A DISCLAIMER TO OUR READERS, THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN DIVIDED INTO TWO PARTS, "SET IT ON FIRE" AND "LAND OF PROMISE", AND FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT WISH TO BE INSULTED, OFFENDED, OR HAVE THEIR FAITH IN LITERATURE AND HUMANITY SHAKEN OR CHALLENGED, WE RECOMMEND YOU READ "LAND OF PROMISE". IF YOU READ "SET IT ON FIRE", YOU DO SO AT THE RISK OF RUINING YOUR DAY.
You have been warned, fuckers.
SET IT ON FIRE
We have been in business for roughly 17 months, during which we have participated in book festivals, conferences, and have engaged writers from around the U.S. and Latin America. We have caught on to trends and attitudes and have not only interacted with poets, novelists, and short fiction writers, but also dramatists and screenwriters, directors, and actors, and it is from this wide range of experiences that we draw the following conclusion:
Most Latino Lit sucks.
That's being too nice. Most of it is shitty, cliched, safe, and worst of all, the communities that support them too rarely criticize them, so the shitty, bargain-basement quality never improves. And there appears to be little desire to change this trend. I once reviewed a book for the Lounge, and the review contained some (minor) critiques of the text. I shared this review with a fellow Latino reviewer, who stated that they prefer not to include negatives in their reviews, since Latino writers face enough opposition as it is, and we should be in the business of lifting them up, not breaking them down more than the world already does. This attitude reminded me of our first week after launching, when a Twitter troll harassed us until we removed the word "rejection" from the Submissions page (as in, "If we reject your book, we will still contact you"), their reasoning being that Latinos have been traumatized by rejection their whole lives, and to have a company who says it supports the community use that word, would be demoralizing and increase their trauma, a sentiment which relates to why so much Latino writing is laughable:
Latinos have created a community of narcissistic cowards.
How much goddamn poetry can be written about trauma? Apparently its every poetry book written by a Latino. The trauma is fairly distinct, men write about the trauma of being outsiders, rejected by whatever group, me against the world kind of shit, full of applause lines that end in some kind of triumph against oppression. Women's trauma is almost always sexual in nature. But it may also include assaults on their looks (hair, clothing, etc.), but more often than not it is about rape, or sexual assault, or harassment, followed by accusatory, angry language and ending with either an overt or subtle uplifting note.
A brief aside, there is nothing inherently wrong with writing about trauma, and of course reporting things like sexual assault is important. The problem isn't that these subjects are written about, it's that that is all they write about.
Go to any open mic and when a male poet comes up, 9 times out of 10 he's gonna say something about being an immigrant, something about perceived slights, racism, xenophobia, oppression, etc. And 9 times out of 10 whenever a woman gets up its a poem about rape or some other sexual misconduct. Go to enough of these open mics, or be an editor and receive enough of these submissions, and the lack of imagination is stomach turning. Like really? There was nothing else that could be written about? Is your imagination that limited or is that you lack the courage to write about the unexpected, or not rely on socially accepted tropes?
Some poets have started doing hybrid works, mixing narrative with poetry, but the style can't hide the derivativeness of the content. Why do Latinos only seem capable of writing about themselves? Why must you do a memoir or semi-autobiographical work? Is your life really that interesting, or are you that dull?
Focusing on trauma has another effect on this writing, which is that it is very difficult to critique trauma. If you write about a terrible personal experience, you challenge an editor or reader to call you out on how poorly written your painful personal account is. To criticize the work becomes a critique of the person, and so traumatic writing is often mediocre because it doesn't have to be well-done, it just has to disturb you enough that you don't question it.
Trauma also has the effect of framing all stories from the vantage-point of a marginalized person. While this is inherently drama-filled, it is also inherently lazy, and it is being used to avoid honest critiques of people who shouldn't be writing to begin with.
The Adherence to Western Social Norms and American Patriotism
Perhaps the most popular topic, outside of trauma, that Latino writers use is their Americanness. A number of poems have been done bashing Spanish, in fact, Spanish is now seen by many Latinos, particularly Chicanos, who have a whole self-hating element to their culture that could be its own essay, as being a colonial language, so of course the obvious thing to do in this protest is to speak English, a language that has never been involved in colonialism at all. Well, I suppose that is better than solely speaking an indigenous language when maybe a million people, and in some cases, less than a few thousand people, actually speak it. That wouldn't make a lot of sense. So yeah, let's go with English, whose people have never enslaved anyone, invaded anyone, committed genocide, or done anything disrespectful or two faced to indigenous people. Which means we definitely should side with the United States since they have always treated Latin Americans with the utmost care and equality, and have never interfered with our affairs, overthrown our governments, supported or condoned genocides, unwittingly sterilized women, or performed radiation experiments on Puerto Ricans, to pick a random group of people who have never been mistreated by the U.S. ever. I guess it just makes sense, right?
