When Florida turned red on Election Day, I was stunned — especially after I saw the demographic breakdowns. Nearly one in three Latino voters in Florida cast their ballots for Trump. According to a CNN and Latino Decisions exit poll, his support among Cuban-American voters was even higher: 54 percent. “Definitely there was a hidden, secret Latino vote,” Jorge Ramos, the Univision news anchor, told me. “We’re seeing a new divide within the Hispanic community. The wall that Trump was talking about is clearly apparent now within the Hispanic community.”
The big question after 2016 may be: Which path will this year’s Latino surge follow? Will it be like California in the 1990s or like Florida in the 1980s? Mi Familia Vota’s Ben Monterroso told Buzzfeed recently that some 10 million Latinos who were eligible to register to vote this year didn’t. That’s more than a third of the group’s eligible population. So plenty of Latinos are already choosing to sit on the sidelines. Will the results of this election decide if they jump in the next time around?
Looking for answers, I spent six months interviewing scores of Latinos in Virginia, a battleground state where the Latino share of the population has more than tripled since 1990. I met with Latino Catholics, Pentecostals and Mormons, with legal residents, citizens and undocumented immigrants. I frequented a church and a community center, soccer fields and a dance club. I lurked around Republican and Democratic events and a skateboard park. I interviewed custodians and construction workers, lawyers and real estate agents, restaurant owners and community organizers, college students and political staffers. In all, I spoke with more than 100 Virginians of various ethnic backgrounds.
Madrigal v. Quilligan was, from its outset, the kind of striking David-versus-Goliath story that Hollywood and history books usually love — Erin Brockovich with an East L.A. twist. Yet when Virginia Espino began researching the case in 1994, almost all its details had been lost and forgotten.
Around the corner from Arpaio, near a bright yellow sign that read “No Outlet,” two producers and two cameramen huddled with the Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos, running through their pre-interview preparations. Cameras rolling. Microphone on. “I’m on TV,” Ramos told me later. “I’m constantly thinking about performance and journalistic integrity.” For him, one is no use without the other.
In his 2002 memoir, “No Borders: A Journalist’s Search for Home,” Ramos recounts that in 1991 he was elbowed in the stomach and knocked to the ground by a bodyguard after accosting a politician, peppering him with questions and making an uncomfortable declaration. This time, the politician was President Fidel Castro of Cuba, and what Ramos said was, “Many people believe that this is the time for you to call for an election.” At the last word, the bodyguard’s elbow struck.
Rarely have I felt so intensely ambivalent while reading a memoir. At times, I battled waves of indignation, exacerbated by Padilla Peralta’s penchant for ad hominem score-settling and his tone of belligerent entitlement. A gem from his closing paragraph: “To the haters, a final word: Demography is a bitch. Holla at me if you want me to break it down for you.” Is such trash talk the best this accomplished scholar could produce? Yet despite my irritation, I found myself rooting for Padilla Peralta’s legalization.
For decades, the acclaimed Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has split himself into two personalities: There is Vargas Llosa, the author of dazzling political novels such as “Conversation in the Cathedral” and “The Feast of the Goat.” Then there is Vargas Llosa, the author of two titillating sexual fantasies, “In Praise of the Stepmother” and “The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto.” But now that Vargas Llosa is 79 and has won the greatest literary prizes in the world, perhaps he thought, Why bother?
In Hollywood and at New York University’s film school, people had told David Riker that no one would want to see a movie shot in Spanish without a single professional actor. But his film of real immigrants dramatizing their stories in their native language — the sweatshop on the silver screen — sold out show after show, prompting the Quad to extend La Ciudad’s run from one week to three months. So many immigrants arrived with their entire families that the theater waived its policy of refusing admittance to children under 10.
