Yes, I’m a Latino Writer. And?
When I wrote the press release for Solstice back in 2007, I lost count of the things I knocked over as I purposefully went out of my way to add an extra word into my copy. See, it wasn’t enough to say that I was a science fiction writer.
No, I was a Latino science fiction writer.
I thought it was necessary to remind my six readers that, yes, there could be such a thing as a Latino science fiction writer. Like, if I didn’t remind readers of it, I’d be robbing mi gente of a chance to say, “Hey wait, one of us wrote a sci-fi novel! No, really!”
Fast forward three years later, when I became a blogger and managing editor for a Latino online publication. There again, the question of being a Latino writer came up. I considered myself a Latino writer, but I struggled to produce weekly articles. So did many of our equally Latino writers. Why? Because we were obsessed with demonstrating how uniquely Latino our perspectives were, no matter how contrived or irrelevant the subject. I feared it was only a matter of time before we’d start churning out articles like “How a Latino gets the ketchup out of the bottle,” and “12 Confederate generals you didn’t know were Latino.” My colleague Libby and I put a stop to the madness by encouraging our staff to think of themselves as writers first, Latinos second.
I meant that advice as much for myself as for anyone else. I’d realized that forcing myself to be a Latino writer, as opposed to just a writer, had made me even more neurotic about my work because I was obsessed with being a voice for Latinos (as if anyone ever asked for it) instead of a voice for myself.
After my wife Kate and I attended the launch party of the Chicago Latino Writers Initiative, she encouraged me to write this post. We’d been in a room full of talented, bright Latinos who were also writers, and so the age-old question had resurfaced. Only this time, I think I have an answer that I’m happy with.
I’m a writer. Who just happens to be Latino.
The truth is, no one is going to wring the Latino out of me. Hell, if mass media hasn’t driven out the Latino in me by now, nothing ever will. I’m a proud Mexican-American whose life experiences inevitably and irrevocably influence the things I write. Whether I write a heartwarming end-of-the-world apocalyptic thriller or a tongue-in-cheek satire about the long-term historical consequences of mass deportations, it’ll be impossible for someone not to tell where I’m from. (And if they still can’t tell, that’s what the About the Author page is for.) I don’t care if someone thinks I shouldn’t name my lead character Itzlti because it’s too unpronounceable, or that I shouldn’t make an unemployed Aztec god a main protagonist in my new novel, The Perfect Teresa; the characters I choose reflect the cultural and political elements important to me.
In short, I don’t need to try and be a Latino writer because my Latinoness comes out in my writing whether I try or not.
But, okay, if you must know what I think being a Latino writer is, here’s an answer that’s as good as any, I suppose.
Being a Latino writer means you’re surprisingly similar to a white, black, green, purple, or salmon writer. It means that you’re hindered by self-doubt because you think everyone else is writing except you—even as the stressed out writer in the next apartment is crying over a bowl of Cheetos because he thinks you’re already on page 194 for the night.
It means you’re hindered by procrastination because, hell, what difference does it make if you start that next great American novel today, tomorrow, or next year? Besides, Modern Family is on…
It means you’re really good at self-loathing because, according to you, the things you write aren’t even good enough to be printed on toilet paper
It means you’re a neurotic mess because you cripple yourself with unrealistic expectations about how you should have already published 49 novels by the age of 30.
It means you’re shocked to hear that most writers feel the same way because you always assumed you were the only self-doubting, anxious, procrastinating, self-loeathing, neurotic mess of a wannabe writer.
So I guess being a Latino writer is a lot like…well…being a writer.