Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"I Was a Ghetto Nerd Supreme": Science Fiction, Fantasy and Latina/o Futurity in Junot Diaz's the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"I Was a Ghetto Nerd Supreme": Science Fiction, Fantasy and Latina/o Futurity in Junot Diaz's the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Article excerpt

By haunting the cultural sphere of the past, do we depoliticize the possibility for a viable Latino future? Or, even better, Why have we allowed the very futures of Latinidad to be colonized through an insistence on the narrative renderings of our stories, our lives, our Latinidades, in the preterite and imperfect tense of the historical imagination? Exile, diaspora, loss, memory, trauma, history, U.S. military campaigns in our countries, language barriers and borders, all emblematic of the Latino experience in the U.S. and carved into niche marketing strategies for publishers, only tell, retell, and package part of historical desire. What those stories can't imagine is the possibility of making our relationship to the state anything other than historical ... One of the fundamental questions of Latino studies, then, should be: How do we decolonize the future?

--Lazaro Lima

In his call for a Latino futurity, Lazaro Lima speaks specifically to issues within the Latina/Latino literary community. Chastising Latina/o authors for continually writing novels dealing with Latina/o history in order to appeal to publishers, Lima argues that what is needed is writing that looks towards future possibilities for Latina/o culture. Lima's call represents an important trend in Latina/o literature of authors and critics asking what a future for Latina/o culture could look like. One way that Latina/o authors have begun to address the need for more texts depicting Latina/o futurity is through a resurgence of interest in the science fiction and fantasy genres (sf/f). Although Latina/o cultures have a rich history of writing texts with fantastic elements, these texts are more apt to be labeled magical realism (1) than sf/f. Latina/o authors are often overlooked in the sf/f categories, even when their texts utilize sf/f references or themes. (2) However, Lima's comment demonstrates an important way that sf/f can contribute to Latina/o writing; since science fiction most often deals with depicting the future, a space defined by new ideas, cultures, and technologies, and fantasy creates worlds that have never existed, Latina/o authors can utilize these genres to circumvent the cultural expectations of Latina/o literary traditions.

One example of a Latina/o text that utilizes a connection to the sf/f genres is Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a hybrid-genre text that references sf/f to escape the cultural expectations associated with writing about Dominican history and dictatorship. Parts of Oscar Wao are set during the reign of Rafael Trujillo, a dictator who controlled all aspects of life in the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, when he was assassinated. The Trujillo dictatorship was marked by fear, oppression, and death; any Dominican who spoke against Trujillo was imprisoned or killed. Trujillo also ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in an attempt to racially cleanse the country. Diaz does not want to write another text detailing the horrors of the Trujillo reign; instead, he uses sf/f conventions to move away from static representations of Dominican history towards not-yet-realized depictions of Dominican and Dominican American cultures. Diaz must find a way to describe a cultural history that does not exist, so it is no surprise that he looks towards the sf/f genres. T. S. Miller explains that "[a]lthough no one could mistake Oscar Wao for a science fiction novel, questions of where the genre fits into both the literary world and the world of human experience recur throughout the book" (92). Although Oscar Wao is not set in the future or in a fantasy landscape, Diaz establishes a connection between his novel and the genres of sf/f to examine the possibility of a Dominican/ Dominican American future not defined by dictatorship.

Oscar Wao chronicles the story of a young Dominican American nerd, Oscar, who lives for all things sf/f. Oscar actively engages with the sf/f community by reading sf/f texts, participating in role-play games, and even attempting to write his own Tolkienesque masterpiece. …

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