Monday, October 29, 2007

American Latinos Are Making Themselves Noticed More and More in Entertainment…

Yes, and this is a wonderful thing. Talented female actors such as Jessica Alba, Eva Mendez, Jennifer Lopez, and Cameron Diaz have been turning heads now for a while, not only for their outward beauty but for their charisma, energy, intelligence, and—in some cases—for their entrepreneurship and solid business success (like J.Lo). Male actors James Edward Olmos, Jimmy Smits, Martin Sheen, Benicio del Toro, and Lou Diamond Phillips—five of our modern-day American “pioneers”—have established themselves as solid performers who can definitely captivate an audience. Others, like Esai Morales or Rodrigo Santoro, may not yet have the name recognition or prestige, but their abilities and those of other up-and-coming actors are undeniable as they step more confidently into the national and international spotlight.

Singers? A bountiful harvest that is growing! It was little more than a decade ago that the electrifying Selena, a product of my childhood hometown (Corpus Christi, Texas), grabbed the national spotlight and was “crossing over” from Spanish songs to English. This Tejana met an untimely, shocking death, but she was a beautiful, humanistic beacon to the world that heralded the upsurge of Latino presence in the American music scene. In the past decade, stars like Mariah Carey, Thalia, Marc Anthony, Daddy Yankee, Christina Milian, and a host of others have shown the entertainment world that American songsters have much to give.

Television has been another fertile field for the popularity of American Latinos: “Ugly Betty” America Ferrera, Charlie Sheen, George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, and many others build on the groundwork laid by folks like Cheech Marin and Erik Estrada. Newscasters today, like Rick Sanchez from CNN, are making their mark, expanding the work done by broadcast journalists such as veteran Californian Laura Diaz. In athletics, of course, Latinos have historically been highly visible and strong elements.

But How About American Latinos in the Realm of the Printed Word?

My prior blogs have cited some major ground-breaking writers like Rudolfo Anaya, Estela Portillo de Trambley, and Sandra Cisneros, among many other worthy writers (see my Archives). However, American Latino writers fall far behind in this category—the printed word—when it comes to making our mark on the literary scene nationally, and especially internationally.

The Latino “soul” has historically been lauded for its depth of emotion. Our culture celebrates a premium on spirituality, family, and connection with life beyond earth: all elements of much fine literature through the ages. So, as our people increase in numbers demographically, as the Latino presence manifests itself more markedly in our American social fabric, the world of “letters” is one that is hardly crossed by any notable mass of Latinos.

So How Can We Tell That Latinos Are “Missing in Action” (to a large extent) When it Comes to Writing?

Consider the following:
--Regularly-published national anthologies, such as The Best American Short Stories, or The Best American Poems rarely, if ever, include American Latino authors. (Throughout my blog, I expediently use the term “Latino” to refer to both males and females.)

--Most prominent, mainstream literary journals currently published and disseminated nationally, such as Tin House and Glimmer Train, hardly ever contain writings by American Latinos.

--Latino authors who have been widely honored for their writing at the international level, such as Nobel Prize winners Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda, were not from the United States (which is the focus of this blog).

--Regularly-issued American bestseller lists in either fiction or nonfiction categories rarely include American Latino authors.

--The Pulitzer Prize, America’s top writing award, has been won by a Latino fiction writer only once (Oscar Hijuelos, in 1990, for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love) since its inception in 1917.

--Other prominent American literary prizes—such as the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award—have not been won by a Latino author according to records I reviewed.

This dearth of representation in the American literary landscape is a huge vacuum that saddens me. One might point out that the Latino presence is still woefully lacking in various other areas of intellectual importance: math and science, for example. True. Some others might ask, “Why focus on AMERICAN LATINOS? Why be exclusionary and divisive of this vast world group of Hispanics?” My blog intends no harm, no divisiveness, or insults. In the interest of exploring the realm of Latino letters with a bit more focus, I’ve limited my comments to American Latinos.

To be a Latino in the United States (what I mean by “America” in my blog) is being in a position with great potential to achieve, to develop ourselves as we wish based on our individual hard work and determination. Doors are open to mold ourselves as we dream, despite societal obstacles to equality that still exist worldwide. So why aren’t our Latino people writing more and publishing more and taking our place on the stage of public expression that we deserve to aspire to?

Our society, and ultimately the international community, needs to hear the voices of all its people in matters of the heart and mind. Thus, America needs to hear its Latino voices on a grander scale than at present. Let’s educate ourselves regarding what these voices have said so far in history and what the current voices are expressing. Let’s nurture in upcoming generations the ability and willingness to embellish through literary expression the rich tapestry of diversity that represents the true United States.

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