A Puerto Rican Decolonial Theology draws on literature to uncover a liberative Puerto Rican decolonial theology that is a response to historic colonial oppression. Rooted in the liberative theological tradition of Cone, Gutierrez, and Anzaldúa, Delgado examines literary works of three Puerto Rican authors – Esmeralda Santiago, Pedro Juan Soto, and Rosario Ferré – who both paint a portrait of Puerto Rican experiences and prophetically envision their people’s freedom. Her book is directed primarily to readers of religion or theology, particularly those familiar with and interested in liberation and/or political theologies, as well as readers interested in Puerto Rican contributions to theological studies.
Delgado situates her project within existing Latinx theologies, the colonial sociopolitical history of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rican literature that wrestles with a freedom-seeking identity. Delgado faithfully claims contextual, liberative, and practical Latinx theologies but acknowledges that themes like exile, mestizaje, and immigration do not encompass all experiences, however broadly they might resonate with Latinx. There is, argues Delgado, a lack of Puerto Rican voices that could otherwise bring a unique but relatable theological experience into the existing corpus of Latinx theologies by highlighting the distinctive plight of Puerto Ricans as they imagine new possibilities of being amidst colonial oppression.
Delgado turns to literary works as a fecund site of decolonial theological analysis for two reasons. First, Delgado finds there descriptive narratives of everyday experiences that depict the Puerto Rican “colonial reality in actuality and metaphor” (11). Second, Delgado finds a prescriptive narrative in literature that transcends captivity and longs for freedom by providing “a prophetic vision for that which is not yet fully realized” (12). Consequently, Delgado identifies the reality of Puerto Rican colonization as relevant for all Latinx thanks to a theology that opens “our souls to possibilities and questions of ultimacy that our human existence and experiences reflect” (8, 62).
To this end, through Santiago’s novel América’s Dream and her second memoir Almost a Woman, Delgado explores how Puerto Ricans articulate their identity, specifically their condition as victims, survivors, and accomplices of colonial oppression. She affirms God’s position with the oppressed “as a radical affirmation of our current identity of brokenness” (89). Delgado then draws a soteriological connection to Soto’s characters in his novel Hot Land, Cold Season and his short stories collection Spiks. For Delgado, the suffering, violence, and victimization of these characters constitute a crucifixion of the Puerto Rican people. However, just as resurrection follows crucifixion, so is this suffering indicative of salvation insofar as a belief in overcoming it is evident (136-7).
Lastly, through Ferré’s yearning for freedom in her novels The House on the Lagoon and Eccentric Neighborhoods, as well as in her collection of short stories, The Youngest Doll, Delgado explores the themes of hope and Christian eschatology. Ferré’s imagery negotiates life and death, and accepts the latter to advance a more life-giving future. For Delgado, this imagery works as a metaphor applicable to the political status of Puerto Rico, and a presently grounded eschatological hope of “waiting passively for the time when God will make all things right” (160).
A Puerto Rican Decolonial Theology both underlines the colonial oppression long experienced by the Puerto Rican people and opens the possibility of being otherwise. This itself is likely to make this book eye-opening for many readers unfamiliar with the realities of life in Puerto Rico both before the devastating 2017 hurricanes and all the more so in their wake.
The strength of Delgado’s work is her turn to literary imaginaries as the source of prophetic freedom. Despite the ostensibly unending Puerto Rican colonial experience, Delgado convinces her readers that an eschatological hope is ever present in Puerto Rican literature. Less certain, however, is whether this eschatological hope can become a realized eschatology. In other words, how much of the prophetic freedom found in literature is more of a longing for freedom than an active practice of freedom? Perhaps by amplifying the voices of Puerto Ricans, her book will enlist others to take them seriously and to push those in power in the US for change on this neglected island. Regardless, Delgado certainly succeeds in amplifying the Puerto Rican voice by uplifting and theologizing the uniquely Puerto Rican experience of negotiating a convoluted formation of identity marked by persistent suffering but not without a glimmer of hope of better things to come as decolonized selves and transformed children of God (184).
Claremont School of Theology