Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Latino Voices in U.S. Literature

Lucrecia Guerrero
The United States is a cultural patchwork made up of indigenous peoples and immigrants from all over the world.  Our literature is all the richer for this great diversity of voices that color uniquely American stories with a variety of hues and textures.   One of the cultural patches in our American quilt is being celebrated September 15—October 15: Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month. 
My own writing reflects my mixed Latino/Anglo heritage.  I grew up in a bilingual and bicultural home on the U.S./Mexico border, a place where cultures meet and blend. 
My mother, a wonderful story teller, introduced us kids to her hometown of Ashland, Kentucky by sharing anecdotes about family and others.  Mommy sang us English and Irish ballads, a legacy of stories hundreds of years old.  She prepared soup beans and baked pones of cornbread in an iron skillet; served bowls of warm peach or apple cobbler with cream drizzled over it; and fried up platters of fried green tomatoes.  She showed us her love—and shared her heritage—through her stories, her music, her cooking. 
My father, in turn, connected us to our family ties in Mexico.  He told us stories of maiden aunts who searched for Pancho Villa’s treasures.  Papi introduced us to traditional dishes from different regions of Mexico but mostly from his state of Puebla, food influenced by indigenous people and the Spanish and French: salpicón, a cold salad of seasoned beef on romaine; mole poblano, a savory chocolate sauce; chiles enogadas, poblano chiles stuffed and covered with a sweet sauce and pomegranate seeds.   He took us on driving excursions through Mexico, pointing out different customs and historical backgrounds as we went along. 
As I am fond of saying: I grew up eating biscuits and gravy with a jalapeño on the side.  This statement is true, both literally and figuratively.  And, for me, it adds another layer to my life’s experiences—and to my writing.
Among the U.S. Latino writers, you’ll find a great diversity of styles and stories.  So many that I can not do them justice in such a short article.  On this IWC blog, Kathryn Page Camp mentioned books for young people and children.  Julie Demoff-Larson, in her blog contribution, focused on the Nuyoricans, writers of Puerto Rican heritage writing out of the New York area.    
Maybe your tastes run more toward the fantastical:  try Manuel Lopéz’s The Miniature Wife and Other Stories and experience his intelligence, wit, and insight as he regales you with these strange stories.  And, yes, zombies are included.  Or if you like the experimental, Daniel Chacón’s Hotel Juárez short stories and flash fiction bring to mind the writing style of Jorge Luis Borges. 
If family drama or the fantastical is not for you, you might want to try a mystery: Desperado, a Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos is one I really enjoyed.  Perhaps you prefer something with more indigenous influence.  In flesh to bone, Ire’ne Lara Silva weaves stories steeped in the myths of the indigenous people of Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. 
I’ve barely dusted the surface of the wonderful literature available in the U.S. Latino category.  I hope you’ll be moved to sample some of these uniquely American voices that will introduce you to the “exotic” while anchoring you in stories that deal with universal themes, those human concerns that pull you into a well-written story.
Lucrecia Guerrero’s short works have appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train and The Antioch Review.  Chasing Shadows, a collection of linked short stories, was published by Chronicle Books.  Tree of Sighs, her award-winning novel, was published by Bilingual Press at Arizona State University.  She is currently at work on a second novel, tentatively titled Midnight in Mad River.  She lives in Indiana and is available for presentations and to facilitate creative writing workshops.

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