Reading Mona El-Naggar’s and Laurie Goodstein’s terrific coverage in the New York Times of how ISIS attracts new members into its ranks, I was reminded of a similar dynamic at work in Julia Reynold’s astonishing new book, Blood in the Fields, which I reviewed for the winter issue of ReVista. Reynolds focuses on a bloody organization located within the United States: the Nuestra Familia gang, which runs criminal activities and murders opponents throughout the western states. Despite the geographical difference, the gang’s predatory recruitment tactics sound a lot like ISIS’s method of appealing to disaffected young adults. As I wrote in my review:
Nuesta Familia seduces boys from broken homes with visions of cash, excitement and eternal brotherhood. Then it manipulates their ethics with double talk that suggests robbery, extortion, and drug dealing are merely types of “work” that serve the noble “Cause” of protecting their communities.
ISIS, El-Naggar and Goodstein show, successfully attracts young men from intact families partly because the society around them feels so broken. It replaces chaos with a sense of purpose, order, and brotherhood -- all backed up by a violent and radically conservative interpretation of Islam. Nuestra Familia cunningly deploys a similar co-optation of an established, and generally peaceful, intellectual framework. Its original members
Pirated the civil rights language from César Chávez’s workers’ movement, which has nothing to do with the gang. Yet the sneaky co-optation works. Teenagers who are hungry for accomplishment swallow the rhetoric whole, and through this cunning lens see NF membership – with its daily grind of dealing, intimidation, and assault – as a kind of chivalric code.
That ethical bait-and-switch sounds dispiritingly familiar, no matter where it takes place.
By Marcela ValdesThe Washington Post. Page One. April 17, 2014.
Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer who immersed the world in the powerful currents of magic realism, creating a literary style that blended reality, myth, love and loss in a series of emotionally rich novels that made him one of the most revered and influential writers of the 20th century, died April 17 at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.
The Associated Press reported his death. In July 2012, his brother Jaime García Márquez announced that the author had dementia.
Mr. García Márquez, who was affectionately known throughout Latin America as “Gabo,” was a journalist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, memoirist and student of political history and modernist literature. Through the strength of his writing, he became a cultural icon who commanded a vast public following and who sometimes drew fire for his unwavering support of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
In his novels, novellas and short stories, Mr. García Márquez addressed the themes of love, loneliness, death and power. Critics generally rank “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967), “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975) and “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985) as his masterpieces.
“The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers — and one of my favorites from the time I was young,” President Obama said in a statement, calling the author “a representative and voice for the people of the Americas.”
Mr. García Márquez established his reputation with “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” an epic novel about multiple generations of the Buendía family in the fantastical town of Macondo, a lush settlement based on the author’s birthplace on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The novel explored social, economic and political ideas in a way that captured the experience of an entire continent, but it also included supernatural elements, such as a scene in which a young woman ascends to heaven while folding the family sheets.
By fusing two seemingly disparate literary traditions — the realist and the fabulist — Mr. García Márquez advanced a dynamic literary form, magic realism, that seemed to capture both the mysterious and the mundane qualities of life in a decaying South American city. For many writers and readers, it opened up a new way of understanding their countries and themselves.
In awarding Mr. García Márquez the literature prize in 1982, the Nobel committee said he had created “a cosmos in which the human heart and the combined forces of history, time and again, burst the bounds of chaos.”
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” has been translated into more than 35 languages and has sold, by some accounts, more than 50 million copies. The Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda described the book as “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.”
Mr. García Márquez parlayed his literary triumphs into political influence, befriending international dignitaries such as President Bill Clinton and François Mitterrand, the late president of France. The celebration for Mr. García Márquez’s 80th birthday was attended by five Colombian presidents and the king and queen of Spain.
Yet few knew the penury the author endured before achieving fame. “Everyone’s my friend since ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ ” Mr. García Márquez once told a brother, “but no one knows what it cost me to get there.”
This is how it used to work: In the 1970s farmers would pay Mexican officials for permission to plant hectares of marijuana or poppy. “Once the fields had been sown,” an anonymous source tells Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, “they stuck little colored flags on them, according to the arrangement. This meant that when the [government] helicopters flew over, instead of fumigating them they would water them.”
