Wednesday
Jan202016

A Permanent Upside-Down Frown

Most of the people in my family are fairly cheerful people. My mom, in particular, is the most upbeat and optimistic person I’ve ever met.

It’s a little odd, in that nobody in my family is a millionaire, and we’ve all had our fair share of traumas. And yet, here we are, apparently happier than your average stressed-out American.

And a recent study found that Latin America is arguably the happiest place on Earth. Yes, even with all the region’s socioeconomic problems, residents of Latin America don’t sweat the small stuff.

Why is this?

Well, I’ve written before about the Latino tendency to be positive, even in the face of grim news and dreary statistics. But I recently came across a scientific theory for this relentless smiling.

Now, it’s old news that research “suggests an association between mental wellbeing and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin, which is believed to be linked to human mood.”

Basically, much of our happiness, or lack thereof, may be traced to our genetic makeup.

Scientists have found that the Scandinavian population is most likely to have this gene. This may be one reason why Denmark, Finland, and other counties in that region perennially rank as the happiest nations on Earth.

Of course, a progressive government that ensures a high standard of living for their citizens may have something to do with that perpetual singsong attitude. But let’s not dwell on that because it’s, you know, socialism.

In any case, additional research has found that like the Scandinavians, Latin Americans are “more likely to contain a specific allele involved in sensory pleasure and pain reduction.”

As such, people from Latin America and Scandinavians are more likely to be chipper than, say, the Chinese or the Iraqis (of course, there are very real non-genetic reasons for their unhappiness too).

Is it possible, then, that as more Hispanics intermarry and intermingle and inter-you-know-what, they will spread their happiness genes among more and more Americans?

Hey, there’s only one way to find out.  

Wednesday
Jan132016

Who Will Be the Great Latino Writers of the 21st Century?

It wasn’t until 1990 that the Pulitzer Prize for fiction first went to a Latino (Oscar Hijuelos). But today, Hispanic writers routinely have awards and book deals thrown at them from passing cars.

OK, that’s not quite true. Latino writers, like all ethnic-minority writers, continue to have problems breaking through and finding a large audience for their works.

The founders of the YouNiversity Project, Jonathan Marcantoni and Chris Campanioni, are well aware of this. Both are award-winning writers busy nurturing their own careers, yet they’ve taken the initiative to launch a program to educate promising authors on the unique challenges of 21st-century publishing.

The program helps writers establish a social media presence, build an online platform, and engage their communities. YouNiversity also helps writers learn the craft of editing and improve their writing. Marcantoni says that Hispanic writers face a unique challenge when it comes to tackling these concepts.

“A key issue for Latino writers is that they are grouped under this umbrella of ‘Latino stories,’ which not only homogenizes the kinds of stories that are expected of them — namely, identity and immigration narratives — it also homogenizes the writer's particular culture,” Marcantoni says. “The YouNiversity project offers Latino writers a chance to get out from that umbrella, embrace their unique experience, perspective, and interests, and build an audience through that prism rather than adjusting their voice to fit the status quo.”

So how does YouNiversity help Latino writers accomplish this goal? Well, the program accepts promising artists who understand an essential, often overwhelming truth: modern publishing is global publishing.

“Your work has the potential to reach people on the other side of the world instantaneously,” Marcantoni says. “So how do you effectively do that? For starters, you need to know who you are as a writer. This is why YouNiversity doesn't accept brand-new writers. We need people who already know what their brand is, or have an idea of what that brand is. Once you know what you write about and why, you can figure out who your audience is.”

Campanioni adds that the ideal candidates for YouNiversity are “women and men who are critical thinkers and want to contribute to the cultural dialogue with their art and how they represent themselves in the culture.”

The most recent version of YouNiversity accepted two writers — Nami Thompson and Vivian M. Chabrier — who received hands-on training in author branding on several different platforms. Thompson and Chabrier learned about the creative uses of the cover letter and pitch, how to interview with publishing professionals, how to organize author events, and how to create multimedia artist statements, such as projects on YouTube or Vimeo.

“We want our students to learn the practical aspects of life as a writer, not just how to construct plot and dialogue in their stories, but what to do with a story once it’s drafted and revised, and how to start a dialogue with other writers and editors to find the right market for their work,” Campanioni says. “I like to think that YouNiversity is situated at the intersection of literature and technology and publishing, and this is where we meet our students and where they meet us.”

