WHAT DOES JUNOT DÍAZ MEAN TO MEXICANS?
The Dominican Pulitzer Prize winner writer Junot Díaz recently published a new collection of short stories, “This Is How You Lose Her,” and as I’ve consumed the interviews with him ravenously, I forget sometimes that I’m reading stories about someone who isn’t Mexican. I have yet to pick up this latest book, but I’ve read Díaz two other books (“Drown” and “Oscar Wao“) and I have to say they are among my favorites.
Over the weekend I had a series of conversations with two other Mexican American readers about whether Díaz’s work is relevant to them — to us — to Latinos who aren’t Dominican, and to Mexicans specifically. My vote is yes.
First, from personal experience, reading “Oscar Wao” I found myself often in tears, or biting my nails, or forgetting that I was reading all together and just living in a world created by Díaz where I felt like I belonged. Of course I don’t know many Dominicans, I didn’t grow up near a Dominican enclave, but for whatever reason reading Díaz’s work allows me to feel a connection to his characters — and to their culture — that feels real. I’ve discussed his work with other Mexican Americans who have also expressed this visceral experiential cultural connection.
Secondly, I remember reading an interview with him where he made the connection between Latin America and the entire civilization that exists in the Western Hemisphere. The world we live in now in these United States comes from that spark between Columbus and the people he encountered here. In that sense, if you think about it, Díaz’s work is truly documenting the American experience, or the “Latino” experience. I think about the way his characters feel confused by the ways their world rejects them, and I know what the feels like, this is another reason Díaz’s work speaks to me.
Finally, even though I know people who are uncomfortable with the amalgamation of “Latinos” into a seemingly monolithic group, I like the experience of being part of something larger. The truth is that Mexicans or Salvadorans or Puerto Ricans don’t win the Pulitzer Prize everyday, publishers aren’t foaming at the mouth to promote books by Guatemalans at every opportunity, and book stores aren’t always willing to stock the kinds of stories that Colombians want to tell so we can run into them. So, even though these are all separate countries with separate histories, I feel like talking about a Dominican writer who won the Pulitzer Prize makes the idea of a Mexican writer winning one a little bit less far fetched.
I don’t expect everyone to like Díaz’s new book. That would be ridiculous. But, I do think it’s important to approach the book with an open mind and realize that, even though this guy is from the East Coast and speaks about a specific culture that you may not understand, there’s something in his books and in his characters that might just speak to you anyway.