How Amanda Alcantára’s Intimate Journal of Poems and Stories, Chula, Embraces Caribeñx Culture
Amanda Alcántara’s Chula is made up short stories, journal entries and musically influenced poems that reflect her personal struggles as well as Caribbean identity.
I now know Amanda Alcantára.
Like, I know her, know her.
The Dominican-American writer made a name for herself with her blog, Radical Latina, and as co-founder of the women-focused magazine La Galeria, but it's through her book, Chula, that I really had the chance to get to know her story.
Used as another word for hottie, lovely or gorgeous, “chula” is a nickname that will make any Caribeña melt once slipped from the lips of a significant other. “Yes, call me chula, please,” she writes in her poem by the same name.
The book unravels her 28 years of life through a collection of journal entries, short stories and intimate poems. She shares insight on the therapeutic aspect of the collecting process: “It was scary going through my journals and revisiting. It was a process of getting to know myself again.” The book release was held on March 21, and since then Chula has reached No. 1 on Amazon in Caribbean and Latin American Poetry, Hispanic American Poetry and Hispanic Biographies categories.
“Chula for me is about survival,” she says. “It's about overcoming feeling unworthy.” The author shares experiences with her sexuality, sexual harassment, being silenced and wanting to die, which she believes is something a lot of women experience — especially survivors, who feel shame and guilt and like they deserved it. Through the unpacking, you also learn her perspective on the term “mulatta” a word used frequently in the Caribbean — normally identifying someone of a mixed race.
What makes the book's texts unique can be best described with my experience three pages in. As a Dominican-American who understands both Spanish and English, that's how long it took me to realize I was reading in Spanglish. Alcantara writes the way she speaks, the way I speak, the way my sister speaks — it naturally resonates with the bilingual reader as the autobiographical dive takes place.
It doesn't stop there, however. Not only is there a mixture of languages but a combination of dialects, blending the northern Cibaeño accent (from a region in the Dominican Republic) into her poems — though Alcantara was apprehensive about doing this at first. “There were some parts where I was scared because I thought people would think it's wrong or misspelled.” But she just figured, “People will know.”
“I'm not even trying to be like, ‘Ooh my identity.' It just came naturally.”
Something Dominican-Americans also understood was how “backwards” she lived. Normally, growing up Dominican in the states meant traveling back to the islands for the summer. Amanda's experience was different. Her mother moved back to Santiago, Dominican Republic, so every year Amanda flew in to New Jersey.
As a one-woman team, Alcántara is running the business aspect as a self-publisher and promoter. She has to handle the emails. When asked why she decided to publish independently, she simply replied: “Urgency.” “I didn't want to wait one year to find an agent then one year to find a publisher. I didn't want to wait three years to publish my book.” She also wanted to have full creative control. “I didn't want to compromise on the Spanish and English or the format.”
The book's illustration was also carefully thought out as well. The flowers on the cover are called coralillo, they're found in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. As a child she would them to make necklaces and bracelets.
One of the best aspects of Chula is that it's heavily influenced by perreo and reggaetón culture. “Reggaetón to me is poetry,” she says. One of the first pieces the reader comes across is a spoken-word-like rhyme that goes over a poem.
Amanda is looking forward to exploring her own literary world further: “For me, I'm in love with my writing, and I can't wait to just write, do more and have fun while doing it. And even when you writing the difficult shit, and you look back, like, and say, ‘Yo, that's fire.' I want that.”