Well, it’s that time of year again: we’ve decided the sun should get up and go to bed later, the birds have decided to chirp their twitterpated spirits, slowly the flowers are stretching their stems and UNM is rounding the corner for the final sprint to the end of another semester. At Vamos A Leer, we are finishing up our section on Race in YA Literature and will be moving on to Poetry in Latin American Literature. Really though, most of what we do is undergirded by the daily race trials that Latino-Americans walk through, so rightly so, we are never truly ‘done’ with race. Since last week was Spring Break and the week before I was inundated with tasks that left me unable to write a ¡Mira Look! post, I wanted to make up for it by providing a super post on Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos.
Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos was previously mentioned on our blog when we were deciding which titles to include for our 2012-2013 book group. It’s no surprise that even though it wasn’t chosen to be part of our book group, I chose to highlight it here, it is worthy of both nominations. Tough dialogue, gritty provocative story telling and young adult subject matter, Dark Dude doesn’t ask readers to engage with the story, it forces them to. 15 year old Rico Fuentes is stuck between a rock and a hard place in New York; his light skin masks his Cuban heritage and makes him “less Cuban” to his Cuban New York counterparts, but the fact that he is Cuban simultaneously makes him “less white”. He’s neither white enough nor brown enough depending on who is looking at him. After being continuously hassled because of his skin color, constantly fighting with his depressed mother and dealing with a drunk father, Rico has had enough. He decides that in order to rescue himself–and his friend Jimmy from spiraling deeper into his drug addiction–he must leave New York and remake himself somewhere far away in terms of both distance and community. Moving to Wisconsin close to an old barrio big-brother, Rico finds that no matter where you go people assume and judge. Finding himself allows Rico to see what he was missing all along: a sense of his own self-created identity.
I was interested to find that on some of the Amazon comments for Dark Dude, people were disturbed by the ways in which Rico was stereotyped… but that is precisely the point. The stereotypes that are assigned to a white kid and the very different assumptions placed onto kids of color don’t apply to Rico as he inhabits an entire other space between. Hijuelos is placing this point precisely in the reader’s face: racist assumptions are everywhere be it in New York or Wisconsin and the way Rico dealt with them was to face himself and the stereotypes. Additionally, Hijuelos is highlighting the assumptions often placed on rural societies. Engaging, forceful and trying, Dark Dude is a great representation of what teenagers go through when they don’t fit into the perfect little boxes society creates.
–Inhabiting a space between,