What is “Latina” Enough?

MexicanAmerican flags

I have been reading, with great interest, the heated controversy about Jeanine Cummins’ new book, American Dirt. While I have not read the book myself, I’ve read enough from proponents and critics of the book, that I believe I understand both perspectives. David Bowles, an author I met at a Texas book conference, wrote a rousing editorial on the subject for the NY Times which can be found here.

This conjures up a subject I’ve grappled with my whole life. Stick with me here; I’ll get to that, but first, a little background…

The criticism of American Dirt is that it perpetuates Mexican stereotypes and cultural inaccuracies, and in essence, the author is not Latina enough (doesn’t represent an under-represented or marginalized group) to accurately or sincerely write about the Latinx immigrant experience. She cites her relevant background as having an abuela from Puerto Rico and a husband who came to the US as an Irish immigrant. She did thorough research before writing the book, but still, the book’s 7-figure advance, selection as an Oprah book of the month choice and acclaim by other prominent authors has angered many, and in particular, talented Latinx authors who have more direct and continuous experience in the world American Dirt proports to represent and are all too often passed over in the publishing world. That part is not in question. Despite efforts in the publishing industry to diversity its staff, data proves it’s still inordinately homogeneous (white-Caucasian, heterosexual, non-disabled females).

I will reserve judgment on American Dirt until I have had a chance to read it for myself. Hoping to check it out of the library rather than buy a copy.

In the meantime, the issue I’ve been grappling with for a long time has percolated to “top of mind status” again. What qualifies as “Latina enough,” to others? I AM LATINA, and  am the only rightful authority on that, however, I sometimes find I have to “convince” people. In my work as an author, this matters given I write about the Mexican-American experience.

MY LATINA ROOTS IN QUESTION – “YOU’RE NOT REALLY LATINA, ARE YOU?”

First, my name is Diana Jacobs Noble. What’s Latina about that? Do I need to explain that my mother is Mexican, my father is half Mexican, a quarter English and a quarter Lebanese? And that, his grandfather came to the US from Lebanon and had his name changed by authorities to Salem Jacobs instead of allowing him to keep his own name, Salim Njaim? Plus, I married a “Noble,” and am proud of the name, but it doesn’t scream “Latina!” to the outside world.

Second, I “look white” to virtually everyone, making it difficult for people to believe I have Mexican roots. I find this interesting (disturbing?). Yes, I have a pale olive complexion, dark hair and stand 5′ 6″, but do all Latinx’ers have “dark” skin and dark hair? Are they all “short?” Of course that is total nonsense, but those stereotypes persist.

Third, I live in Washington State. Do I have to tell people that I was born in Laredo, Texas a 5-minute drive from Mexico? Do I have to divulge that both my parents were born and raised in South Texas? My father’s job took us to multiple states, and I only lived in Texas until I was 5 years old, but it’s still my home state and where almost my entire family lives. Does living in Washington reduce my Latina credibility?

Fourth, I do not speak Spanish fluently or have an accent. My parents spoke a mix of Spanish and English in the home, but my brothers and I answered back in English. It was just our pattern and completely normal to us. So, while I speak some Spanish, I can’t have extensive conversations without a lot of heart palpitations and perspiration, but I understand it very well! My accent is excellent, plus I sing in Spanish. Does that count?

I grew up with equal parts Mexican and American cultures and traditions. I am prouder of my Mexican-American identity than can be put into words, but still, it can be disheartening to have to explain how and why I identify as Latinx.

ADDENDUM:

I just read another review on this subject in Texas Monthly and greatly enjoyed the author’s insight.

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Historic Period of Racial Injustice and Terror Provide Backdrop to Evangelina Takes Flight Sequel

Texas Rangers with Corpses

The excerpt below from the Refusing to Forget non-profit organization highlights a little known period of racial terror in US history perpetrated by ordinary citizens and law enforcement against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Their revealing, award-winning work provides the historical backdrop for the Evangelina Takes Flight sequel I am currently writing.

Follow Refusing to Forget on Facebook.

Sequel Book Blurb:

In 1915 southeast Texas, 17-year old Evangelina de León is falsely accused of murder and awaits trial in a court known for racial injustice. A Mexican-American civil rights organization joins Evangelina in pursuit of the truth in a high stakes battle between an acquittal or the gallows.

