Sandra María Esteves

American poet

Sandra María Esteves (born May 10, 1948) is a Latina poet and graphic artist. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and is one of the founders of the Nuyorican poetry movement. She has published collections of poetry and has conducted literary programs at New York City Board of Education, the Caribbean Cultural Center, and El Museo del Barrio. Esteves has served as the executive director of the African Caribbean Poetry Theater.



Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo (1990)

  • The inner life has no boundaries
  • We are infants compared to the universe
  • Intelligence and feelings forming alliances for seeing.
  • How I love to listen./Remind myself there is more to the world./How I have learned to grow from it.
  • Take off the mask. Discard it.
  • See for yourself/the you inside no one else can see.
  • Climb the stairway of your imagination
  • I want to know/who will decide our fate?/You, or I, or WE together?/Will I be free to discover my own path?
  • Poems are for the livin', that's what I know.
  • within these verses is history
  • Discovering new meanings for old words/listed in the encyclopedia of colonialism.
  • forming bridges of correspondence from old to new worlds.
  • I seek poems that rise from the ashes
  • suspended from the high branches of an old wisdom tree
  • born/from the holy tree where one is brother/to all brothers, sister/to all sisters.
  • Bureaucrats shifting responsibility,/shuffling lives into despair

Interview (2001)


In A Poet's Truth by Bruce Allen Dick

  • My father's family is Puerto Rican, my mother's family is Dominican. I start with Puerto Rican-Dominican, then I go to Borinqueña-Quisqueyana, because Borinqueña means I am a native of Borinquen, the Taino name for Puerto Rico, and Quisqueyana means I am a native of Quisqueya, the Taino name for the Dominican Republic. The Tainos were the indigenous people who inhabited the islands of the Caribbean before Columbus arrived and renamed their land. So if someone calls you Borinqueño, Boricua, or Quisqueyana, they're saying that you're someone who identifies with your past and your culture. It's also a reference to nationhood. I'm making connections to my history by tagging that on. The Africana identifies another part of my roots. I'm saying that I'm American, born in the Bronx, but I'm also Taino and African.
  • I disagree with the statements that all Tainos were wiped out because many fled and hid in the mountains; they mixed and married, so the Taino is still very present in our society. Recent DNA testing has proved this to be true in spite of what the history books tell us. You know, you can't always believe those accounts written in books. It depends on who is writing it and why, what is the point they are getting at to try and convince whoever may be the reader.
  • I'm still a painter. I consider myself a painter who uses poetry as a different way of painting. It wasn't until I was in college that I started experimenting with words and language.
  • When I was young, I was placed in a boarding school where I was not allowed to speak my natural Spanish, which was all I spoke until I was five. Not being allowed to speak Spanish in school traumatized me with inhibitions about speaking.
  • In boarding school, in the second grade I made the decision that I was going to be an artist because I wouldn't have to talk. I could express myself with colors, and it was safe...So I basically became a listener, an observer. My mother thought that something was wrong with me. I became an extreme introvert who wouldn't talk. You wouldn't believe that about me today because I'm very different, but back then I had a lot of fears about language. It wasn't until that art class that I opened up to words. I started experimenting and incorporating words into some of my drawings.
  • (At National Black Theater performance) I was in awe of the words I witnessed that day. It was the first time that I heard the works of writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka. I heard poetry that was about me, that was very immediate. I connected to it in a visceral way. That experience moved me so profoundly that I went home and that night I wrote my first batch of poems. It was like the floodgates opened. That reading empowered me with a voice and gave me permission to express everything that had been festering in me for years. So I just started experimenting with language and writing all kinds of things.
  • I write visually. I'm a painter who uses words.
  • When students write, they often generalize. I want them to be specific, so I ask them to imagine that they're creating a movie, that they're using a camera, and that they have to describe each shot for the listening audience. So I stress detail to overcome the hurdle of generalizing.
  • When I started writing, there were only two women writers that I knew: Lorraine Sutton and Margie Simmons. There were very few Latinas writing in English... So when I started, I was mainly surrounded by men-Pedro Pietri, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Lucky Cienfuegos, Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero, Tato Laviera. Many of them had books already published. I was like a sponge, absorbing different things from these male contemporaries.
  • I feel live I'm constantly evolving into my own voice.
  • We know the projections about Latinos becoming the largest minority within the next few years, but you can go to Barnes and Noble across the street, where they have a department store of books, or any other franchise bookstore anywhere in the States, and you won't even find one aisle devoted to Latino literature. So what are they trying to tell us-that we don't have a literature? Or that we don't read or write or buy books? None of this is true. We are a community with a vibrant and extensive literature, but we are still a marginalized culture, even now in this new millennium.
