The flash collection Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-short stories from the United States and Latin America brings together Latino and Latin American authors who might otherwise remain separated by borders, recognition, nationality, age, gender, and even language. Some only write in English, others in Spanish and still others in Portuguese. The collection allows readers, whether they share a cultural consciousness with these authors or not, to travel to and intimately experience many diverse worlds. Worlds, or stories, that seem to be working to define the indefinable--what it means to be Latino or Latin American. And it seems that anytime we try to define a group of people, even when it is within the context of a literary collection, it becomes something political.
Many of the Latino authors in this book, being Americans who left a country in Latin America or who have ancestors who did so, seem to experience what most modern day Americans (of any background) experience: a sense of disconnection from anything with strong, long-term roots. Some of these Latino writers, unlike many 5th and 6th generation non-Latino American immigrants, seem to have a keener sense of what was lost or left behind and make more of an effort to remember it or reach for it. For example, my great-great grandfather was an illegal immigrant from Ireland, a deserter of a British ship that landed in Maine. However, I have never felt a sense of nostalgia for Ireland. It was only when I visited the country ten years ago that I felt a strong sense of sorrow for the loss of culture that he and I had experienced.
Many of today's Latino writers, however, are still deeply connected to their mother tongue or the mother tongue of their ancestors. They express a strong sense of yearning for a place they once lived (either in reality or in their imaginations). For example, in "Fresh Fruit" by Marisella Veiga, the narrator is critical of her Latina neighbor who has adopted American customs, while taking pride in her own ability to cook traditional food. Marisella Veiga is a first generation immigrant from Cuba, and her awareness of what was lost is clearly stronger than some of the other authors in the collection who are distanced from their motherlands by multiple generations.
Of course this is not always the case when it comes to Latino writers. Many of their stories feel psychological complex but also less grounded, more detached from people and place. In "The White Girl" by Luis Alberto Urrea there is no reference made to a world outside of the United States. Urrea's protagonist is entirely immersed in his underworld of being a Mexican-American "vato." He is totally overtaken by his newfound obsession with tagging in homage to a dead white girl he never knew. Because of the code switching between Spanish and English throughout this story, a linguistic connection to another world exists. But the connection seems unconscious and unsentimental compared to what Veiga expresses in "Fresh Fruit." Interestingly enough, Luis Alberto Urrea is also a first generation immigrant but his mother was American and his father was Mexican. Nonetheless, there still is not the same degree of depth of connection to time and place in Urrea's story that exists in many of the translated Latin American stories in the collection.
For example, Latin American authors like Ángeles Mastratta tend to build more grounded worlds, worlds where people know each others' history intimately, where there are fewer strangers and fewer estrangements from things. "Aunt Chila was married to a man whom she abandoned, to the scandal of the entire city, after seven years of life together." In the first line of the story the readers get the sense that this story is going to be about a place where people know each other well and have friends and families that go way back, etc. It is a great irony that the stories originally written in a language other than English tend to create worlds that seem more grounded and less culturally distant that the Latino stories that are written in English (often with a peppering of Spanish words here and there). In a sense, many of the Latino stories reflect what U.S. culture has done to Latinos and most of other Americans at some point. It has both absorbed and rejected part of us. I am no longer Irish even though my ancestors weren't even considered white when they first arrived. Latinos are no longer Peruvian, Costa Rican, etc.--they are a homogenous "Latino," another kind of "other" not exactly from either here or there. They straddle borders.
The Sudden Fiction Latino collection not only brings together a group of diverse and talented authors, it also places U.S. Latino authors, who are often overlooked by scholars, in the peripheral spotlight of Latin American giants like Borges, Marquez, and Allende. By connecting Latino writers to their globally esteemed Latin American brothers and sisters the collection gives them a unique opportunity for visibility.
Whether the neglect of our own Latino authors is the result of a lack of awareness, prejudice, or simply an aversion to Spanish/English code switching techniques, there is no good excuse. Especially after seeing Latino talents such as Junot Diaz emerge.
In short, this collection offers adventurous border crossing and intimate connection to other worlds without the hassle of visas, or long flights. It also demonstrates the hybridity, as well as unity, of what we call Latino and Latin American. It points out the disconnection within American people and American culture. It does what countless politicians have tried and failed to do, over and over again. It unifies a divided and dispersed Latino and Latin American voice. But it does so through stories, an act that would most certainly make Latin American revolutionaries like Che Guevara smile in their graves.
About the Author
Noel Straight writes, dances, and works in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches Spanish and ESOL to students in Center City, takes all the dance/yoga classes she can at West Philadelphia's CEC, and when Noel is not writing, teaching, or dancing she is kicking it with her roommates at K & A. Currently, Noel is working on a collection of short stories and plans to complete an MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College in May 2014.