Friday, April 11, 2008

Future of Chicano Literature?

Getting ready for Hecho en Tejas in Dallas, 7:30 p.m., May 3 at the Cultural Arts Center with a fantastic lineup. Come out if you’re in the Dallas area. Thinking about my friends who I'll be seeing again in North Texas reminded me of Hecho, en El Paso and how when I was there I had the opportunity to meet the editor of the New York Times book review and was, well, disappointed to say the least. Here’s what I wrote in the El Paso Times about the meeting.

Who knows the future of literature? Not this star
There's this platica that the New York Times Book Review editor had at my alma mater. It was a big deal, part of the recent 22nd Annual Literature Lecture series at the University of Texas at El Paso. I was looking forward to hearing what this man had to say about literature, about us here along the border. I'm a bit of a bookworm, and -- OK, I'll say it -- a nerd, and this Anglo man from up North is a rock star in my bookish head.

I get there 30 minutes early, another nerd habit of mine, and I notice that there are not many people in the auditorium. I think maybe no one will show and I start to feel bad for the guy, but then I remember that I'm back home in El Paso. Then at 7 p.m., when the event is supposed to start, ay vienen todos, about 400 of us, mostly students from the university.

The man from up North comes out, gets on stage and starts talking about the New York Times Book Review and how things are done and some important book list poll that he says isn't really all that important. He was trying to be humble and I start to think well, maybe this one is different.

Then he starts talking about the impact the immigration experience is going to have on American literature. Says that immigration is the story of our time, and I perk up. It seems to me that the rest of the audience perks up tambien, because this is relevant.

He described the strong voices coming out of the Latino and Asian immigrant experience. He mentions Chilean, Ecuadorian, Colombian and even Dominican voices.

These authors he mentions are fabulous y todo, but still I'm waiting for this guero to give a shout out to our brothers and sisters. Wanting him do a little homework, use his literary pedigree y todo así, wanting him to let us know that he knew all about Anaya, La Sandra, Denise, Ana y el Dagoberto. At the very least I thought he'd maybe look up the UTEP Web site a ver que Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Daniel Chacón do there at the university. They were even in the audience, which to me was very polite because they've got families and stuff to do, too.

Then I think I'm being a little too hard on the guy. But when it comes time for the questions, our kids -- intelligent, beautiful -- ask smart, polite questions because they were raised right and were told they needed to be polite to guests in their home. They ask the immigration question not once but twice and the impact it's going to play on American literature. He mentions "author's voice" again, and "anger fueling the voice."

Here's where I start thinking this man is no different from all the rest. See, in my nerdy little book world where we insult each other with words instead of vaisas, "voice" is code for "this guy's work sucks" and "this really isn't smart" and "he needs to study more before publishing."

When the guero is finished with his talk, I buy his book so I can ask him what role he thinks Chicano literature is going to play in American letters. And because I asked straight up like that, he couldn't bring up Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who we both know ain't Mexican-American. The pobre had to answer something, and you know what he told me? He just doesn't see it having a big role in literature, such as other media and the Internet.

Then I countered with como puedes decir eso with so many Mexicans coming into this country, only I say it in English so that he can understand me, and he shrugs his shoulders and says that the Internet and blogs are going to have a huge impact and no one can predict where literature is really going.

And I'm satisfied, because that's right: He has no idea where literature is going. I thank him y me despido de el.

I get out of there and I'm grateful, so thankful, that the celebration of the Texas-Mexican anthology "Hecho en Tejas" was in town the same week and I could go to where Dagoberto Gilb, Benjamin Sáenz, Norma Cantu, Sergio Troncoso, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cecilia Ballí, Richard Yañez, Tammy Gomez, David Garza and Sheryl Luna were reading and discussing the state of American literature.

Christine Granados is the author of "Brides and Sinners in El Chuco," published by the University of Arizona Press.

Author(s): Christine Granados / Guest columnist Date: April 7, 2007 Section: Lifestyle

Copyright (c) 2007 El Paso Times, a MediaNews Group Newspaper.