  • There is the argument that anyone's writing is meant to be shared with the universe. I want to die knowing that my children are going to have some kind of legacy because this is all I have to give-my work.
  • I'm still angry, but I'm angry in a different way. I've released a lot of it. I'm still frustrated about a lot of things about the marginalization that happens to us. It keeps showing its face.
  • We have only to look at the devastation reaped upon Vieques to understand why we have to demand our autonomy.
  • My position is that people should be able to determine for themselves. I believe in the right of choice and self-determination. I also believe that people should not be exploited unless they agree to it. And who does?
  • When I was in Cuba, I saw some things that really impressed me. When we arrived, on the way to the hotel we were driving through the streets late at night. I expressed concern when I saw a woman walking alone. Our chaperone told us that they don't have the same issues of sexual exploitation and rape like in the United States. And then I also saw that they had twenty-four-hour day care. That made sense. I saw free hospitalization and free education
  • I'm definitely English dominant. I've learned to think and feel in English, although on occasions Spanish comes back.
  • Sometimes, within the African American community, being Latina can be a liability rather than an asset. But then, that's why it's important to know our history, to know how we are connected, how we are victims of the diaspora that divided our families and plunged us into ideas of segregation and disunity. It's so important to know our history to overcome the misconceptions about race and culture.
  • I didn't know anything about my Puerto Rican or Dominican culture until I was in my late twenties. This information was not taught or available in the schools. And it's still pretty much the case. I go into the schools today, and one of the first lessons I do with the children is to talk about the Taino Indians. You would think with all the information available today, that students would know something. But the kids are amazed when they hear me talk about this. I ask them if they know the meaning of Borinqueña or Quisqueyana. Even in Washington Heights, in a school that is predominantly Dominican, they don't know where Quisqueya comes from, even though they've heard it a thousand times. They don't know that it's a Taino word. They don't know that it was the Indian name of their island. So this information is still missing, yet still terribly important.
  • I want to learn about my past, my culture. She (her mother) talks to me in broken English, reminding me how wonderful it is to be an American; I talk to her in broken Spanish, attempting to explain why I want to know more about our history and culture.
  • Now you have Latino studies departments in some of the universities. And even though some of these are still highly marginalized and no more than token gestures of integration, inclusion, and diversification, where you get only one or two classes, there's still a demand for it. People want this information. This is a multicultural society. People are tired and bored with exclusivity.
  • I think there are many people out there who are ready and want to embrace a multicultural ideology.
  • how we are marginalized, how whole communities are sedated with the new slavery of drugs, how we are easily offered various forms of addiction to cope with our situations, anything from drugs, alcohol, religion, sex, television, food, money-take your pick. A poet named Safiya said, "We all are addicted to something." But we still manage to dream in spite of it.
  • The poet is a truth bearer of reality and image. We live in a society of denial that doesn't want to see or hear these truth tales, so consequently poets are shunned to a great degree because people don't always want to hear the truth.
  • In the old days poets used to go into the factories and the sugar and tobacco plantations and recite to the workers while they were doing their thing. No more. Perhaps it's a fear of intelligence, of language. A fear of self-realization.
  • I was raised by my mother, but around my father's family. She was alone. My father's family rejected my mother because she was too dark, and they were only a slight shade lighter. Their attitude was based on racist criteria of appearances that people had back then, when the hue of your skin defined who you were, where you were able to go, what you I could learn, do, and achieve in life.
  • Music has been a very important part of my life.

Quotes about Sandra María Esteves

  • while one might see a struggle for linguistic identity through Esteves' use of Spanish and English or for a way to connect to Puerto Rico through her reference to Puerto Rican independence fighter Lolita Lebrón, I cannot disconnect these themes from her self-definition as "Taíno Africana," where her claim to indigeneity is embedded in her recognition of her blackness. Her struggle for language, like Tato Laviera's, is not just linguistic, cultural or national, but also racial. When Esteves cannot find her voice, "Pero con what voice do my lips move?/ Rhythms of rosa wood feet dancing bomba/ Not even here. But here. Y conga," she turns to African rhythms present in Puerto Rican music. The "we" then that "defy translation" and are "Nameless," then are not just Nuyoricans. They are Afro-Latin@s.
  • Melissa Castillo-Garsow, ¡Manteca!: An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets
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