Some of the worst racial violence in United States history took place along the Mexico-Texas border from 1910 to 1920

The dead included women and men, the aged and the young, long-time residents and recent arrivals. They were killed by strangers, by neighbors, by vigilantes and at the hands of local law enforcement officers and the Texas Rangers. Some were summarily executed after being taken captive, or shot under the flimsy pretext of trying to escape. Some were left in the open to rot, others desecrated by being burnt, decapitated, or tortured by means such as having beer bottles rammed into their mouths. Extralegal executions became so common that a San Antonio reporter observed that “finding of dead bodies of Mexicans, suspected for various reasons of being connected with the troubles, has reached a point where it creates little or no interest. It is only when a raid is reported or an American is killed that the ire of the people is aroused.”

Terror spread far beyond the ranks of those killed. “One or more of us may have incurred the displeasure of some one, and it seems only necessary for that some one to whisper our names to an officer, to have us imprisoned and killed without an opportunity to prove in a fair trial, the falsity of the charges against us,” pleaded residents of Kingsville in a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. “[S]ome of us who sign this petition, may be killed without even knowing the name of him who accuses. Our privileged denunciators may continue their infamous proceedings — answerable to no one.”

Far from being surreptitious, the violence was welcomed, celebrated, and even instigated at the highest levels of society and government. As thousands fled to Mexico and decapitated bodies floated down the Rio Grande, one Texas paper spoke of “a serious surplus population that needs eliminating.” Prominent politicians proposed putting all those of Mexican descent into “concentration camps” – and killing any who refused. For a decade, people would come across skeletons in the south Texas brush, marked with execution-style bullet holes in the backs of their skulls.

If you’d like to learn more, the Refusing to Forget founders’ own work can be found here.

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Recipe – Vegetarian Burrito Bowl

Of all the recipes I’ve posted here, the recipe for Mexican fideo gets the most views. Chile verde with pork and authentic Mexican tacos are the runners up. Fideo is a dish I grew up eating and frequently make for my own family (with tortillas, frijoles and guacamole). Oh, how I love authentic Mexican food – the stuff of my childhood.

My husband, Russ, and I recently started making something new for dinner: layered dinner bowls with healthy, whole ingredients. The possibilities are endless – Asian-inspired, Pacific Northwest-inspired and Mediterranean-inspired are a few examples.

I found this recipe for a burrito bowl in America’s Test Kitchen “Just Add Sauce” cookbook which I highly recommend. Of course, Russ and I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, as we always do. The finished product is filling and filled with nutritious ingredients.

BROWN RICE

  • 1 1/2 long grain brown rice, water as directed on package
  • 6 T olive oil
  • 3 T lime juice,
  • 2 t ground cumin,
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1/2 t salt, pepper to taste

BLACK BEANS

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 large yellow/sweet onion, diced1 t diced garlic2 cans black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1/2 C chicken broth
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 1/2 t ground cumin

ROASTED CORN AND POBLANO PEPPERS

  • 3 ears fresh corn
  • 1 large can diced mild green chilis

AVOCADO DRESSING

  • 1 C sour cream
  • 1 fresh avocado
  • 1 T crushed garlic or 1/2 t garlic powder
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 1 c thoroughly rinsed/cleaned, chopped fresh cilantro (leave it out if you don’t like the taste)
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • salt, pepper to taste

CONDIMENTS – CHOOSE ANY OR ALL THAT YOU LIKE

  • prepared red or green Mexican salsa
  • halved cherry tomatoes
  • shredded Mexican cheese
  • diced green onions
  • wedges of fresh lime
  • chopped cilantro (thoroughly washed to remove dirt)

INSTRUCTIONS:

RICE:

  • Cook the brown rice as instructed on the package.
  • While the rice is cooking, whisk oil, lime juice and spices together.
  • Drizzle liquid ingredients over cooked rice, fluff with a fork to mix in; set aside. Do not put a lid on the rice at this stage or it will continue to cook and get mushy.

BEANS:

  • Coat the bottom of a medium-sized skillet or pot with olive oil and heat on medium-high heat.
  • Add diced onion and garlic and stir until translucent.
  • Add beans, chicken broth and spices. Stir to combine.
  • Cover and turn off.

CORN & GREEN CHILI:

  • Put oven rack on 2nd shelf from the top. Set oven to broil setting.
  • Remove husk and strings, wash, dry, set side by side on cookie sheet.
  • Put cookie sheet under broiler and watch carefully.
  • When corn kernels turn golden/brown/blackish, rotate corn using long tongs. Continue until all sides of the corn are roasted.
  • Set aside until cooled.
  • When cooled, use sharp paring knife to cut kernels off each cob. (short video included with tips for doing this)
  • Stir corn and green chilis together in bowl.

