The Gulf’s loop currents and countercultures — whether in jazz or blues, Mexican or Cuban son, counterclockwise ritual dances and flying bird-men — work from traditions of creolization and indigeneity that have shaped the world.

Mexico and the Gulf Shores of Cornbread Nations

Gulf of Mexico Map
1883 map of Mexico, Central America and the West Indies

What do we see, fear, or come to understand about ourselves and each other when we face things from the Gulf, from gulfs between us? The two of us—a scholar of U.S. southern studies teaching in Florida with its steady currents from Mexico and Cuba, and a Veracruzana working as a Latin Americanist in the South in a time of border hysteria—chart the region of the Gulf of Mexico as a North American ground zero: a matrix of cross-cultural histories and futures, psychic border walls and shifting frontiers.

We look to fiesta-markings of Gulf time and space: days of the dead, carnival, Independence Day parades and barbacoa, the measured turnings of Mother Earth and the growth cycles and origins of corn. Histories here stretch into long counts of time. From Maya prophetic books to the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Cornbread Nation series, and from the freedom cry of the Afro-Mexican cimarron leader Yanga to “build-that-wall” chants of our moment, Gulf formations keep linking and dividing people, expanding, calling for response.

Traditional flying birdmen performance
Flying birdmen performance by voladores in a ceremony to ask for fertility.

Our book project and accompanying films see the Gulf of Mexico as an American Mediterranean, our Greece, as José Martí put it. From Tabasco to Mississippi and along both sides of the Rio Grande, many buried and unburied voices move in Gulf formations: Choctaw and Nahua, African and Creole, songs of sirens and lloronas… especially women’s insistent voicings along a repeating frontier. Some of these voices ring familiarly in a single name—Sor Juana, Eudora, Zora, Selena, Beyoncé — or a simple title like The Awakening, La Frontera, Shell Shaker, Caramelo, Ceremony. Together they Salvage the Bones (as coastal Mississippi’s Jesmyn Ward reveals) and carry ofrendas to pantheons of our increasingly interconnected dead.

 

El grito de Yanga (Yanga's Freedom Cry)

A Documentary from Veracruz
Directed by Dolores Flores-Silva and Keith Cartwright
Filmed and Produced by Daniel Pike

In Spanish with English subtitles
25 minutes

Visit the Films page for more information and to watch the full-length version of this documentary.

To book screenings contact either Dolores Flores-Silva or Keith Cartwright

From “An Ofrenda to Sacred Waters” in World Literature Today / September-October 2016
By Dolores Flores-Silva

Painting of sliced watermelon on stair steps
Arturo Montoto (Cuba), En algún lugar de la ciudad, 2015

The idea for this Gulf feature of World Literature Today goes back almost fifteen years to end-of-the-day conversations with my colleague (and co-editor of this section) Keith Cartwright in the building that some of Roanoke College’s English professors shared with my own Modern Languages Department. We talked about what our college’s first international students — coming from Choctaw Nation and Veracruz (Mexico) in the 1870s — might have discussed together as well as what might have kept them apart. I sometimes shared nostalgic stories of sirenas, cimarrones, curanderas, fiestas of carnaval and Todos Santos, as well as descriptions of music, dance, and food from my Veracruz home. Keith had no shortage of stories to share from his own souths, but he also mentioned stories by Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Eudora Welty that brought my own Gulf shores a little closer. Of course, we talked of the book we could write and a host of imagined projects linking Veracruz, New Orleans, and Havana.

The Gulf of Mexico has been navigated by Arawak and Mayan and Mississippian peoples, by Cortés and Cabeza de Vaca, by slave ships and by refugees of slavery, by drug traffickers and petroleum industries, and by climatic forces like the deity Hurakan who activated our deepest origins in the Popul Vuh. The Gulf’s loop currents of resistant countercultures — whether in jazz or blues, Mexican or Cuban son, counterclockwise ritual dances and flying bird-men, carnival parades or grassroots community activism — work from traditions of creolization and indigeneity that have shaped the world.

Soloman Jones Homer
Solomon Jones Homer of Choctaw Nation, valedictorian, Roanoke College Class of 1893. Courtesy of archives, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia.