Alma is in a painting phase, and the people she paints are all the color of mold, look like they've just been dredged from the bottom of a lake. Her last painting was of you, slouching against the front door: only your frowning I-had-a-lousy-Third-World-childhood-and-all-I-got-was-this-attitude eyes recognizable.
Before we even swung onto 516 Nilda was in my brother's lap and he had his hand so far up her skirt it looked like he was performing a surgical procedure. When we were getting off the bus Rafa pulled me aside and held his hand in front of my nose. Smell this, he said. This is what's wrong with women.
Responding to a moderator at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2008 (video), about the Spanish words in his book: When all of us are communicating and talking when we're out in the world, we'll be lucky if we can understand 20 percent of what people say to us. A whole range of clues, of words, of languages escape us. I mean we're not perfect, we're not gods. But on top of that people mis-speak, sometimes you mis-hear, sometimes you don't have attention, sometimes people use words you don't know. Sometimes people use languages you don't know. On a daily basis, human beings are very comfortable with a large component of communication, which is incomprehensibility, incomprehension. We tend to be comfortable with it. But for an immigrant, it becomes very different. What most of us consider normative comprehension an immigrant fears that they're not getting it because of their lack of mastery in the language. And what's a normal component in communication, incomprehension, in some ways for an immigrant becomes a source of deep anxiety because you're not sure if it's just incomprehension or your own failures. My sense of writing a book where there is an enormous amount of language that perhaps everyone doesn't have access to was less to communicate the experience of the immigrant than to communicate the experience that for an immigrant causes much discomfort but that is normative for people. which is that we tend to not understand, not grasp a large part of the language around us. What's funny is, will Ramona accept incomprehension in our everyday lives and will greet that in a book with enormous fury. In other words what we're comfortable with out in the outside world, we do not want to encounter in our books. So I'm constantly, people have come to me and asked me... is this, are you trying to lock out your non-Dominican reader, you know? And I'm like, no? I assume any gaps in a story and words people don't understand, whether it's the nerdish stuff, whether it's the Elvish, whether it's the character going on about Dungeons and Dragons, whether it's the Dominican Spanish, whether it's the sort of high level graduate language, I assume if people don't get it that this is not an attempt for the writer to be aggressive. This is an attempt for the writer to encourage the reader to build community, to go out and ask somebody else. For me, words that you can't understand in a book aren't there to torture or remind people that they don't know. I always felt they were to remind people that part of the experience of reading has always been collective. You learn to read with someone else. Yeah you may currently practice it in a solitary fashion, but reading is a collective enterprise. And what the unintelligible in a book does is to remind you how our whole, lives we've always needed someone else to help us with reading.
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I certainly couldn't have survived my childhood without books. All that deprivation and pain-abuse, broken home, a runaway sister, a brother with cancer-the books allowed me to withstand. They sustained me. I read still, prolifically, with great passion, but never like I read in those days: in those days it was life or death.
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After his initial homecoming week, after he'd been taken to a bunch of sights by his cousins, after he'd gotten somewhat used to the scorching weather and the surprise of waking up to the roosters and being called Huascar by everybody (that was his Dominican name, something else he'd forgotten), after he refused to succumb to that whisper that all long-term immigrants carry inside themselves, the whisper that says You do not belong, after he'd gone to about fifty clubs and because he couldn't dance salsa, merengue, or bachata had sat and drunk Presidentes while Lola and his cousins burned holes in the floor, after he'd explained to people a hundred times that he'd been separated from his sister at birth, after he spent a couple of quiet mornings on his own, writing, after he'd given out all his taxi money to beggars and had to call his cousin Pedro Pablo to pick him up, after he'd watched shirtless shoeless seven-year-olds fighting each other for the scraps he'd left on his plate at an outdoor cafe, after his mother took them all to dinner in the Zona Colonial and the waiters kept looking at their party askance (Watch out, Mom, Lola said, they probably think you're Haitian - La unica haitiana aqui eres tu, mi amor, she retorted), after a skeletal vieja grabbed both his hands and begged him for a penny, after his sister had said, You think that's bad, you should see the bateys, after he'd spent a day in Bani (the camp where La Inca had been raised) and he'd taken a dump in a latrine and wiped his ass with a corn cob - now that's entertainment, he wrote in his journal - after he'd gotten somewhat used to the surreal whirligig that was life in La Capital - the guaguas, the cops, the mind-boggling poverty, the Dunkin' Donuts, the beggars, the Haitians selling roasted peanuts at the intersections, the mind-boggling poverty, the asshole tourists hogging up all the beaches, the Xica de Silva novelas where homegirl got naked every five seconds that Lola and his female cousins were cracked on, the afternoon walks on the Conde, the mind-boggling poverty, the snarl of streets and rusting zinc shacks that were the barrios populares, the masses of niggers he waded through every day who ran him over if he stood still, the skinny watchmen standing in front of stores with their brokedown shotguns, the music, the raunchy jokes heard on the streets, the mind-boggling poverty, being piledrived into the corner of a concho by the combined weight of four other customers, the music, the new tunnels driving down into the bauxite earth [... ]
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They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Thainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukeº Americanus, or more colloquially, fukeº-generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and Doom of the New World.
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A month later the law student leaves you for one of her classmates, tells you that it was great but she has to start being realistic...Later you see her with said classmate on the Yard. He's even lighter than you but he still looks unquestionably black. He's also like nine feet tall and put together like an anatomy primer. They are walking hand in hand and she looks so very happy that you try to find the space in your heart not to begrudge her.
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You guys know about vampires? ... You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't see myself reflected at all. I was like, 'Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don't exist?" And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.