If you're a fucking idiot. Which apparently most Latino writers are. Look at Latino books and there is all sorts of critiques of Latin America but the U.S., even if it is critiqued, is always the Promised Land. American-style Democracy is the default governmental system, there is nothing greater than democracy and capitalism and the good old American way. Latin America is an irredeemable shithole and the United States is where we can breathe free and be fully functioning people. American ideas of sexuality, relationships, business, politics, and social order are all promoted by Latino authors. Latino writing doesn't challenge western norms of anything. The best our own culture gets is some curandera casting magical spells or some appeal to indigenous wisdom/medicines/religion, and to be blunt, magic. If there is one element of Latin American culture that is universal, it is magic. We all practice it in fact. A whole region of wizards and witches, and maybe a clown to trip on a rake.
But I digress. The blatant disrespect and disregard for Latin America as a region or it's specific countries, including making us exotic magicians or enlightened indigenous people and not a land of modern occupations, modern cities, and modern ideas, many of which challenge U.S. supremacy, is central to Latino literature.
No Matter What We Do, We Find Ourselves at a Loss
Content isn't the only problem. The writing itself is dull, even when it is experimental. Latino writers are being taught in white schools that don't teach literature as a living art, but rather a wholly intellectual, bloodless exercise. Most submissions we get lack passion, energy, or inventiveness. Latino writers, too often, are doing little to nothing to break away from an academic and corporate style of writing which uses formula and outdated notions of what people want to read to write their books. The aforementioned trauma narratives are derived from an idea that it sells to be a victim, and when you are a brown person and a victim, oh, white people eat that shit up! But so do brown people. The trauma narratives let us stew in our own shit, and place the problems of our worlds on everyone but ourselves. Latino writers as a whole have come to worship the giant, thorny cock of AWP, because the most crucial aspect of Latino identity, the element that if it were gone, we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves, is the blind pursuit of being accepted by the white power structures of the United States. This is why non-Puerto Rican Latinos don't outwardly support Puerto Rican independence, which if there is any cause that a supposedly anti-colonial "woke" movement should support, its the fight for independence from the United States. Instead, Chicanas like America Ferrera use her platform on TV to promote the pro-Statehood Puerto Ricans. For a supposed liberal, this was a slap in the face, and showed her true colors. Pro-Independence Boricuas are not only fighting the Evil Empire, we are fighting the pro-American Latino forces on the mainland who do as much to promote American supremacy as a Klansman. This same treachery can be seen in the Lit scene.
AWP is the pinnacle of the white writing world, and we are increasingly worshipping it, desperately seeking it's attention and approval. Nevermind that AWP will never care about us outside of tokenism. We will sell our own mamas to be brought into the American fold. And with all these books depicting our great suffering to become (sniff sniff, tear tear) Americans (whelp!), we have created the narrative myths for our children to forsake our true cultures and finally become more American than Americans.
LAND OF PROMISE
Good news (really? Yes, really.) Playwrights and filmmakers are combatting the notion that Latinos blindlessly fall into the cult of the American dream and victim narratives. Latinos in theatre and film are tearing down the doors and changing perceptions that Latino poets and novelists fail to do. And perhaps the reason for the vitality of Latino theatre and film is that nobody reads anymore! Like, seriously, fuck books. But also, film and theatre, being that they aren't bound to academia or an out of touch and dying industry, is creating artists with truly distinct, imaginative, diverse voices, where real stylistic and thematic risks are being taken. Latino theatre and film is also bursting with pride for our culture outside of American acceptance. If you are a Latino artist who wants to tell great stories and make great art, don't write books. Make movies. Write plays. That is the future. Latino Lit is a wasteland of ideas and backwards self-hatred. So you heard it here first, Latino Lit is a waste of time.*
*Don't tell our authors. We still have to make money off of them.
**While in the future we will publish books since, in spite of our jaded attitude, we do love literature, we want to make it clear that the old norms of literature will not apply to us. We wish to practice what we preach, and create a "literature" of the 21st century that follows the example of theatre, film, and television, to be truly without borders, and to seek the approval of Latin America over the United States.