An ardent New Yorker of deeply cherished Afro-Puerto Rican roots, Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa is no accidental author. I sat down with her for an interview* that spanned the experiences of her authorship, bilingualism, biculturalism and the healing power of reconnecting to one’s own roots.
Growing up in the Bronx, after her family left Puerto Rico when she was a young child, she felt neglected by the images and the literature of her new country. There was no place for people like her and the real life vicissitudes of Afro-Latinos in urban America.
It soon became obvious that she would have to choose between her ancestral teachings and the values of American culture.
“I was born into a world of stories full of color and warmth and tragedy and magic and humor,” says Dahlma on her web portal and to our viewers, detailing the conflict of growing up between two universes. “I was born into a world of music and intuitive knowing and overpowering scents. But when I went to school, I was told that reason and logic were the only acceptable ways of knowing. Emotions clouded reality. Definitions had to be exact, measurable, black and white, no in-betweens. Keep it simple, I was told.”
“But I was not simple,” she continues, “I was a black, Puerto Rican female in a world that insisted that I be one or the other and valued none of those parts of me. After years of trying to fit my round self into a square world, I gave up. Those rules made no sense to me. And so I began to write my world, my way.”
Rich of her family’s oral history, spiritual traditions and folklore, she set out to reclaim the wisdom that her mother, grandmother and the “ladies on the hill” from rural Puerto Rico as she calls them, have taught her to embody.
Daughters of the Stone is a celebration of the value of legacy, both personal and familial, narrated through the undying bond of five generations of women. Their strength is represented by a stone that is passed on to each protagonist as they face difficult moments in their lives, in a continuum that spans the hardships of immigration, the labors of acculturation and the triumphs of finding home.
Daughters of the Stone, Llanos-Figueroa’s first novel, was published to critical acclaim and garnered a Bronx Council on the Arts ACE and BRIO awards, a Literary Arts Fellowship and was a finalist for the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers.
The author lives in Riverdale, Bronx, and is currently working on a sequel.
*The video production was made possible by the generous support of El Museo Del Barrio, 1230 5th Avenue New York, NY 10029, and the Producers Guild of America East, 100 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013.