Literary critic Roberto González Echevarría asserts that Latin American literature originated in the Caribbean. “It is in fifteenth century explorer Christopher Columbus’s diary,” he writes, “that we [readers] first encounter what will become the most persistent theme of Latin American literature.” That theme, Echevarría argues, is “how to write in a European language about realities never seen in Europe before.”
Caribbean writers find before them the tools of four European languages, imported by the imperial aspirations of the Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. Writers from Dutch Caribbean regions, such as Frank Martinus Arion and Astrid H. Roemer, have been translated into other languages, making their work available to non-Dutch-speaking readers, but the Dutch Caribbean tradition stands largely unexplored.
Caribbean literature unites literary works that have been studied not only in terms of national traditions (Haitian, Cuban, and so on) but also under a wide range of classifications, such as West Indian (meaning from the English-speaking Caribbean), francophone (French outside of France), and Latin American literatures, as well as African diaspora and postcolonial literature. Caribbean literature designates literature not only from the island nations but also from Central and South American continental territories such as Belize, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, which share a common experience of slavery and sugar-plantation economies with the island territories. Because the indigenous populations of Arawaks, Tainos, and Caribs of the Caribbean basin were almost wholly exterminated through violence and disease, Caribbean peoples primarily descend from settlers exogenous to the region, most notably the large number of African slaves brought to toil on the plantations and the indentured Asian laborers brought to replace African labor after emancipation. Consequently, Caribbean writers must negotiate a relationship with both a colonial metropolitan culture and the memory of the other African and Asian cultures from elsewhere.