DRESSING:

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth adding salt & pepper to taste. (If you dislike cilantro, you can leave it out.)

ASSEMBLE THE BOWLS TO YOUR LIKING & EAT!

  1. brown rice
  2. black beans
  3. corn/chilis
  4. avocado dressing
  5. optional condiments as desired

 

 

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What’s El Día de los Muertos? It’s Not Scary, and It’s Not Halloween

Dia de los Muertos Dancer

A dancer performs at the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company’s annual “Dia de los Muertos” production. Photo by Kristin Slaby

Ran into this article by Kristina Puga on the CBS News Latino website. For those who aren’t familiar with Día de los Muertos or who think it’s Mexican Halloween, you might want to read it.

There seems to be a growing interest in Día de los Muertos, maybe because of the Disney movie Coco? Or my personal favorite animated feature on the subject, The Book of Life? The somewhat predictable American result? A retail bonanza: sugar skull cupcakes, framed prints, greeting cards, temporary tattoos, decorative socks, knit caps, Halloween death mask makeup kits – you name it, it’s out there.

I am American-born of Mexican, Lebanese and English descent, but in my heart, I am equal parts American and Mexican. While Mexican culture was a strong influence in my life, my family only celebrated American holidays. We did not celebrate Día de los Muertos, but I like the idea of it. I think of my loved ones who’ve passed often, but it seems like a good idea to slow down and really HONOR them and the memories they left us. What lessons did they teach us? What legacy did they leave that touches us today? What stories about them do we want to share with the next generation?

In presentations about Evangelina Takes Flight, I speak about the 3 deaths in Mexican folklore – the 1st of which is when your heart stops beating and your body ceases to function, the 2nd of which is when your body is consigned to the grave, and the 3rd and final death is when people no longer remember you – when they stop saying your name.

Día de los Muertos means your loved ones will never suffer the cruel fate of that 3rd death. It’s not a scary holiday. It’s a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. Isn’t that beautiful?

PS: The Book of Life is a little wonky/different, but it’s shockingly creative, funny and the animation is fantastic!

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Fifty-nine

Sometimes, you just have to write what you feel.

September 14, 2019

Fifty-nine
Today you would have been
fifty-nine

I might have teased you

Practically six decades
I would have said

I can’t remember
if I called to wish you well
the day of your birth
in that final and forty-eighth year

I hope I did

A sister’s grief
is clear
as a threatening sky
A heavy blanket of gray
with a hole here and there
for the tears to fall through

We were never close
you and I

But
what if

I’d tried harder
to be the sister you needed

Could we ever have been friends
You my protector and wise counsel
Me a good listener with a sunny disposition

We were never close and
all that’s left
is a cloud of regret

heavy with
what should have been

Questions about what
could have been

about why you left us
without an occasion to ever again
wish you
a happy birthday

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Writing, Revising and Disappearing Letters

keyboard

Trying to get traction on the Evangelina Takes Flight sequel. While out on leave of absence due to foot surgery, I wrote 11 chapters in 2 1/2 weeks, which for me, felt almost miraculous. Since returning to work, I haven’t written any new chapters, just revised the old ones.

Hrrrmmmph! I think it’s time to stop revising (which can be a never-ending and maddening yet necessary process) and start creating again!

Here is an excerpt from one of the early chapters, in case you’re interested:

Not five minutes before I was ordered to get out, she squeezed my hand and called me a ‘godsend.’ All signs indicated a normal delivery. Doctor Morley, a man I had never seen until that day, delivered the baby boy and was present at the mother’s the death. I didn’t know until the next day when Sheriff Pearl arrived. You are hereby under arrest for witchcraft and the murder of Ramona Healy. My terrified family could do nothing but beg for an explanation and insist that it must be a mistake as he handcuffed and loaded me into the windowless police wagon and set off for the county jail. I heard my nine-year old brother, Tomás, running behind us, screaming my name. When the sound of his voice trailed off, the clip clop of the horse’s hooves, and the pounding of my heart joined together in terrifying rhythm.

PS: Can you tell which of the keys on this keyboard I use most?

PSS: I’ll probably revise the above numerous times before it goes to my publisher!

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Immersive & Experiential Learning

experiential learning

Passing along an excellent article I got wind of from my publisher, Arte Público Press. The article, by Tom Vander Ark in Forbes, chronicles the move from competencies that enable students to pass standardized tests to “immersive and experiential learning, strong guidance, a focus on success skills and becoming a contributing citizen.”

I’m no education expert, but in my view, as a mother, grandmother and YA author, this is exactly where we should be going.

 

 

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