We Continue Our Fight to Write Our Own Narrative or We Perish

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Armando Vazquez

As a 70 year old college educated Chicano Boomer, I have witnessed both as a media and arts observer and participant, bien encabronado, an infinite amount of times in my life, here in Amerika, the “farming out of Mexican, Latino, Hispanic subject matter” to white folks simply because there were/are/will never be (after exhaustive national and international search, we are assured, was conducted) any qualified Spics to do the subject matter justice. Esa pinche bronco de mentiras es mierda my friends. It is a deliberate and historical conspiracy of lies perpetrated and perpetuated by those media moguls (almost exclusively white) in power. It is how you put blinders on the American aesthetic, kick into cruise control and maintain the lazy, racist, and yes profit driven status quo (No Spics, Blacks need apply).

It is winning formula, the American reader-sheep consume the slop and the media corporations reap the profits. So it goes in this homogenized literary wasteland and enter right on queue our latest exhibit; the blockbuster new book by Jeanine Cummins entitled American Dirt. It seems everyone is gushing over this pulp fiction Narconovela, crafted expertly by Cummins, for today’s violence/blood/drug consumed and culturally myopic readership. Oprah loved it and is ramming the book own the throats of the American readership big-time. Our literary godmother of the letters, Sandra Cisneros gushes over the book and states, “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel! This is the international story of our time. Masterful”

However there are other reviews that are not so kind. Author Daniel Peña characterizes the book as a, “lab-created brown trauma built for the white gaze and white book clubs to give a textural experience to people who need to feel something to avoid doing anything and from the safety of their chair.”  And best-selling author Alisa Valdes slams the book as just another literary rip-off when she roars, “This is why we’re pissed. American Dirt doesn’t appropriate a Mexican migrant story at all. It misappropriates the ongoing bullshit single story of Mexican-ness, told by the US entertainment industry. That Oprah has chosen this book is just a massive slap in the face to all of the US Latino writers who have been writing the actual diverse stories of us and our many cultures and selves for decades, but have been completely ignored by her. In all the years of her book club, Oprah has never – NOT ONCE – chosen a book written by a US-born Latino author. Not. F_____g. Once”

I started reading American Dirt and stopped on the second chapter. All I read were the expertly-crafted hot bottom issues touched on by Cummins that pigeon hole all Mexicans (all Latinos) as narcos, victims of narcos, corrupt cops and politicos,  and Mexico as a lawless killing field). Straight out of the Trump playbook, a premeditated, calculated pathetically sick and warped vision of Mexico. But what the hell American Dirt will sell millions of books, and make everyone associated with the book rich. After all isn’t that the American way, the bottom line?

Yeah success and riches is great for Cummins and her publisher. But  what about the greater question of literary and artistic integrity, diversity and equity in this country. We the minority writers and artists of America are working against a 200 year wick and exclusionary artistic and literary industry that has ignored or silenced our visions, creativity and voices for far too long. We the Latino/minority writers and artists have the great authentic “las Americas” novel/art work masterpiece, maybe already in manuscript or in studio, perhaps in the heart, but no one in the current art/publishing world is interested, or so it appears.

Do we stop writing and creating art? Hell no, con Corazon y orgullo, we keep writing and creating art.  Very early on in my artistic life I had a spiritual come to La Virgen de Guadalupe moment, she reminded me that art is my religion, my drug, my lover, my loyal companion in the wasteland. Create or perish, no matter what. I listened and took the loving admonish from mi madrecita to my soul and heart. I have been writing and creating art about what I know, about who I am, my culture and my people. I avoid, out of respect and deference to let the Jew and the Haitian to write about themselves for all of us. From them I will learn and grow. I am reminded by my dear friend Professor Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuna that, “We must write own narrative, because if we don’t, they will and they will revise and distort our narrative” This advice from Rudy has been my mantra for my life, I write and create. For the past 60 years I have created art, I have never made a penny on my art or my writing. I am not deterred, con mas ganas y amor, I continue my love affair. 

About 10 years ago I wrote “La Mariposa” a novel and adapted into a play based on the composite life of hundreds of young Mexican women and their torturous ordeals as immigrants and women that I worked with over the 25 years in my capacity as the Executive Director of the Acuna Art Gallery & Cultural Center in Oxnard, California. It has been read by only a handful of loyal friends and all of the women that shared their “dirty little secrets” with me. I feel both honored and successful as a writer I put the story to paper and it was read by the subject matter. They love the story and the play, I am blessed and broke.

I applaud Jeanine Cummins for her block buster book, American Dirt. I hope that someday a publisher will  read my La Mariposa manuscript or perhaps the adapted play. I won’t hold my breath. But I will continue to write and create the art I know and love. Sour grapes from an obscure artist/writer, you read American Dirt and you decide.

 


Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition

 


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.


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