"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Promoting these comments to full post status.

Guillermo Parra wrote:

"Sometimes I like to mention to people that my second last name is Washburn, that I'm white AND brown (even if that complexity is ignored or derided by essentialists on all sides). Although having to explain oneself in that manner gets old quickly. Richard Rodriguez does it brilliantly in his latest book, "Brown."

I see no way out of these identity politics scuffles for any of us writers of color any time soon. I don't think racism and its attendant chaos will ever completely disappear from the US.

But as you imply, what's truly important is the WRITING.

Jerry Garcia is a genius, especially anything he played from about 1972-1979."

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Guillermo,

Thanks for commenting. I'm half-white too. When a brown person suggests that my lack of "allegiance to my brown side" indicates self-loathing, I can't help but think that a total allegiance of any sort to EITHER side will/can be read as self-loathing since, as you mention, essentialists on all sides will expect me to be ONE or the OTHER.

I also don't buy the argument that by not explicitly referencing much "ethnic" material in my writing, I'm somehow de facto "white"--this argument privileges the "white" (a construction if there ever was one) POV or lifestyle more than it deserves. We live in a diverse nation, formed by diverse peoples--to be American is to be white, black, brown, yellow, red, etc. To be American is to acknowledge that what we consider mainstream American "culture" (what its detractors might call "white" culture) is not monochrome.

And I DO write about "my culture"--check this blog for my posts on food, PARTICULARLY those on Mexican food.

I once made a comment that still haunts me to this day--that I was fed up with a certain type of "ethnic" poem that nearly every poet had (and some of whole books of them) that involve exoticizing one's ethicity by being about the food that one's "ethnic" family ate and how it differed from what the white folks ate. I don't abhor the subject matter--rather, the whole idea is a cliche--I'd like to see someone do something more interesting with it. In any case, my mistake was calling this type of poem the "gramma stirring a pot of beans" poem. The term comes from my own experience, as that is one of my earliest memories--gramma stirring beans (something she did every day) or making fresh tortillas (again a daily activity). I'm not planning on poeming about this sort of thing until I can make it rise above the level of anecdote.

Anyway. Lots to chew on here.

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Speaking of chewing, my response to Sara's potato taco comment:

Sara,

Did I ever make you potato tacos? Really? Here's the deal--take some potatoes, waxy are preferable but any will do, boil till just done in salted water, peel, cube and refrigerate. Refrigeration is an important step--they'll brown better if you let them dry and chill for a bit. Remove from fridge, bring to room temp, and meantime, take some low-grade supermarket chorizo, the kind consisting primarily of lymph nodes and salivary glands. I always use the pork, but it comes in beef too. The beef is actually fattier. Anyway, bust off a big hunk of the chorizo and cook it until most of the fat is rendered, adding some diced onions about halfway into the process. Then add potatoes and toss to coat with chorizo grease. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until cooked through and a bit crisp in places, lush and unctuous in others. Eat with tortillas, tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco if you have it.

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Stay tuned for black bean and bacon taquitos, cod in tomatillo sauce, and "Mom's" eggs (known as "migas" in some Mexican-American communities--at home, we always just called them "scrambled eggs with tortillas").

1 comment:

GJPW said...

Hi Tony,

When I first started writing poetry (in college in the early 90s) I kept worrying that if I didn't write in Spanish or Spanglish I was somehow being inauthentic. But I grew up bilingually and eventually, from middle school onward, my education was in English.

I eventually realized that I write in English because it's the language I was educated in and in which I feel most comfortable, but that this doesn't mean I'm any less Latino or Venezuelan. And it doesn't mean I'm ashamed of the Spanish language or of being Latino or half Latino. It just means my situation is complex.

I know what you mean about poems celebrating food (or any other ethnic signifier) as an emblem of one's "authenticity." That's a trap (unless of course the writing is good). Like you say, we have to keep working at being able to write for no single side, to simply write as well as we can. And I really agree with you that we have to watch out for exotifying ourselves, believing we're special simply for being Latino, mixed, etc.

If someone as brilliant as Ralph Ellison could be accused by some as being too white or not black enough then we're all in deep trouble.

Well, I'm glad you've brought up the topic in your blog. I realize now I don't know what a possible answer might be, other than to keep reading and writing.

And we haven't even gotten to the whole issue of what to call ourselves: Chicano, Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic, Spanish, Venezuelan-American, Brown & so forth. The more certain people try to impose static definitions the more these labels can become exclusionary. The more I write about this here the less I understand it.

The Speedy Gonzalez above is hilarious, by the way. Best wishes,

Guillermo