Correspondents and Dispatches from the Frontera

We Need to Stop Writing for White People,

because they don’t give a damn about our people or our culture. If they cared about us, they wouldn’t lock our children up in cages. Yet, many books written by Chicanx and Latinx authors lean heavy into explaining our culture, customs, and traditions. Often diluting the story in explaining to white people the particulars of our culture.  

I’m not here to call out our writers, but rather a long-held tradition of writing for the aesthetic of white hegemony. I first noticed this during a Chicanx literature course at the University of Texas at El Paso. The author came in to speak to the class while we were reading his novel. A student asked the author why he ended the book from the perspective of a white man watching the Chicanx protagonist going deep into a drug-fueled psychosis. If my memory serves me, the author responded, “I wanted to give the reader a sense of watching the protagonist from outside the cultural identity.” The author’s words did not sit well in the pit of my gut. While reading his novel, I felt like a foreigner in the very culture I was born into. I noticed this in other Chicanx and Latinx books I read too. 

For example, some books written by Latinx writers will often use italics for words written in Spanish. The decision to italicize words in Spanish usually falls on the publisher. Publishers in the United States have an inherent need to separate and other languages that don’t originate from Anglo-Frisian dialects. Maybe this all has to do with eugenics and language and racism; to separate and to other. Either way, many Latinx and Chicanx writers are encouraged when they cater to the hegemony.

The pressure to explain that we too are human, that we too have grandmothers, that we too hurt and love and feel, can be maddening.

A colleague once told me that an editor returned his manuscript with the following note: you need to write this book as if you were explaining El Paso to a midwestern white-woman that has never seen the border.

So much of this Anglican explanation can be found in the pages of our books. Perhaps it all stems from the printing press and the resources needed to publish books on a mass scale. If the presses were owned by the white hegemony, then it makes sense that we once wrote to appease those gatekeepers or risk having our stories erased.

Fortunately, we live in an age where written information is no longer a commodity only afforded to those in power.

As Latinx and Chicanx writers, we now have the resources to start publishing houses and platforms dedicated to our stories. We no longer need to waste sentences explaining what Abuela means or that pan dulce is another word for sweet bread. Though we can if we want to. Let’s amplify our stories for ourselves, so we can finally tell our stories without having to be the foreigners in them.