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For Oscar, high school was the equivalent of a medieval spectacle, like being put in the stocks and forced to endure the peltings and outrages of a mob of deranged half-wits, an experience from which he supposed he should have emerged a better person, but that's not really what happened-and if there were any lessons to be gleaned from the ordeal of those years he never quite figured out what they were. He walked into school every day like the fat lonely nerdy kid he was, and all he could think about was the day of his manumission, when he would at last be set free from its unending horror. Hey, Oscar, are there faggots on Mars?-Hey, Kazoo, catch this. The first time he heard the term moronic inferno he know exactly where it was located and who were its inhabitants.
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They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukeº americanus, or more colloquially, fukeº - generally a curse or doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed fukeº on the world, and we've all been in the shit ever since.
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Poor Oscar. Without even realizing it he'd fallen into one of those Let's Be Friends Vortexes, the bane of nerdboys everywhere. These relationships were love's version of a stay in the stocks, in you go, plenty of misery guaranteed and what you got out of it besides bitterness and heartbreak nobody knows. Perhaps some knowledge of self and women.
You must learn her. You must know the reason why she is silent. You must trace her weakest spots. You must write to her. You must remind her that you are there.You must know how long it takes for her to give up. You must be there to hold her when she is about to.You must love her because many have tried and failed. And she wants to know that she is worthy to be loved, that she is worthy to be kept. And, this is how you keep her.
We're on speaking terms today. I say, Maybe we should hang out with the boys, and you shake your head. I want to spend time with you, you say. If we're still good, next week maybe. That's the most we can hope for. Nothing thrown, nothing said that we might remember for years. You watch me while you put a brush through your hair. Each strand that breaks is as long as my arm. You don't want to let go, but don't want to be hurt, either. It's not a great place to be but what can I tell you?
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You don't know what it's like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters she was the one who laughed: You think someone's going to lose life writing to you? Of course I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed. I wouldn't write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I'm not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her.
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There were a lot of these middle-aged single types in the neighborhood, shipwrecked by every kind of catastrophe, but she was one of the few who didn't have children, who lived alone, who was still kinda young. Something must have happened, your mother speculated. In her mind, a woman with no child could be explained only by vast untrammelled calamity. Maybe she just doesn't like children. Nobody likes children, your mother assured you. That doesn't mean you don't have them.
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You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway." [Becoming a Writer/ The List, O Magazine, November 2009]
We all dream dreams of unity, of purity; we all dream that there's an authoritative voice out there that will explain things, including ourselves. If it wasn't for our longing for these things, I doubt the novel or the short story would exist in its current form. I'm not going to say much more on the topic. Just remember: In dictatorships, only one person is really allowed to speak. And when I write a book or a story, I too am the only one speaking, no matter how I hide behind my characters.
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What is it with Dictators and Writers, anyway? Since before the infamous Caesar-Ovid war they've had beef. Like the Fantastic Four and Galactus, like the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, like the Teen Titans and Deathstroke, Foreman and Ali, Morrison and Crouch, Sammy and Sergio, they seemed destined to be eternally linked in the Halls of Battle. Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that's too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like.
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He whistles. Que viva Colombia. Hands you back the Book. You really should write the cheater's guide to love. You think? I do. It takes a while. You see the tall girl. You go to more doctors. You celebrate Arlenny's Ph.D defense. And then one June night you scribble the ex's name and: The half-life of love is forever. You bust out a couple more things. Then you put your head down. The next day you look at the new pages. For once you don't want to burn them or give up writing forever. It's a start, you say to the room. That's about it. In the months that follow you bend to the work, because it feels like hope, like grace-and because you know in your lying cheater's heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get.
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In her mind the U.S. was nothing more and nothing less than a paes overrun by gangsters, putas, and no-accounts. Its cities swarmed with machines and industry, as thick with sinverge¼encerea as Santo Domingo was with heat, a cuco shod in iron, exhaling fumes, with the glittering promise of coin deep in the cold lightless shaft of its eyes.
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Look, without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Color, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense. What I mean by that is: if it wasn't for race, X-Men doesn't sense. If it wasn't for the history of breeding human beings in the New World through chattel slavery, Dune doesn't make sense. If it wasn't for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn't make sense. If it wasn't for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science fiction's contact stories doesn't make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understood that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We're the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible, yeah. In the Green Lantern Corps, we are the oath. We are all of these things-erased, and yet without us-we are essential.
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I flip through the book, one of his top three, without question, to the last horrifying chapter: 'A Stronger Loving World'. To the only panel he's circled. Oscar-who never defaced a book in his life-circled one panel three times in the same emphatic pen he used to write his last letters home. The panel where Adrian Veidt and Dr. Manhattan are having their last convo. After the mutant brain has destroyed New York City; after Dr. Manhattan has murdered Rorschach; after Veidt's plan has succeeded in 'saving the world'. Veidt says: 'I did the right thing, didn't I? It all worked out in the end'. And Manhattan, before fading from our Universe, replies: 'In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends'.
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Before there was an American Story, before Paterson spread before Oscar and Lola like a dream, or the trumpets from the Island of our eviction had even sounded, there was their mother, Hypatia Belicia Cabral: a girl so tall your leg bones ached just looking at her, so dark it was as if the Creatrix had, in her making, blinked.
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We all know that there are language forms that are considered impolite and out of order, no matter what truths these languages might be carrying. If you talk with a harsh, urbanized accent and you use too many profanities, that will often get you barred from many arenas, no matter what you're trying to say. On the other hand, polite, formal language is allowed almost anywhere even when all it is communicating is hatred and violence. Power always privileges its own discourse while marginalizing those who would challenge it or that are the victims of its power.
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