Friday, September 08, 2006

This And That

Manuel Ramos

The announcement for this year's award says:
"A recent newcomer to book writing, Susanna Reich brought dance and choreography icon, José Limon, back to center stage with her latest book, José! Born to Dance: The Story of José Limon. This children’s book, targeted at children ages 5 to 8, chronicles the life of a young boy who dreamed big and stopped at nothing to make his mark as a world-class dancer and choreographer."

This book was illustrated by Rául Colón and published by Simon & Schuster. The publisher says: "Susanna Reich's lyrical text and Raúl Colón's shimmering artwork tell the story of a boy who was determined to make a difference in the world, and did. José! Born to Dance will inspire picture book readers to follow their hearts and live their dreams."

Livin' the dream - that's what it's all about, no?

In a review of David Treuer's new book, Native American Fiction: A User's Manual, Denver Post columnist David Milofsky brings up a few points that many readers of La Bloga might find intriguing. I'll quote a few paragraphs from the review, all of which you can find here:

"Aren't writers of one ethnic group or another inevitably labeled as being spokespeople, whether or not they desire this designation? When Philip Roth first published Portnoy's Complaint in 1969, few Jews were able simply to accept it as literature but rather took it as Roth's ungrateful attack on the Jewish community that had sheltered him and its customs and beliefs. Some Jews went so far as to claim that the novel's whole sensibility was false, that Jewish men are never attracted to gentile women, an assertion made ludicrous by the growing number of inter-marriages in society. Others said Roth was guilty of what is sometimes called 'Jewish self-hate' and the novel and others by Roth were often dismissed without even having been read.

Similarly, Mario Puzo's Godfather saga was taken by some to be an unfair portrayal of the Italian community with few being able to separate Puzo's characters and the themes of revenge and eventual punishment from an apparent need to demonize hard-working Italians everywhere. In both cases, there was concern that outsiders would judge Jews and Italians based on what they read in novels by authors that happened to be from those minority groups.

But these concerns cross ethnic lines. Black writers like Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright were villainized by militants in the '60s for not being sufficiently political, even though Wright had been a member of the Communist Party, and Richard Garcia (sic) became controversial within the Chicano community in recent years because of what some considered his conservative views.

The point is that writers of virtually any minority group will find it difficult simply to be considered only or primarily as writers, a demand it should be pointed out that is rarely if ever leveled against white male writers. The idea that anyone would criticize, say, John Updike for being unfair to upper middle- class white suburb dwellers is ridiculous on its face."

Meanwhile, Luis J. Rodriguez has written a column that you can find here that takes on the subject of the "hysteria of Spanish-speaking people in the United States." The column, entitled End The Hysteria Over 'Spanish', includes the following:

"The 'English Only' campaigns are designed not to bring unity but to suppress other languages - particularly Spanish - and impose the supremacy of English on our tongues.

I, for one, love the English language. I've spent years trying to master it. But I'm also for having Spanish, Japanese, Hmong, Navajo and Nahuatl (still spoken by millions of people in Mexico and Central America) wherever these may apply. The U.S. Census estimates there are 329 languages spoken here, 154 of which are indigenous. Other reports claim the United States is currently the third-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.

That is not something to be ashamed of or worried about. It's something to celebrate. The ability to speak Spanish is becoming a necessity in today's America. We all might as well face up to that.

Plus, isn't it better to know more than one language? Many other countries put us to shame in this regard."

Amen, brother.

According to Hispanic, "when Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club was published in 2003, Latinas everywhere celebrated the birth of their own commercial ethnic literature. Latina characters, Latina culture, Latina stories. Who then would have guessed that in three years the demand for stories featuring Latina characters would move beyond the Latina market and into mainstream America?" The article also notes that " in these lively books, the characters speak English, Spanish and Spanglish, depending on the situation, so readers everywhere are getting into the hearts and minds of Latino and Latina characters, enjoying their pursuits and tasting their culture."

I haven't read Dirty Girls Social Club or the other book mentioned in the article (Dirty Little Lies by Julie Leto - everything's "dirty"?) so I can't comment on the accuracy of the observation above. Anyone read these? Any comments? Are Valdes-Rodriguez and Leto "spokespersons" for their ethnic group?



msedano said...

dirty girls was a latina mary mccarthy's the group. each sister sucia born out of cuban, pr, mexican, and i don't remember what all; there are five or six of them. an editor, a tv person, an unhappy housewife; philandering men; coming out. glitzy and easy to read. haven't seen the other one.

Anonymous said...

Padre Santísimo!--where is La Bloga headed if the Bloguistos muy machos resort to discussing Soucia Vatas books?

Has Homeland Security succeeded in penetrating our Literary Firewall and infected us with some nano-viral huevon-ness, such that we open our pages to admitting such commercialization, under the banner of "It must be Latino literature."

Boys, Boys! Grab your jockstraps and pull yourselves back up to respectability. Shake your heads til all that sensitivity falls out, have yourselves a few mezcales and let out one grito giagantezco.

Ramos, the post was good, as usual. I just fear for too much embra eating away at our prosaic respectability.

Anonymous said...

Did you mean Richard Rodriguez? It was shameful how he and Linda Chavez were treated by the Latino community (Chavez is more of a real conservative, and supports the English-only movement; Rodriguez doesn't support bilingual ed and basically pushes assimilation). Both got called vendidos and much worse. How about engaging with their arguments, not whether they're being "proper" Mexicans?

That blurb from Hispanic Business is weird- "who would have thought we could go mainstream"??? Uh, lots of people. And Alisa V-R would be first in line - she will tell you herself she doesn't write only for Latinos, and she hates when bookstores make sections for black literature, Asian literature, etc. (I went to a reading of hers where she spoke at length about this.) She finds it sad when people tell her "I'm not Latino but I read your book and was surprised that I identified with it!" because you would never say that to a white author ("Hey Frank McCourt - I'm not Irish but I took a risk and read your stuff! Cool huh?")

As for being a spokesperson, she has been the target of criticism from Miami Cubans who think she should speak out more about the evil of Castro - she says she denounces all dictators but never chose the role of political Cuban spokesperson, so she won't do it. She's not my fave writer ever, but her books are fun, and I think her identity politics are spot on.