Like so many American readers, I was thrilled to hear the news that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize this week. I've been a fan of her short stories for decades, and back in 2006 I was lucky enough to spend about two months immersed in her work while I wrote this essay for The Virginia Quarterly Review: Some Stories Have to Be Told by Me: A Literary History of Alice Munro
Sometime in the late 1970s, Alice Munro made a policy of refusing prizes that didn’t specifically honor the quality of her fiction. When the Canadian government offered her one of its highest honors in 1983—an appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada, which would have entitled her to a pretty, gold-edged medal with the mottoDesiderantes meliorem patriam (“They desire a better country”) emblazoned around a gold maple leaf—Munro politely declined. She didn’t feel comfortable, she said, with awards that celebrated celebrity. Only awards that had been earned by particular books or by particular groups of books were okay. Munro was fifty-two by then, and several such awards had already been placed, like love letters, upon her books...
Read the full essay at the Virginia Quarterly Review
by Marcela ValdesNPR.org. September 30, 2013.
If you think kids are too young to worry about unemployment numbers, consider this: some of our most popular young adult novels fairly shiver with economic anxiety. Take Veronica Roth's Divergent, this week's top New York Times Young Adult bestseller and a perennial on the list since its publication in 2011. Divergent's heroine, Beatrice Prior, braves hazing, groping and punching in order to enter the militaristic "faction" that she admires. She endures these dangers willingly because in Roth's dystopian, all-or-nothing Chicago, Beatrice would be thrown into the streets if she fails her initiation. There, among the ruined buildings and the reek of sewage, Beatrice would be forced to join Roth's "factionless," the working poor who perform the scutwork of Divergent's society. The prospect makes Beatrice cringe. For her and her peers, she explains, to be factionless is "our worst fear, greater even than the fear of death."
Financial terror also motivates Suzanne Collin's blockbuster novel The Hunger Games. In a world of predatory Capitol-ism, Katniss Everdeen and her family exist on the edge of starvation. Her most famous skills — hunting and foraging — are developed to keep her mother and sister alive. Economic desperation tinges even her romantic connections. Peeta first makes an impression when he throws Katniss two warm loaves of raisin nut bread. Gale meets her while poaching in the woods, and their friendship springs from one shared truth: "Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker."
Reading these books, I find it hard not to remember that The Hunger Games debuted in September 2008, the same month that Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. Or that the number of American children living in poverty jumped by more than three million in the four years preceding Divergent's 2011 publication. Financial stress in young adult novels may be nothing new: Louisa May Alcott's 1868 classic Little Women opens with "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents." But to me it seems clear that the economic anxieties keeping today's adults awake at night — income inequality, food insecurity, downward mobility, winner-takes-all competition — have also invaded the literature of their children.
"The Sound of Things Falling" by Juan Gabriel Vásquez Reviewed by Marcela Valdes NPR.org. July 30, 2013.
If I tell you that Juan Gabriel Vasquez's exquisite novel The Sound of Things Falling is about the drug trade in Colombia, a few stock images might arise in your mind: an addict overdosing in a dirty apartment, say, or a dealer ordering the killing of some troublesome peon, or the drugs themselves bubbling in a volumetric flask. Here in America, shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire have taught us how to think about the drug trade, how to imagine it. But Vasquez was born in Colombia in 1973 — the same year that President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration — and he has a different story for us altogether.
In this novel, nobody overdoses in an apartment. Instead Vasquez gives us delicate renderings of a sonogram ("a sort of luminous universe, a confusing constellation in movement"), of insomnia ("the dew accumulating on the windows like a white shadow when the temperature dropped in the early hours"), of a famous, abandoned car ("the bodywork cracked open, another dead animal whose skin was full of worms"). He gives us the decomposition of a young man's family in the 1990s and the ripening of a young woman's first love in the 1970s. He gives us the birth of the war on drugs and the disillusionment of a generous Peace Corps volunteer. He gives us the sound of planes falling, of bodies falling, of lives falling inexorably apart. He gives us the most engrossing Latin American novel I've read since Roberto Bolaño's 2666.
