Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Alisa Valdes, Chica Lit and Humanity.

Alisa Valdes went on a long twitter rant yesterday on race, literature, and categorization. Here's a sample tweet
"Dear James Patterson: The white community is so proud of you for writing our white stories. Sound absurd? Quit doing it 2me.

and another:

The idea that Latinos are homogeneous and predictable because of a US-manufactured "ethnicity" is morally repugnant & makes us all subhuman.

And on her facebook, she notes that "I hate all labels. Always have. I find them simplistic and moronic. That's why I tried in my "chica lit" novels to deconstruct the Latino myth"

Now, these tweets aren't the full conversation, read back in her timeline and read her entire update if you want her entire message.

But I think you can get the gist of some of her arguments. I think there's a lot of truth in her discussion of the diversity of Latinos and the artificiality of racial categories.

(although I was reminded of how in this story, they discussed how Latin@s in the second generation tended to identify as 'white' less often- and I think that's because in this country, they aren't 'white' - although to me, 'white' means that there aren't widespread hysterias about how your group is RUINING THE NATION and THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW against whatever your group is supposedly doing whether it's speaking Spanish, being poor and having a kid, or drinking beer*)

However, I think there's a huge hunger for stories of more than just the pale and male, and so when people see those stories, they say "write more! write this new Chica lit I've discovered!" Categories may be invented, but those invented categories structure our lives. We want to see our experiences in literature, and thus the categorization. When we go to the shelf for Latina lit, African American lit, Asian American lit, we go there to finally see ourselves reflected in the pages of books.

I don't think that these categories mean the works aren't universal- I've never set foot in the Caribbean, but the Carribbean influenced stories of Nalo Hopskinson speak to me. I've never been Chinese, but I love Amy Tan. I've even read Valdes' work(I was entertained). Categories don't mean that we aren't all human, and at the heart, we all want safety, warmth and happiness, but they color the ways we get to these human universals.

Categories of stories about who a people are are just as valid as categories about whether a story involves dragons and swords or spaceships. We go to the shelves to learn something deeper about that experience-whether it's ethnic experience or the imagined experience of wacky god sex.

We may be surprised about what we find.

*The Irish and Germans became white when we no longer had to hear about how their beer drinking ways and/or Catholism were breaking the country's fabric apart.

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