What do Hispanic, Latino and New York-style pizza have in common? They are all terms invented in the United States. While New York-style pizza was invented in the Big Apple by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, the terms Hispanic and Latino were invented by the US government fifty years later. Shocked? A popular email much-forwarded on the web a couple of years ago, titled I am an American of Cuban Descent, and Proud of it, categorically states, “There is no such thing as a ‘Latino’ race, and there is no such thing as a ‘Hispanic’ race. Both terms are contrived and used solely for census purposes.”
There is no country named Latinia and no country named Hispania either. The closest we can come to a similar word to Hispanic is Hispaniola, the name given by Christopher Columbus to one of the islands of the Caribbean.
So, technically, there should not be a Hispanic or a Latino literature. Following in the great tradition of the United States of inventing new names, I propose the term Lat Lit to encompass what heretofore has been considered Hispanic or Latino literature.
I confess I like the term Lat Lit. It’s compact enough to use on Twitter without wasting valuable space spelling out words. It has a catchy sound. Spoken quickly and repeatedly, it mimics the creaking noises of one of those low-riders you’d find in LA — or the machine-gun bongo beat of the salsa music you hear in Miami nightclubs. Say Lat Lit aloud five times fast, so you know I’m telling the truth.
Now that we have settled on the appropriate term, let’s move on to the next step. Let’s define what Lat Lit is. We’ll begin the process by ruling out what it isn’t. As Sherlock Holmes once said, and I’ll paraphrase quite freely here, “Once you rule out the impossible, what you have left, as improbable as it may appear to be, is the truth.”
Let’s try to eliminate the impossible then, so we can uncover the truth.
Is Lat Lit Hispanic or Latino Literature?
An internet search uncovers a dizzying assortment of different descriptions for Hispanic and Latino literature. The result is additional confusion instead of clarification. A monumental compendium of more than 100,000 pages titled Latino Literature: Poetry, Drama and Fiction, catches my attention. The cover describes the term Latino as a sum of heterogeneous parts encompassing “all citizens of the United States whose heritage is Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, and South American.” It goes on to explain that “the majority of Latino Literature is in English.”
Further, in an attempt to describe the diversity of the compendium, it adds: ‘Mexican American prose tends to reflect social themes, given the migratory patterns of mostly agricultural workers with minimal formal education. The wave of Cuban immigration after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 brings the nostalgic voice of an educated middle-class. Nuyoricans, the large contingent of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York, add to the mix their verve and creativity, freely using a mixture of English and Spanish. Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, and other Central and South American immigrants write about the social upheaval in their countries.”
While impressive in the quantity of authors represented, I conclude Latino Literature is limited in quality. Missing from the selection are many of the most famous Latino writers, such as Ciro Alegria, Jorge Luis Borges, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Julio Cortazar, Ruben Dario, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also absent from the collection are some of the better-known contemporary Latino writers like Junot Diaz, Isabel Allende, and others.
I find Alexander Street Press’ explanation of the diversity of its writers incomplete and disappointing too. There’s much more to Mexican American prose than social themes. And Cuban immigration after the Castro revolution has had more than one wave, including the well-publicized marielitos in 1980 and the constant stream of balseros still arriving on Florida shores today. Regarding the prose of Cuban American writer, it has long ago been divested of that “ predominantly nostalgic tone” and morphed, like the Cubans themselves, into all known American non-fiction and fiction themes and genres — such as thrillers, crime, mystery, mainstream and even erotica. As far as what other central and South American immigrants write about, the topics vary by culture but are definitely richer and more varied than “social upheaval in their countries.”
So Lat Lit is definitely NOT Latino Literature either, at least not according to the definitions found on the Internet.
What is, or could be, Lat Lit then?
Here’s my proposed definition. Lat Lit is a popular, accessible and all-inclusive term with the following four main characteristics:
- Encompasses all known prose genres — including but not limited to non-fiction, fiction, poetry and plays, be it in print, e-book or film — as well as poetry
- Applies to authors meeting one or more of these requirements: (1) were born in a Spanish-speaking country; (2) have at least one ancestor who was born in a Spanish-speaking country; (3) are naturalized ctizens of a Spanish-speaking country; or (4) write about topics of interest to people who come from a Spanish-speaking culture
- The writing is in English, Spanish, Portuguese or Spanglish
- Spain, Portugal and Brazil are included in the list of Latin countries
My rationale for this definition is as follows: in our modern and constantly evolving internet age, parochial definitions are no longer valid. Language and literature should be fluid, organic and innovative, and open the literary path for others to follow — and not the other way around.
So why not use a contemporary term like Lat Lit, more akin to Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social media?
Next time someone patronizes you by reciting a long list of obscure authors with a Spanish surname and then chides you because you know nothing about Latino literature, consider answering this: “Latino literature is an archaic term – confusing, stuffy and old-fashioned. The new term is Lat Lit, Dude.”
David Pereda is the award-winning author of seven novels, dozens of articles and a handful of poems. His latest thriller, Twin Powers, published by Second Wind Publishing in February 2015, has received rave reviews. Here is the Amazon link to Twin Powers, so you can check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Twin-Powers-David-Pereda/dp/1630661112/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425253277&sr=1-2&keywords=twin+powers. For more information on the author, visit www.davidpereda.com