'My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain’ by Patricio Pron Reviewed by Marcela Valdes New York Times Book Review. July 5, 2013.
In the 1970s, during the years that Argentina’s last military dictatorship was busy raping, torturing and killing thousands of the country’s citizens, a large obelisk in Buenos Aires was adorned with this menacing piece of advice: “Silence is health.” That dictatorship ended in 1983, but no one recovers quickly from a bludgeon, especially not a child. The Argentine novelist Patricio Pron was born in 1975, a year before the Dirty War began. The nameless narrator of his artful novel “My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain” isn’t merely silent; he’s erased.
For eight years he has been living in Germany, popping paroxetine, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills until his mind is shot through with gaps like a censored letter. Lest we forget we’re dealing with damaged goods, Pron makes the novel’s very structure as perforated as our man’s memory. Holes appear in its numbered fragments — a missing No. 8, say, or an elided 17 — whenever the narrator hits a snag. When he gets sick, the sequence turns feverish: 22, 11, 9, 26, 3.
Only when his father sinks into a coma, in August 2008, does this bruised soul finally return to Argentina. There he finds a photograph that disturbs his willful amnesia: Dad in sideburns next to a woman who is not the narrator’s mother. Below the photo lies a folder thick with clippings about a recent missing-person case: 60-year-old Alberto José Burdisso has disappeared from the town of El Trébol; decades earlier his sister, Alicia, vanished during the military dictatorship.
“You don’t ever want to know certain things,” the son thinks, staring at the photo of his father and the woman, “because what you know belongs to you, and there are certain things you never want to own.” Reason enough to eat another Xanax.
But having discovered Dad’s interest in Alberto and Alicia, the protagonist must find out: Who are these siblings? Why did they disappear? How is his father connected to them? And what, exactly, was Dad doing during those crucial years when Argentina’s democracy imploded? Suspense swells through the early sections, as Pron nests mystery within mystery, carefully tending the big enigma: What trauma drove the narrator to Germany, and into the fuzzy comfort of pills?
'The Hare' by Cesar Aira Reviewed by Marcela Valdes NPR.org. June 26, 2013.
To love the novels of Cesar Aira you must have a taste for the absurd, a tolerance for the obscurely philosophical and a willingness to laugh out loud against your better judgment. His latest novel to be translated into English, The Hare, is set in the Argentine pampas at the end of the 19th century. But don't let any veneer of realism fool you. Despite its gauchos, Indians and lyrical descriptions of Argentina's sprawling plains, The Hare doesn't approach the accuracy of An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, Aira's last pampas novel to be published here. It's more like an episode of Star Trek, crossed with Lawrence of Arabia.
As in so many of Aira's novels, the hero is an earnest man with a faintly ridiculous mission. Tom Clarke, a British geographer and naturalist, roams the pampas in search of a mythical rabbit that not only jumps but flies. With him ride two Argentine sidekicks: a chatty 15-year-old boy and a taciturn gaucho with his own secret mission. Together the three horsemen visit a series of Indian tribes, becoming more and more entangled in local politics until Clarke is declared commander-in-chief of an Indian confederation and the region erupts in war. Near the book's climax, the Englishman strips off his clothes, dons Indian greasepaint, and watches a flock of giant ducks usher an enormous egg into the ocean.
