Academic journal article MELUS

What Is "Minor" in Latino Literature

Academic journal article MELUS

What Is "Minor" in Latino Literature

Article excerpt

In memory of my father, Rolando R. Perez, MD (1927-2005), who spoke two languages with one heart.

If it is true that, as the slogan of the 1960s declared, "the personal is the political," then this article is personal, ergo political. The fact that it is written in English, the language of Latino literature, by a native speaker of Spanish makes it politically personal or personally political, right from the outset. In 2000 I was invited to submit material for editorial consideration regarding the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. It was my induction into the world of Latino literature. And oddly enough my work was chosen for inclusion in the "canon maker" anthology because, as one of the editors explained to me, it was unlike anything else that bore the label "Latino literature." Certainly, the Spanish language plays a very small direct part in my work, and my subjects have little to do with the so-called "Latino experience."

The Odyssey (1990) is a book of "Deleuzean" fables; The Lining of Our Souls (1995/2002) is prose poetry based on selected paintings of Edward Hopper; The Divine Duty of Servants (1999) is a literary "collage". exploring issues of sexuality and power in the artwork of Polish writer/artist, Bruno Schulz; The Electric Comedy (2001) is a modern version of Dante's Divine Comedy. And yet there is something particularly Cuban and generally Latino in all of my work, for inscribed in the white, empty spaces, between all the English words on the page is my history, as is the undeniable history of all Latinos who write in English. Gail Levin, Hopper's biographer, who wrote the Foreword to the second edition of The Lining of Our Souls, a bit mystified herself by my interest in such a prototypical "American" painter as Edward Hopper, wrote almost by way of explanation, to herself and to the reader: "Today Hopper boasts admirers in the United States and elsewhere, who agree that his work is very American. Yet Hopper remains quite obscure in Cuba, where Perez was born and raised" (viii). What Levin clearly understood, however, was that my interest in Hopper was one of translation--that is to say, of translating images into words, and that the English of a non-native speaker who entered "the United States at age eleven" (viii) was bound to transform Hopper's images, and the reader's reception of them. She likened my general interpretation of Hopper to that of the Japanese American painter, Ushio Shinohara; our cultural outsideness being the tacit link to this "other" Hopper. But she made no mention of The Lining of Our Souls in connection with the work of other American (1) poets like Mark Strand, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, John Hollander, et al., who have been inspired by Hopper's evocative images.

What is clear is that regardless of my choice to write in English about an American painter, I remain an outsider, using a language which is simultaneously mine and not mine, as did Kafka who wrote in German, and not in his native Czech. And this brings us to the question at hand, for I believe that Deleuze and Guattari's idea that a minority can create new linguistic forms "within a major language" (Kafka 16) as happens with Spanglish, for instance, can help us to arrive at a better understanding of the way "Latino literature" as a "minor literature" functions within the mainstream culture. Apart from vanity, I have begun by citing my own writing because it is particularly problematic with respect to the label in a way that the work of Junot Diaz, Cristina Garcia, and Oscar Hijuelos is not, and perhaps if we take the most difficult, resistant case, we can come to understand what is "minor" in Latino literature, even through the prism of marginally Latino work, such as mine.

I begin with a discussion of bilingualism, something that Deleuze and Guattari mention only in passing, but that is central to the "minor" element of Latino literature. What does it mean to be bilingual? …

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