So, I think by definition, I am writing Chicano literature. But as an “emerging writer” or whatever the polite term for “this motherfucker hasn’t got a book out yet” is, I am still struggling to define where I belong, writing-wise. There are two major reasons why I’m committed to reading one Latino/POC/Foreign author for every Anglo-American author I read this year.
1) To bring exposure to some vastly underrated authors
2) To find my own identity as a writer
Because here’s the thing, I believe every contemporary writer has a sort of identity, a voice, and a place he belongs to. When I was younger, I wanted to write like JK Rowling. Rowling is someone who legitimately made it hurt that I did not get a feathered message informing me of an acceptance to a magic school was inspiring.
So I wrote fanfiction. So I wrote sci-fi and fantasy. So I wrote poetry. So I wrote literary fiction
But it is finding a definition to my fiction that’s been a bit hard. I like to write realistic fiction. I like to write snappy dialogue. I like to have my characters be real people, but I leave writing about the migrant experience to my poetry and spoken word. When it comes to my fiction, I write character-driven fiction that just so happens to have Latino characters. A lot of it is based in the geography that I know. However, I believe there is an appeal to the strangeness of my own fiction: cities where sex stores neighbor upscale shopping malls; where no one’s heard of shaved ice but everyone knows about raspas; where an entire year’s budget is made in a single week; where tacos are assumed to be with corn tortillas rather than flour; those are the places my stories are set. My characters are Latino and Anglo from every walk of life because mainstream authors are not writing about that combination. White characters, sure, but Latinos are at the periphery. POC are at the periphery, and when they’re not vilified, they’re exoticized, slightly dehumanized as objects. We’re real people, y’know.
I never set out to become a Chicano author, or a Latino author, or a Mexican author, but by virtue of my birth and eventual immigration, those are the labels that I am going to embrace. That is me. My work? You can describe it however you want to describe it. One thing, though, is that I love short stories. I’m sure a great deal of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Daniel Chacon, who taught a majority of the fiction classes I was in during my MFA, and he introduced me to the short stories of Borges, Cortazar, and eventually Saenz’s Everything Begins and ends at the Kentucky Club, which solidified my want to have that medium of choice for my fiction.
Over the last three days, I finished reading Mario Suarez’ Chicano Sketches and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. Month before that, I read two of Raymond Carver’s collections because he was a direct influence on Dagoberto Gilb, whose Woodcuts of Women was also part of my thesis research last year. Full disclosure: I hated Carver. Great writing. Gritty, short, realistic. Kinda like what I write. I did not enjoy it. And full disclosure again: I also believe Sandra Cisneros’ Woman hollering creek and other stories blows Mango Street out of the water.
But you know what? I’ll let other people describe me however they want.
“Let me remember that the unintended meaning that people project on to what to do is neither my fault or something I can take credit for.” –Ze Frank
I’m going to keep writing, because I get high on writing. There is a passage that solidifies it in Kentucky Club:
She pulled her hair back over hear ears. “When you get a high. That first hit, that first fantastic, euphoric hit. It’s the dragon.” He smile on her face, the clenched fist, almost crazed and yet that look was almost beatific, almost as if she’d seen the face of God. “You catch the dragon. And the rest of the night, you spend trying to catch the fucking dragon again. And sometimes you do,” she said. “Sometimes you do.” She sipped on her coffee. “That’s you, Conrad. That moment of climax, that fucking climax, those few seconds when you’ve had a taste of the apocalypse in the touch of another man or another woman. You want to do it again and again. And the dragon reappears. And after a while, he disappears and you go looking for him again. And you find another body. And you find him again, the dragon, and you want to live with him forever, but you can’t.