By Nelson Santana
September 27, 2010
A Ghetto Phenomenon Inspires New York Youth
The Bronx, New York – Some despise him for the same reasons others love and hold admiration for him. His vulgar mouth spews poetic expressions adorned with today’s English.
The week of the 20th started with a bang courtesy of a book reading offered by the imminent down-to-earth English Professor Junot Diaz. The reading, which took place on Monday, September 20, was the end product of the effort of the Dominican Club at The City University of New York Bronx Community College.
One of the first things Professor Diaz stated was: “I wasn’t asked to come here as a professor. They asked me to come because I am an artist. They asked me to talk about my art.” And art he has, as his 2007 novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao garnered him a Pulitzer for his fiction masterpiece.
All behold: Junot the Artist is in the house.
Junot Díaz reads his short story "Alma"
Muffled whispers of shock toward Junot’s colloquial tongue would resonate within the audience, yet not with enough force to actually pierce through his stage.
During the Q & A (questions and answers) segment however, one member of the audience could not contain his torment and obliged others like himself by questioning literature’s genius about the use of “bad words” in his fiction – and onstage – and also pondered about the cursing in the classes Junot has taught, to which Junot responded: “When my students can command the English language as well as me, then will I allow them to curse in my class.”
Part of Junot’s aura is his uncanny ability to connect with the youth. Most in the audience overwhelmingly consented to his usage of colloquial English – and his colloquial Spanish cannot be disregarded either.
Much to the audience’s delight, Diaz read his short story “Alma,” about a couple whose relationship ends due to the male’s infidelity.
Through Junot’s discourse the young intellectuals in attendance did have the opportunity to learn a little about their history.
The breeding experiment
Junot’s lecture touched briefly on the 400 years of slavery the Dominican people endured. According to Junot, Dominicans are a “raped people” who happen to be the byproduct of the “breeding experiment.”
Everything that is Dominican is a consequence of the breeding experiment which in actuality was unwanted rape brought upon capitalism’s lucrative and most heinous invention – slavery.
It is through this repeated rape that Dominicans come in all shapes and sizes – black, white, yellow, voluptuous, petite, round and brown among other characteristics that identify this population.
It is Junot’s realness that attracts his audience to him: “All of you know that you spend your life with a stack of masks on your face. You have the person you are when you talk to your boss. You have the person you are when you talk to your teacher. You have the person you are when you talk to your boys and girls. You have the person you are when you talk to your absolute, most trustful best friend.”
It is human nature to wear different masks. Humans are trained to act a certain way when in the presence of a person or persons. One speaks to his/her boss differently than from one’s parents. That is the beauty of being human, but by the same token one can also take it as curse.
This particular message from Junot is important because many minority students struggle with the masks they wear, and he stressed to his audience that it is fine to wear different masks, as those masks will help them get through in life – obtaining a college degree while at the same time remaining true to one’s boys and girls.
Junot Díaz shares some thoughts at a reception following his lecture
Writers are artists
Junot Diaz is the voice of many people. He advocates for oppressed groups including students and fellow writers among others. According to Junot, “Most people get very little art education” in the United States. He goes on to argue that the school system would rather pit students to compete against one another rather than cultivate them. “There is no culture on the Earth that doesn’t recognize its literature as art,” and Junot argues the U.S. does the opposite and by neglecting this part of one’s education, the U.S. does more harm than good to its prospective college graduates.
The Brief Wondrous…
Certain audience members – to the dismay of insecure Dominican historians – admitted to being fond of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as it allows them to learn Dominican history.
At the private by-invitation-only reception Junot stated he considers his Pulitzer masterpiece an "Encyclopedia novel": a novel that attempts to compile as much information as possible relevant to history; in this case, Dominican history.
Though some of the historical notes in the novel may be considered inaccurate due to history’s inconsistencies, Junot excels in educating his audience about Dominican history.
One notable example historians cite to discredit the history portion in the novel is when Junot takes a stand and states former Dominican President Joaquin Balaguer never fathered children. Historically, Balaguer never fathered children. On the other hand, it was not until after his death in 2002 that previous rumors about him fathering children gained momentum.
Unlike historians who drain the life out of the history books they write, Junot livens the pages on which his words appear on, and in turn stimulates the youth by arousing the history they were taught to despise.
Junot Diaz is not simply a writer or English professor – he is a ghetto phenomenon who takes time to nurture America’s youth, barring race or nationality.