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3:29pm November 24, 2012

Junot Diaz and the Cult of Revolutionary Machismo

Junot_Díaz

It’s hard not to be drawn in by Pulitzer Prize winning, MacArthur Foundation Genius Junot Diaz. Last week at the Applied Research Center’s 2012 Facing Race Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, the Dominican-American author didn’t just show up on stage and read a speech. He excused himself for being a nervous wreck and invited the audience to ask him questions as a warm up. The self-deprecation worked well in the packed Hilton ballroom.

“Are you single?” an audience member asked. This elicited laughs and eye rolls from the audience but most were curious to hear the response. Diaz’s latest novel, This is How You Lose Her, the one before it, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and his debut short story collection Drown are known for their realistic portrayals of Dominican-American men struggling with Latino masculinity, it’s expectations and demands. This means that his characters, specifically one named Yunior, wants to be el más macho and do it by chasing and hurting many women, mostly through infidelity. In a book market that is generally short on Latino character complexity, Diaz can feel like a savior. Some have gone as far as to label Diaz a feminist. But his portrayals have also helped feed rumors about how much of himself is written as Yunior.

“Are you that guy?” another audience member asked before Diaz delved into reading from his laptop making references to The Lord of the Rings and the zombie apocalypse peppered with curses. Diaz never directly answers the question, instead asking, “Do you mean to ask if I’m a misogynist?” Diaz explained that he, like many many Latinos in general grew up with hypermasculinity being rewarded and he wanted to reflect that in his characters. But then Diaz gets personal, explaining how growing up he “deformed” his sister’s childhood with race and masculinity issues.

These are the type of revelations that point to the hunger within the Latino community for discussions on colorism and machismo and their impact on our relationships with one another. Diaz injecting the literary and cultural world with these topics is necessary as is another concept Diaz raised in his keynote, the idea of simultaneity.

“We are fundamentally comprised of the oppressions we resist,” Diaz said in Baltimore.

This is not a new idea, in the 1960s the radical Puerto Rican organization, The Young Lords, had as point 10 of their 13 point party platform that “Machismo must be revolutionary.” Is this an example of confronting an issue within the community or excusing it? Women within the Young Lords felt this idea allowed for some men within the organization to pay lip service to gender equality politically but treat their “sisters” differently in their personal lives. The tenet was challenged and eventually changed to: “We want equality for women. Down with machismo and male chauvinism.”

In Baltimore, Diaz called on the audience, especially men, to rehumanize women, especially women of color. He invoked women of color warrior thinkers like Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua as guides. While this was applauded, Diaz’s strong resistance to the predesigned conversation between himself and President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center, Rinku Sen, was noted as contradictory.

Should fans and consumers simultaneously laud creatives like Diaz while challenging his the machismo in his portrayals, challenging in essence parts of himself? Junot Diaz said that the one place men are allowed to show vulnerability is in a woman’s bed. But Diaz clearly has also found the page to be such a place as well. Diaz’s most revelatory moment during his Facing Race keynote was when he said that a lot compulsive womanizing in our communities is rooted in sexual violence against men and that his character, Yunior, is getting closer and closer to revealing he was raped.

How much machismo, if any is excusable in the name of trauma, in the name of art? Or maybe the idea of simultaneity is about forgiving while transforming accountability to and within our communities.



About the Author

Maegan Ortiz
Maegan Ortiz
NYRican in LA Media Mami Maker. Regular contributor at Politic365.com writing about immigration, police brutality, and other LA/NYC Latin@ issues. Follow me on twitter @mamitamala.




 
 

 
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4 Comments


  1. I wondered the same things you did in this piece. I didn’t exactly question whether the character in the book is, in fact, a version of him. Many men struggle with the idea of machismo, no matter where you come from. I woke up this morning thinking, for instance, how we try to compare oppressions, but rarely say aloud who suffers the most from the isms (poor LGBT women of color). Men need to take a long hard look at the role we play in perpetuating the machismo. It’s one thing for men and women to come to a mutual agreement about sexual endeavors and relationships, and quite another to just assume such a thing belongs to you because you’re a Latino man. Machismo is still alive and well.


    • Machismo is indeed still alive and well! Speaking from a Dominican-American woman’s perspective I have lived with, mananged and survived “Latino-male Machismo” better yet Dominican-Male Machismo. 99% of my empowerment comes from the knowledge of and experiencing first hand the abuse a few females in my family have endured before and during my lifetime. I swore I would NEVER allow ANY man to victimize me in ANY which way or form. After 15 years of marriage to a native Dominican man I can honestly and thank God to say I have! I am raising my daughter to take NO mess from no man she’s ever in a relationship with…To be feared instead of having it lol! I am also teaching my son that to be a “REAL” man he doesn’t have to be a brute. When all is said and done we humans live, survive, and eventually die by example for this reason we MUST break unhealthy cycles and cultivate good ones.


  2. Z Perez

    Every chance J D gets to put down critics for asking if his work is autobiographical, the truth is just that: that all of his writing, and especially his recent book of short stories, TIHYLH, is thinly-veiled autobiographical fiction. I know because I’m close friends with his ex, Elizabeth, to whom he dedicated Oscar Wao, and whom he depicts—sometimes in scathing detail—in his recent book. And, yes, while they were engaged he cheated on her with more women than it would be decent to say here. But what I will say is that this book finally and irrevocably shows that at the heart of Díazis not sympathy or activisim or genius, but profound neurotic autopathy. He is willing (volunteering even) to open the wounds he created for Elizabeth and pour barrels of salt in them for his own literary success and emotional catharsis despite supposedly loving her deeply. He said in a talk I attended once: “fuck what people think,” and THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER proves that he really means that, and that he practices that disregard most wholly with those he is most intimate with.


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