Even that bizarre synopsis is too solemn for Aira's novel. From The Hare's first chapter, when a drunken dictator pirouettes on the back of a galloping horse, the plot is only loosely attached to logic. Clarke's journey through the pampas resembles a vast space voyage: long rides through desolate landscape punctuated by conversations with extraordinary grotesques. One of the tribes he meets lives underground, indulging in promiscuous sex and bartering coal for liquor. Another speaks in "monstrous sentences" designed to be incomprehensible. For better or worse, such tribes are more ontological experiments than historical re-creations. And Clarke himself is hardly more rational. His war-winning battle strategy? It's "the Great Sine Curve of the Mapuche armies, a line that would have exploded the maps if anyone had tried to trace it."
'And the Mountains Echoed' by Khaled Hosseini’sReviewed by Marcela Valdes The Washington Post. May 20, 2013.
Nuance is rare on the bestseller list. In most cases, ambiguity is stripped away to appeal to the greatest number and lowest common denominator. So it always renews my faith when a popular novelist shows a decided preference for moral complexity. It suggests that readers crave more than simplistic escape. Or perhaps it just means that some writers, like Khaled Hosseini, know how to whisk rough moral fiber into something exquisite.
Hosseini’s first two novels, “The Kite Runner” (2003) and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (2007), spent a combined total of 171 weeks on the bestseller list. He knows how to please a crowd. In his case, the secret ingredient might be intense emotion. I’m not an easy touch when it comes to novels, but Hosseini’s new book, “And the Mountains Echoed,” had tears dropping from my eyes by Page 45.
The killer scene is set in Kabul in 1952, in a home so heavy with fruit trees and privilege that when 10-year-old Abdullah crosses its threshold, he feels as if he has entered a palace. Abdullah is the son of a broke day laborer; his mother died giving birth to his sister, Pari. The previous winter, the cold seeped into his family’s shack and froze his 2-week-old stepbrother to death. Now his father has walked Abdullah and Pari across miles of desert, from their tiny village to the great city of Kabul, in hopes that one brutal act — a bargain with two rich devils — will save their family from the next ruthless winter. Later, Abdullah will think back on that terrible afternoon and remember a line from one of his father’s bedtime stories: “A finger had to be cut, to save the hand.”
by Marcela ValdesNPR.org. April 11, 2013.
For more than 40 years, the most important book prize in South America has been bankrolled by the region's most famous petro-nation: Venezuela. Yet Venezuelan novelists themselves rank among the least read and translated writers in the entire continent. Over and over again as I worked on this article, I stumped editors and translators with a simple question: Who are Venezuela's best novelists?
"If you were to ask me about Mexico or Nicaragua ..." one translator hedged. A second tried guessing that "there can't be a lot happening in a country that basically represses." A third editor was more frank. "I know zip about the country's literature," she confessed. "How embarrassing."
Yet since 1967, a Venezuelan award, the International Novel Prize Rómulo Gallegos, has been the kingmaker of Spanish-language book prizes. Among the crowned: Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Elena Poniatowska, Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, Enrique Vila-Matas and Ricardo Piglia. Gerald Martin, whose biography of García Márquez covers more than 70 years of literary history, judges it "the only Latin American prize which does the same for Latin America as the Nobel does for the world."
by Marcela ValdesThe Washington Post. May 15, 2012.
Carlos Fuentes, the politically engaged Mexican novelist and irrepressible bon vivant who stood at the forefront of Latin American letters for more than half a century, died May 15 at a hospital in Mexico City. He was 83.
Mexico’s National Council for Culture and the Arts announced the death but did not disclose the cause. He was being treated for heart problems.
A diplomat’s son, Mr. Fuentes was working for the Mexican Foreign Ministry when he catapulted to prominence with his first novel, “Where the Air is Clear” (1958). Presenting an extravagant portrait of inequality and moral corruption in modern Mexico, the book established its 29-year-old author as a daring social critic and prose stylist and helped usher in a renaissance in Latin American literature known as the “Boom.”
As his literary career progressed, Mr. Fuentes blended his fascination with politics, and his fervent depiction of erotic couplings, with broader themes such as the inescapable influence of history, the intersection of native and European cultures, and the betrayal of national ideals for personal gain.