He was of short height but he had an immense personal charisma; he was talkative and kind, always open to exchange with the youth, nervous and restless; that is how I remember Cuban professor and intellectual José Juan Arrom when we first met in the halls of Havana's Convention Center and in the Casa de las Américas (Americas' House), attending conferences and presentations on Spanish-American literature.
I had read some of his essays, and linguistic and literary studies on the history of Spanish literature in the West Indies, as well as his penetrating exegeses on the aboriginal contribution to the Caribbean and Latin American cultural heritage.
He was one of Cuba's most respected and expert philologists of our literature who rubbed shoulders with people of the most exclusive circles of the US academic world as a Yale graduate and professor.
His merits, his tireless diligence, led to be a funding member of the US Academy of the Spanish Language and, also, a member of the Cuban Academy of Language.
Now, after knowing of his death, in his home in Massachusetts, where he lived after retiring as a professor at the University of Yale, where he had a fruitful career, we feel moved, not only because of the intellect that has died, but also, and above all, because he was a human being of an extraordinary kindness and wisdom that we knew and from whom we received advice and encouragement.
He was born in eastern Cuba, in Holguín; he was the son of a Majorcan man and a Cuban woman. Since he was very young, he received his family's support to develop his intelligence and he studied in Yale, a prestigious institution where he obtained three university degrees on literature and many honors during several decades although he was a very modest and studious man.
He also worked as curator of the Latin American collection in Yale and, without quitting teaching, he wrote a lot and advised many US students on many topics related to Spanish and Spanish-American literature.
Since he was very young in Cuba, he had showed his talent and witticism when he published, since 1941, in the Revista Bimestre Cubana (Cuban Bimonthly Magazine), his article on the "First dramatic expressions in Cuba, 1512-1776", a line of research that he continued, although he also dedicated a lot of time of his life to the study of the colonial period in the literature of Latin America.
His first book, Studies on Spanish-American literature, was published in Havana in 1950. Later, along with his notebooks, he continued developing his writings on culture in specialized periodicals such as Revista Cubana (Cuban Maganzine), the Handbook of Latin American Studies and the Iberoamerican Magazine, among others.
Many US publications, like Hispania for example, had Arrom as a contributor. His essays were also circulated by other scientific publications such as the Bulletin of Caro y Cuervo Institute, of Colombia; the Journal of Inter-American Studies, the American Notebooks, the Magazine of the Puerto Rican Culture Institute and the Bulletin of the US Academy of the Spanish Language.
The `taíno' culture, and its presence in Cuban, Dominican and Caribbean literature, as well as his interest in the colonial matters of the viceroyalty of Mexico and in the black presence on the Americas' folk poetry, were some of the topics that he studied as a philosopher, a sociologist and a culture expert. He also had a fine command of the prose, marked by an explicit communicative eagerness.
Cuban, Spanish and US culture are mourning this great intellectual and those of us who were lucky to have his affection and friendship are feeling his absence with particular emotions.
Source: Cuba Daily News
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