If you've lived in Miami or New York or even Los Angeles (the west side doesn't count), chances are, whether you chose to absorb it or not, you've been exposed to some form of Spanglish. See, Spanglish was my first language. It is still my language of choice. I think in spanglish. I make art in spanglish. I still watch Que Pasa USA (the first bilingual sitcom ever) when I get homesick and miss my crazy Miami cubichis. And regardless of how predictable and progressively heavy Sofia Vergara's accent gets on Modern Family, I eagerly watch and anticipate the peppering of spanish in the show. I speak to my parents in spanglish. Surely, you get the gist by now.
So once I discovered Junot Diaz's work, it just added to my go to Homesick toolbox, big time! Even though Diaz's work, language wise, is pretty specific to Dominican spanglish, there is so much overlap in Caribbean slang, enough for me to find so much comfort in his writing, heavy post-colonial trauma and all. (Anecdote Cue:) It brings me back to the year I lived deep in the Bronx so my commute to Sarah Lawrence wasn't such a tirada since my modest scholarship was nowhere near enough to allow me to afford living on or remotely near campus. It reminds me of how much of an outsider I felt in that IV league school I worked so hard to get into, only to later realize A. Apparently I'm brown ("sometimes") and B. no matter how many papers I wrote on Caribbean history in the hopes of better understanding where and what I came from, I was just tapping into something much bigger than I could have ever imagined for the trajectory of my work as an artist, woman, latina. And finally, it reminds me of the first time I was referred to as "the latin girl" by a fellow student because well, what else was that ignoramus pendeja going to call me if she couldn't remember my name, right? Woof.
I apologize for the anecdotal rant but...come on, this is a blog right....
Anyway, back to Junot the Genius. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao rocked me. I know what Fuku is and I'm pretty sure it extends beyond the DR and Trujillo. God, it was comforting to here a name for "it". FUKU. I actually think fuku has developed into a cloud that hovers over most of Miami, minus Wynwood of course. (If you read the book, you know what I'm talking about). So in The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Oscar was the comic book, sci-fi tragic sacrificial lamb. Pobrecito. Yunior, was Oscar's confidant, as well as the surprise narrator and academically aspiring hetero-chulo who can't seem to keep his pipi in his pants, like a good Dominicano. Yunior is expanded on as the protagonist for This is How You Lose Her. To my surprise, despite my initial utter excitement at the release of this book, I forced myself through the first 100 pages. En serio. Waiting to feel more than slightly sorry for Yunior and his bitter madre and his sick delinquente brother. Yunior's hyper-active sex life bored me. It bored him too. Once he started to really experience irreparable consequ
ence, emotionally, physically, the kind you can't fuck away... then, I was there with him. Suddenly, his progressively tragic life, his failing body, his emotional complacency then void felt very real. I know several Yuniors. Maybe not as academically motivated but certainly just as afflicted. Use their machismo and sexuality as a sport, compulsively in their youth, maybe even into adulthood as a means to feel alive, in control and conquer something...anyone.
While I was not totally swept up by How You Lose Her the way The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had me bawling at the end, it definitely proposed the opportunity to consider a parallel. Maybe my twisted Cuban upbringing imposed me to feel that machismo is valued as absolute power, privilege, indestructible, a given. Whether I liked it or not. This is just our "culture". And when I say "our", I can't really think of what that would exclude. Yet, here we have a man who has performed to his best ability as a man as he knew fit, only to be utterly crippled by all of it.
Not often do I say this but, the intimate progression of Yunior made me, dare I say, sympathetic. Ser hombre no es facil. No es nada facil.
I was honestly stumped as to how to tie my nostalgic adoration for Diaz's use of Spanglish and the inevitable tangent on machismo so, never being shy to ask for directions, I asked my amazing friend and writer Daniel Carmichael for some general insight and response. The following is his:
"What I was thinking was that both things (machismo y el spanglish) are very linked to identity, whether perceived or practiced. Spanglish is a compromise, drawing from tradition as well as from lived experience (aka growing up as an American) to create an entirely new way of speaking and a new type of identity that becomes its own tradition. But machismo seems to be a lot harder to subvert, a lot harder for the culture to shake. I think an interesting question to pose is, What would be the Spanglish equivalent for a cultural evolution of machismo--like how to diffuse it or subvert it into something that is fluid and creative and productive instead of static and destructive? "
I found it interesting to think of Spanglish as a comprise. I personally don't see it as a step toward assimilation but can see how it can be perceived as such. However, as Daniel insightfully brought up, what would be the spanglish equivalent for a cultural evolution of machismo?
What would Junot say?