In 1952, Ralph Ellison published his first novel. Hailed as an immediate masterpiece, it won the 1953 National Book Award. The book was called Invisible Man.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is an invisible nation. This is most apparent in the near-total absence, of any Puerto Rican works from the US literary “canon.”
We have a poorly-translated Macho Camacho’s Beat, Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets, the Ed Vega novels, a few Piñero plays, Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican, Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary, and an array of Nuyorican poets, playwrights and novelists, all laboring in relative obscurity. That’s about it.
Even the few authors listed above, are rarely included in the US public school curriculum. Many of them are not found in Barnes & Noble. Some are out of print. From a literary standpoint, Puerto Ricans do not exist.
COLONIALISM IN US SPANISH DEPARTMENTS
This point was recently affirmed by Prof. Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera in his insightful Colonialism in US Spanish Departments, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Prof. Herlihy-Mera found that “nearly all Spanish language departments in the US are overwhelmingly Eurocentric.”
He also found a tendency to “overload class time and assignments with material from Iberian cultures and literature, ignoring their unstudied Latin American equivalents.”
Prof. Herlihy-Mera also quoted Eduardo Galeano, who warned that “such tendencies have turned Latin Americans into nadies – nobodies.”
IGNORING THE MARKET
As of 2014, the Theatrical Markets Report of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) shows that Latinos are buying twice as many movie tickets as African-Americans.
Until their chain folded in 2011, Borders operated 642 stores in the US and Puerto Rico. Of all these outlets, the Borders store in Plaza Las Americas (San Juan, PR) sold the most books, and was the most profitable by far, with annual sales of $17 million.
Both in the US and Puerto Rico, Latinos are a hugely underserved market. They are hungry for stories. Starving for role models.
Yet currently, the Big Five publishers service the US Latino market with mostly foreign literature (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Javier Sierra, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Julio Cortázar, et al). These foreign imports with pre-packaged P&L numbers produce an easier sale at the weekly marketing meetings in the publishing houses, and lackluster sales in the bookstores.
THE COLONIALISM WILL END…WHEN THE PROFITS ROLL IN
A tectonic shift…a tipping point…will inexorably occur.
There are too many US Latinos, with our own heritage and experience and stories. Junot Díaz is the merest tip of that iceberg, and he didn’t scratch it very far.
Sooner or later, one media gatekeeper will realize this…make a fortune…and all the others will stampede to be second.
At that point – when they realize the enormity of the US Latino reading public – the publishing industry will finally begin to identify, and promote, Latino stories and Latino voices.
At that point, the literary colonialism will finally end.
For a history of the War Against All Puerto Ricans, read the book…
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