Authentic authors promote adequate representation

Elena Pacheco

Before I was born, my parents decided to immigrate to the United States from Mexico. Like many others, they were simply looking for a better life. I cannot imagine how vastly different my life would be if my parents had not decided to leave Mexico — their decision has become a huge, undeniable part of me. 

I have plenty of experiences and stories I could tell, as do many other Latinos. There is a huge collective of people whose lives are inevitably defined by the intensity of immigration and who have had firsthand experiences with violence and the feeling of uncertainty. 

Due to prejudice and negative rhetoric, many who are eager to tell their stories about immigration feel they cannot do so freely. Instead, they have their intimate narratives told for them by someone who lacks authentic experience.

The recent publication of “American Dirt,” a fictional novel about a character who emigrates from Mexico, has sparked a lot of controversy. It made its way onto Oprah’s Book Club list, was referred to as “The Grapes of Wrath” of our time, garnered the attention of famous authors such as Stephen King and generated a whopping seven-figure advance from publishing house Flatiron Books, a subdivision of Macmillan Publishers.

Many amazing Latino writers have not received nearly as much attention for their stories about real, firsthand experiences. Yet a non-Latino author’s fictional, inaccurate novel is celebrated at a book party with barbed wire centerpieces, and non-Latino fans get barbed wire manicures mirroring the cover of the book.

That’s why, to many, this feels like a slap in the face.

To complicate matters further, the author, who happens to be white, claimed to be a Latina because of her Puerto Rican grandmother. Her husband, who is Irish, was undocumented until they got married. 

Although many believe the controversy is entirely due to the author being white, this isn’t really the full issue. We all know censorship and hindering freedom of speech isn’t ideal. It seems too irrational to tell authors only to write about something they are familiar with or are a part of.

However, dialogue about this issue is crucial. It is healthy and necessary, especially on our campus, to be able to voice our opinions about controversial topics and ideas we disagree with. 

“I think people can write whatever they want, that’s really not up to anyone,” English junior Lilian Garcia said. “That being said, if it’s not done well, if your writing reflects your ignorance, then you more than deserve criticism.”

Garcia said that she believes that the publishing business also has blame in this. 

“It’s telling about the kind of people behind the scenes that thought this story was worthy of being read as the book of our times,” Garcia said. “We have to question the type of people who gave the go.”

The proof that open dialogue is crucial and beneficial for these types of issues lies in the victory recently achieved by the #DignidadLiteraria coalition — a group of Latinx members of the academic, writing and publishing communities committed to increasing the presence of Latinx representation within those communities. They successfully expressed their views to publishing house Macmillan, and Macmillan agreed to draw up a plan to increase Latinx representation across the publishing firm within 90 days, as well as a meeting with more coalition representatives within 30 days of their initial meeting.

Overall, we should learn to be critical about what we read inside and outside of the classroom. In order to get an accurate representation about a topic, it is important to consider different perspectives. Reading works by authentic authors may help us gain a broader, more realistic point of view. 

Pacheco is an English sophomore from Edinburg.