Cool photo from here.
Why don't I want to write this post?
Because it's a subject that feels touchy, feels weighted, feels uninformed, and I hate to put something out there in the world on this subject that isn't well considered.
Also, I am lazy.
In my last post, I spoke at length about my difficulties with writing, and about the massive block that resulted.
But I didn't mention all of it.
See, it's hard for me to believe now, but there was once a time when I was thoroughly ashamed of being a Latina.
Like most interesting baggage, this had its roots in childhood. We were a family that liked to party, and no party was complete without dancing. Inevitably, some tio or tia would notice me in the corner, attempting a hesitant little shuffle, and would push me into the center of the dance floor. “Baila, mija, dance!” Their voices would change on that last word, growing strange and accented. Perhaps that moment of sounding Other to their own ears darkened their mood, made them crave someone to push that sense of wrongness onto.
And there was me-- doing my best imitation, but somehow I never quite mastered the insouciant vibrato shoulder shake, or the perfect flirty hip swivel. Ah, here was something they could do, and I couldn't. Who cared then that I could speak “perfect” English? So they would tease, and laugh, and shake their heads. “La Americanita” couldn't dance.
In hindsight, I think all of us kids got hazed about dancing—it's a prized skill in our culture, and woe to those who can't do it. But at the time, I felt the “American” spotlight squarely on me.
I think I adopted a “if I can't join them, I'll just stay here in the corner and wear black” attitude.
It wasn't always easy. Sometimes I would have to run to the bathroom and lock myself in, dancing with careless abandon to the bass pressing against the door.
I am sure I wasn't so bad, then.
So, outsider feelings, blah blah. I still didn't feel inferior per se; I grew up in a heavily Latino area, and while all of my friends were white, black or Asian, I still didn't see myself as different or worse.
I met the most amazing, affluent, cultured people. And not a one of them was Latino. I read beautiful literature, none of it by Latinos (I was an English major, after all). I listened to glorious music...well, you get the picture. I started to feel the weight of something, some feeling that I came from a void. Everyone else could claim something in their lineage. I just felt a big blank. Sure, we had Celia Cruz, and sancocho, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but none of it felt significant enough in comparison.
I struggled with this feeling more after meeting TEG, who grew up in India and is fiercely proud of his homeland. He told me stories about the history, mythology, art. I felt sad I had nothing comparable to share with him.
This went on until I turned about 28 or so. I decided that just because I had grown up with little knowledge of the contributions of Latinos to the world stage, that it didn't mean there was nothing there to celebrate. So I started forcing myself to explore, to read Latino literature, both in Spanish (painstakingly slow) and in translation. I realized that I didn't much like Gabriel Garcias Marquez but loved Julia Alvarez. I discovered that the songs I grew up with were beautiful and worthy in their own right, not just always as “booty shaking” music.
In short, I got over myself and learned.
When I started writing again, I felt compelled to write out stories full of Latinos—if only to counteract the (usually unspoken) assumption that if no ethnicity is specified, a character is white. I wanted to share the insides of people who don't always see their own lives as worthy of preservation, and I wanted to show my parents that I could see the beauty of everything they gave up to move here.
All lofty goals, right?
The problem is, all those lofty goals started to feel forced. I found myself wanting to write around them, under them. I wanted to write romances, teen stuff, even fan fiction for my favorite shows. But I still felt like the only writing that counted was the “up with Latinos” stuff.
So, write the other stuff, you must be thinking. Sure, I tried. But then I faced the other side of this problem.
I felt like the only thing that made me special as a writer was my ethnicity. That it was the only thing that made people want to read me (and about me, since I am mostly talking about blogging here). It was my “niche”...my “hook,” if you will. Writing romances, teen stuff, et al...nothing about the way I write those would make me stand out. And I so do dearly love to stand out (just not on the dance floor, at age 11, doing it All Wrong).
Thus, I felt caught in a weird construction of my own making. Writing ethnic fiction was the “right” thing to do, and it was the only thing I had to say that was interesting. But I didn't want to write ethnic fiction anymore. But my other stuff just felt like nothing. And wasn't I betraying all of my newly discovered pride by putting my stories about Latinos aside?
If this sounds a bit like over-thinking, well, you'd be right. But I have been the “token” so much in my life. I was always “my only Hispanic friend.” I was the only Hispanic on my editorial row at my Big Publishing House. And now I turned myself into the Latina in our blogging community (yes, I know I am not the only one; indulge me).
I want to write again, so much, to feel free on the page to say WHATEVER about WHOEVER. And feel that it's interesting, and that it will still matter.
I want to come out of that bathroom, like I should have so many years ago, and shake my hips, even if it makes Shakira herself giggle.
So...why can't I?