The program is not limited solely to Latino writers, but Marcantoni says that YouNiversity can help Hispanic writers in a number of ways, such as showing them how to create their own paths beyond the “Latino” label. 

“What truly makes writers distinct is the richness and fullness of their command over their art,” Marcantoni says. “That confidence makes for marketing that grows out of the artistry, rather than compromising the art to fit an ad campaign.”

Or as Campanioni puts it, “The more alternatives there are to an overpriced, overvalued factory-stamped MFA, the better off our future writers will be. Regardless of what route they choose, at least they will have options.”

 

Tuesday
Jan052016

A Day Long Remembered

Tomorrow is my birthday. This means all of you have run out of time to get me a gift this year.

But don’t feel bad. I plan take the day off and finally go see the new Star Wars.

And yes, I will now mention that I’ll be happy to see Oscar Isaac join Jimmy Smits as one of the few Latinos to exist in a galaxy filled with countless Jawas, Gamorreans, and Wampas.

Of course, this latest chapter of the epic has drawn attention for being more multicultural and female-positive (a development that has caused way too many people to freak the fuck out).

Really, when it comes to light saber duels, Jedi mind tricks, and hot princesses in gold bikinis, can’t we all just get along?

Wednesday
Dec302015

To 2016

For my last post of the year, I thought I would regale you with an amusing anecdote that happened to my mom.

She was standing in line at the post office, talking to my grandmother. As I may have mentioned, my grandmother is pushing 100, so it’s unlikely that she will learn English at this point. Therefore, my mom was speaking to her in Spanish.

Of course, that’s just asking for it.

A blustery man standing behind my mom yelled, “This is America. We speak English.”

Really, he said that.

My mom turned around and said, “Yes, this is America. And that means I can speak whatever I want.”

The man gasped and struggled for a rejoinder. Either he didn't think my mom spoke English (and was stunned that she had understood him), or he just didn't believe anyone would have the nerve to question his simplistic assertion to his face. Or maybe my mom’s statement — with its firm basis in legal, cultural, and historical fact — just flummoxed him.

Regardless, my mom let him have it for another minute or two, using such terms as “freedom” and “civil rights” and “pride.” And he just kept jabbering for a proper rebuttal.

With the dressing down complete, my mom turned back to my grandmother. Before she could resume their conversation, however, the man’s companion — presumably his wife — tapped my mom on the shoulder.

“Good for you,” the man’s wife said. “I keep telling him to shut up and keep his stupid opinions to himself. Now maybe he’ll listen.”

And the man said nothing.

So that’s your anecdote. OK, maybe it’s not as amusing as I implied. But it is funny. Parts of it, anyway.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday
Dec162015

Closer Than You Think

The cataclysm in Syria has people all over the world concerned about the plight of refugees fleeing for their lives.

Actually, here in America, we’re just a little less concerned, in that a majority of us don’t want to let any refugees — even little kids — into our country because we’re afraid that they’re Isis or Al Qaeda or whoever wants to kill us now. 

But for many other Americans, these ghastly images have provoked prayers, donations, and the occasional Google search phrase “How do I adopt a Syrian war orphan?” (Answer: you probably can’t).

This outpouring of support is admirable, but it is also a bit mystifying, in that we have a refugee crisis right outside our door.

I’m referring, of course, to the thousands of women and children fleeing Central America because of that region’s horrific violence. Strangely enough, many Americans don’t view this as a refugee crisis. One reason for this is because, as my friend Hector Luis Alamo wrote in Latino Rebels, “the U.S. government has refused to label them refugees, opting instead to refer to them as ‘migrants,’ a word which implies they’re little more than tourists.”

As Alamo points out, this simple linguistic trick has the effect of convincing many Americans that when it comes to terrified Central American refugees, “under those tattered, dusty clothes lies a lazy loafer or a scheming evildoer.”

In essence, many Americans have taken their hatred of the undocumented and affixed it to this latest disaster. As such, we don’t see that Central Americans have much in common with Syrians. Nor do we believe that they are both humanitarian disasters.

We will, however, have the same response, which is to shut the gates and pull up the drawbridge.

Hey, at least we’re consistent.