[53] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Second Edition (San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 1999), 75–86.

[54] Burgos describes her knowledge of English as a weapon: “My mind knows its power over circumstances and expression is one of the handicaps of foreigners around here, that makes circumstances more cruel and hard. For this same reason I must have practice in my most powerful weapon besides my will of power, that is, my knowledge of English” (February 8, 1940, Cartas a Consuelo, 11).

[55] In the F. B. I. interview of February 28, 1945, Julia explains that her sympathy for the independence of Puerto Rico was “something that I cannot explain in English,” rpt. Lucca, ed. Diario de Julia, 214.

[56] Burgos comments to her sister on 24 July 1945: “El problema de la vivienda es de lo más serio que tiene hoy Nueva York” (“the problem of housing is one of the most serious that New York faces today”) Cartas a Consuelo, 196. On May 15, 1953, just weeks before her death, she describes this violence using a figure to represent being forced to lie down: “me castigaron acostándome y dándome hasta patos en cama. No sé ni qué decirte” (“They punished me by forcing me to lie down and stepping on me in bed. I am not sure how to say this to you”), in Cartas a Consuelo, 219. This translation approximates a Puerto Rican expression that may allude to sexual violation.

[57] Burgos, “Farewell in Welfare Island,” Obra Poética, 253.

[58] Burgos, “The Sun in Welfare Island,” Obra Poética, 254.

[59] Burgos, “Poema para mi muerte,” Song of the Simple Truth, 244–247.

[60] Burgos, “Poema para mi muerte,” Song of the Simple Truth, 244–247, translation modified.

[61] See for example, “Poema al hijo que no llega” (Poem to the Child Who Doesn’t Arrive), Song of the Simple Truth, 490–491.