Guest Post By Sabrina Vourvoulias, author of Ink {Hispanic Heritage Month}

As I said in my last post on Adult Multicultural Books, reading for me was an outlet, a way to delve into a reality in order to escape my own sometimes.

Books in their majesty should be viewed as doorways into other realms, into other minds, into the places we never really truly want to experience like war, pain, envy, hurt, and sometimes we root for the underdog to vanquish whatever demons they may have.

Banning books has always been a practice that I wish would just end. Knowledge and challengeing your own rose colored view on the world should happen and we should always question why we do something and is it humane?

I am very honored to welcome Sabrina Vourvoulias, the author of Ink, a dystopian novel which is by far my favorite genre. You can keep your Fifty Shades of Grey while I immerse myself  into the non romantic notions of an imperfect society.

Reading and Writing in 4/4 Time

I came to the United States from Guatemala with the books of Latin American Boom writers packed in my suitcases. I was fifteen. A Citizen, but one who had never lived here and didn’t know a thing about being American.

I spoke English, sure, because my American dad had made certain we were conversant from an early age. But, the words that really meant something to me were on the pages written by Gabo and Jorge Luis Borges; José Donoso and Miguel Angel Asturias; Juan Rulfo and Julio Cortázar. People who bound magic and politics with a sense of place to that incantation that is Spanish.

   

I sat in study hall in a rural and homogenous American public high school I didn’t understand-would never understand- and filled notebook after notebook with words in Spanish. I didn’t know a lot of native-born Latinos in those days, and the ones I did know were more like the Anglos that surronded us than they were like me. None of them had ever heard of what was going on in my homeland; none of them had read my literary heroes.

Did Hispanic Heritage Month mean anything to me in those days? I don’t think so. My heritage just was, and it didn’t help moor me in this land where I had been cut adrift as exiles and immigrants are always cut adrift. Except, I wasn’t fully either of those.

I wish I could remember when I started to think of myself as Latina rather than Latin American. I wish I could remember when it was, exactly, that I became and American in more than name only. But, if I can’t remember when, I can remember how-and a big part of that were the books I was reading. In English. By Latino authors.

Julia Alvarez wrote of her heart, chambered in both the  U.S. and the Domincan Republic. Cristina Garcia did the same, only with Cuba. And Francisco Goldman shared Guatemala. The common denominator was the United States, but also sometimes else.

They had lived what I was living, more or less, and I could read in their books not only the words of my past but of my future. The language was English, but it had the dancing, haunted cadence of Spanish ghosting it.

I found Lorna Dee Cervantes, Denise Chávez, and Sandra Cisneros a little later. Through their words they taught me what it was like to gorw up wholly Latina and wholly American-with an unchambered heart as wide open as the southwestern skies- and yet their work contained that no se que that I recognized.

   

Since then, there have been other writers whose words I hear when I think about being Latino in America: Demetria Martinez: Junot  Díaz; Judith Ortiz Cofer; Gloria anzaldua; Ana Castillo; Fransisco Alarcón; Alma Luz Villanueva; Martin Espada; Cherrie Moraga; Teresa Jusino; Daniel José Older and Gina Ruiz, among many others.

Our commonality isn’t shared Spanish language, though I continue to hear traces of its familiar music in their poetry and prose even if they write exclusively in English.  Somewhere, though, the primordial words that first tied us via ancestry, upbringing or circumstance became something else.

It’s something that revels in the paradox of being both wholly uniqe and fully shared. I don’t know what to name it, because culture, custon, worldview- none of those really do justice to the wellspring that feeds Latinos- and therefore our literature-in the United States.

I don’t actually like the sound or practice of Hispanic Heritage Month. I self identify as Latina, not Hispanic, and I hate “months” that compress the vastness of who and what we are into a transient of 30 days of tribute.

And yet,

And yet, I enjoy celebrating us.

I enjoy knowing that we’re all celebrating us right now, and that blogs like this one give us the opportunity to share with each other the impact Latino writers have had on our lives. It’s probably chance that my publishers chose the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month to release my first novel- a novel that couldn’t have been written by anyone other than a Latina living in the United States- but I choose to see it as something more.

Courses that acknowledged Mexican American history have been cut from public schools in Tucson. Books by some of the writers who I’ve named here have been pulled off those same classroom shelves.

But we’re not silent about it. we write our protests or refutations or challenges in English,  Spanish, and Spanglish. We bind magic and politics and a sense of place together in the community formed by our words.

So, while I’m celebrating my heritage, and  the launch of my novel, I’ll celebrate that ours isn’t the work of a month, but of a lifetime. we’re Latino 24/7, 365 days a year, a mucha honra. With or without documents, immigrant or native born. In English or Spanish, and on and off the page.

These are our books. These are our voices. Read and be proud.

****

Sabrina Vourvoulias is the managing editor of Al Dia News in Philadelphia.  Her Debut Novel Ink will be released bu Crossed Genres Publications on October 15, 2012. You can read about it at http://www.inknovel.com

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