It is no secret that literary magazines’ contributors are often not representative of the diversity in our country, especially in terms of language, ethnicity, and gender. As a Latina writer, I’m submerged for the second time (the first being my arrival to the United States in Florida—a much more culturally diverse state than Virginia) in an environment that at times makes my skin feel alienated—not because of tone, rather because everything embodied by me has jarring results. This isn’t to say that this is a bad quality, but rather that it is different, intimidating, challenging, and yes, inspirational.
Canonical “white” texts (by “white” texts I mean those that are either framed within the white dominant paradigm—overwhelmingly residing in the white male perspective—or by an author that does not possess a diverse cultural background) have been imbedded in our classrooms and studies for centuries and this does not exclude Latinoamérica. Which is to say that we, as an occidental reading community, are familiar with those voices, their struggles and achievements; we have been trained and thus equipped with the tools to understand, analyze, and learn from such texts. Little of this is true for more diverse writings. And yet we live in a multimodal, multilingual world, shouldn’t our literature reflect multiplicity as well?
Things are changing; Latinos, like other culturally diverse writers, are gaining ground. In 2009, Jennine Capo Crucet was the first Latina to win the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer prize a couple of years ago, and was awarded a MacArthur genius grant, receiving $500,000. Recently, Eduardo Corral became the first Latino to be the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. These are just some examples of climbing the ladder, many more can be found.
Diverse writing is getting more attention and recognition now, but that is not to say that we are nearly where we need and deserve to be. There should be accessible and widespread writing by US Latino/a (not translated works from Latin Americans, but works written by Latinos—those that identify with having Latin American descent/culture, and have experienced a, personal or generational, history of displacement, of Diaspora) about all sorts of topics ranging from Sci-Fi, to Mystery and more “Literary” works. What’s more: writing that isn’t just ethnic or culturally specific, like my former mentor pointed out, but great writing in all genres is desired.
We are not sharing an equal-opportunity playing field, that much has been demonstrated, but that does not give us the excuse to allow those in power (whether this be publishing houses, award committees, or simply professors, who might be resistant to change or to our otherness) to push us aside. We need to step it up: express our ideas in public and feel confident enough to put them in writing. And finally, summit more. How else would our reading community get acquainted with our thoughts and struggles?
We need to do this in order for readers to understand the difference, the duality (and at times multiplicity), from where we spur; the difference between being a Latin American and a Latino, the nature of being bilingual and bicultural. To expose ourselves so that we are understood and felt, so that our writing bears witness. But for people to cross the bridge, we must be able to build it first. In turn, those who may still be ignorant and unwilling, will be forced, again and again, to not toss us out for the sake of convenience, of established patterns, of incomprehension, but to look at us, and walk the extra mile to the other side of the bridge.
María Elvira Vera Tatá has finally embraced that she dwells in the Spanglish Realm and is, for better or worse, unable to find her way back to either standard Spanish or English.