Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beyond Ethnicity, A Shared America

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beyond Ethnicity, A Shared America

Article excerpt

Will the 21st century be one in which some of us transcend our ethnicity or our race? I've been contemplating this question since reading in the Monitor (Dec. 3) about Chicano writer Victor Martinez's prestigious National Book Award. In that interview, Mr. Martinez said, "I wanted to be an American writer, not just a Chicano writer. A lot of Chicanos disagree with me violently over that. My parents were born here. I was born here."

Martinez was awarded the prize for his first novel, "Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida," a collection of stories told from the perspective of a 14-year-old Mexican-American boy from California. The article says much of his work had been "confined to the literary ghetto of 'Chicano' publications, despite the fact that Martinez prefers to write in English and sees himself as a part of a broader literary tradition."

Martinez's sentiment about wanting to be an "American" writer echoed deeply in me, as I imagine it did in the hearts and minds of other Americans - Americans who are gradually transcending their ethnic and racial roots and offering something of universal value. About 20 years ago another Chicano writer and theater director, Luis Valdez, commented on his own exploration of ethnicity: "I have concentrated on creating theater images rooted in the realities of the Southwest. Ethnic and regional as those images might be, I feel we have nevertheless penetrated through the superficial differences that separate us all.... Our study of Chicano culture has led us into investigations of the entire history of America, from the mythological origins of the Mayans to the latest statistics of gang warfare in the cities. We feel we are inexorably a part of the evolution of America." An integral part of the whole We find ourselves approaching the 21st century sometimes simply wanting to be "Americans." This is because our contributions to American society are large, because we have made inroads into certain fields, because in living and telling our stories racial and ethnic minorities have become an integral part of the larger whole. Through a tumultuous second half of the 20th century we have joined some of our ancestors in bringing balance to the historical picture of who we really are. This effort is still bearing fruit for us and the country. By transcending a certain group in some instances we become neither vendidos (sellouts) nor Tio Tacos (Uncle Toms), but rather move more effectively within and outside our groups. Victor Martinez strives for that, as Luis Valdez did and other talented people will continue to do. Look at Jessye Norman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Oprah Winfrey, African-American women who have built bridges to universal audiences. Look at Colin Powell, Henry Cisneros, and Federico Pena, whose skills and talents transcend ethnic and racial boundaries. …

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