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The Accents of Latino Literature

Ilan Stavans and Cristina Garcia join us for a new look at the best of Latino literature, in a new Norton Anthology.

Frida Kahlo's 1943 oil-on-metal painting "Roots” (AP)

America’s fastest-growing minority – Hispanics – comes with many things, including a literature all its own. It’s a vast literature, from the days of the earliest explorers of the Americas to “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents”, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love” and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

It’s a literature of history, and a literature of this moment. “If Walt Whitman could hear America singing now, he would be dancing to this beat,” says Barbara Kingsolver.

Cultural critic Ilan Stavans and author Cristina Garcia join us to talk about the heart of Latino lit.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ilan Stavans, professor in Latin America and Latino Culture at Amherst College. He’s author of “Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Early Years” and the general editor of the new “Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.” You can read an excerpt from the introductory essay.

Cristina Garcia, author of “Dreaming in Cuban” and the new novel “The Lady Matador’s Hotel.”

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  • legal eagle

    Thanks for anothe ethnic program that leaves Jews out of the equation. (Even though Stavans coniders himself a “Jew whatever it means to him.)

    I consider it an insult that during the Jewish High Holidays not even one show was dedicated to Jewish themes.

  • Dan Cooper

    The only thing I’ve really ever noticed about latino literature is that the male authors of it seem obsessed with triumphant statements regarding genital size and prowess, in a sort of desperate way.

  • joshua

    Dan cooper–jewish lit seems to be the same way.

    Much of lation/a literature has to with a connection to the earth and family, esp. mexican

    or roots…

  • Julie Rohwein

    I am an Anglo who grew up in New Mexico and have been reading latino/latina literature since I was a kid. My teachers just presented is as good literature. It bears remembering that in a good chunk of what is now the US (ie, the southwest and California for example) the first European language and culture that arrived was from Spain.

    And on a native NM note, is there anything in the anthology by Rudolfo Anaya?

  • http://www.hispanigentsia.com Hispanigentsia

    Much Latin American literature is about life liberty and the pursuit…. Murder mysteries, coming-of-age stories, science fiction, war, etc. When I hear people say things like “the only thing I ever really noticed”… blah, blah, blah” I am embarrassed for them.

  • Julie Rohwein

    And I loved Stavan’s book on Spanglish. I finally understood what I could speak and understand (I was pretty clear it wasn’t spanish:-)

  • Erika Meyer

    I am grateful for this topic as discovering Latino/a literature has helped me to find my own voice as someone who is “in between,” the daughter of a German-American father and a Panamanian mother. I am looking forward to reading this anthology and sharing with my community.

  • http://www.hispanigentsia.com Hispanigentsia

    Hearing DOS PATRIAS on NPR was (even in translation) moving. Thank you.

  • http://www.hispanigentsia.com Hispanigentsia

    Hispanigentsia is an online company, in its nascent stages, that seeks to consolidate voices of intellectually inclined people who happen to be (far from stereotypical) Latino/Hispanic. The more people we attract, the more sponsorship we’ll attract, and we’ll invest 15% of all sponsorship $ in nonprofits getting kids into college. Will you interview us?

  • Pedro Sanchez

    It is a well known fact that many people, in the Hispanic population, use “Spanglish” among themselves. They try to sound “sophisticated”. This is ridiculous and they also show ignorance. Well, “Spanglish” is neither Spanish nor English. Many of those people can not even have a regular conversation in Spanish. Ironically, they call themselves “bilingual”.
    For us, Latinos, it is important to try to speak English in this country, as well as we can. It is also important to be proud of our Latin roots by using proper Spanish.

  • Tina

    Spanglish is a true linguistic system in its own right. Spanglish, just like any other mixed language system, follows a set of grammatical rules that are rarely violated by speakers of Spanglish. That is, it has a set of rules that dictates how English and Spanish can be combined to form a third language, Spanglish. Speakers of Spanglish inherently know these grammatical rules, just as native speakers of Spanish know Spanish language rules and don’t violate them when they speak. Instead of regarding Spanglish as a detriment to language maintenance, many now believe that it fosters it, enabling 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc, generation- Latinos to continue using it, even though they may not be Spanish language dominant. As a teacher of Spanish language to native English speakers, I allow a degree of “mixing” or Spanglish because I believe that this is better than the alternative- students not speaking at all because they can’t say something 100% in Spanish. Likewise, Latinos who are not Spanish-dominant should be encouraged to do the same. Some is better than nothing! Of course, language purists will say that “proper Spanish” should be learnt by Latinos (those living outside Spanish-speaking nations), but this is not realistic in nearly all cases. So, again, something is better than nothing.

  • Elena Latlippe

    Hello Tom

    Thank you for your outstanding program, I love it.
    Tom, yesterday 2nd hr, was great, I couln’t listened in the AM. but I did in the PM.
    and I came a little bit late, my question is : did you o your guests mention the other great Latin America writers or was only geared to Central America?
    Isabell Allende that just received a national prize in Santiago , Chile, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ruben Dario(born 1867), Jorge Luis Borges.
    Thank you Tom to pay attention to this.


    Elena ;atlippe

  • http://www.cincopuntos.com Lee Byrd

    I just want to point out that Ilan Stavans also brought out another book this year called Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay. It’s great, the archival photos bring Cesar to life for people (especially young people) who aren’t familiar with the incredible work that Chavez did.

  • Alan

    Mr. Ashbrook, once again “On Point” has demonstrated why it is strongest and most compelling when it addresses the broader questions of culture, rather than the petty arguments of the politics of the moment. This program was very enlightening, and it has encouraged me to find the anthology soon. (I have also sent the link to this program to a number of friends who appreciate literature.) Please do not waver in your commitment to cultural subjects! “On Point” has become essential to an understanding of our world. Muchas gracias, hermano!

  • Patricia

    This program was excellent! The public needs to ponder the voices and literature that is coming from such a large part of our population. Thank you for sharing this interview. Wonderfully focused and enlightening!

  • Rafael W. Ponce

    Ilan, picture this: A 5-yr old anglo kid adopted by a latino couple & immersed into the culture, the barrio/ ghetto (yes, blacks as well) ways, then struggling thru my nearly 80 yr “corrida” as a dyslexic 8th grade drop-out with an identity crisis. Sometimes, I even had to “pass” as an anglo. Yet, I aways strove to achieve a piece of the American dream which I did, mostly thru my involvement in the civil rights movement in the 60s&70s. But, keeping it was something else.Many folks, including Alex Haley, whom my then wife and I had engaged for a community gathering we had sponsored, have told me I should write a book. And, now that I’m out of biz & con-valescing from a triple bi-pass, I’ll give it a shot.

  • http://WETA Frederick

    Back at college to teach after twenty years in another profession, I am glad of the population shifts, the influences of internationals, and look forward to their influences on US cultural patterns. The multi-cultural world is rich with great ideas and perspectives. Not only is there disservice to others in not “listening” to their voices,” there is disservice to our own culture. Without new inputs, cultures calcify, lose vitality and possibly meaning. Cultures and lives risk becoming rather rote performances, devoid of vital content, as appears to be happening in the US, whose dominant culture, judging by its preponderance in the media, is concerned only with money and power.

    A very refreshing program, indeed, and I’m glad to know there’s one source where I might turn–The Norton Anth.–to add to my readings in Asian literature new readings in Latin Lit. Well done!


  • Allison Green

    I thought this was a fantastic piece – i have deeply enjoyed reading latin literature for many years now – and it is joy to learn of a way to expand my experience and knowledge in that arena

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