What is literature and how much impact does Latino literature have in the United States?
Before we begin, let us first define the term ‘literature,’ which is derived from Latin. It simply means ‘writing formed with letters.’ In some instances literature is inclusive of spoken or sung texts, but for the most part it is something that is written is some form or another.
Some classifications have been established to categorize the type of literature that exists. For instance, we have non-fiction, fiction, prose or poetry. Within the lateral categories, we break it down to include other genres such as comedy, realistic fiction, romance, satire, tragedy, and even tragic comedy. Some break it down even further.
We can trace literature to early civilizations such as Ancient Egypt and Sumeria, or even the early Romans and Greeks, etc. Throughout the civilizations that have existed, various methods to preserve literature have been used. Some methods more sophisticated than others. This preservation has given our modern world the ability to go back in time and get some understanding of the various cultures that existed before us. If it wasn’t for the existence of this literature that has survived weather, wars, and destruction we would not be where we are today in understanding the previous history of humanity.
So does literature shape culture or does culture shape literature?
This is an interesting question. It’s almost as thought provoking as what comes first, the egg or the chicken. If we look at cultures throughout the world, each provides unique insight into how people live. Each culture is rich in its existence and that is what should be captured for posterity so that we all gain insight into thought processes of a particular time, place, and people. This allows us a better understanding of various cultures throughout the world.
Literature is a tool that captures a particular culture in any given time. Written text not only provides a given culture current information, but I could safely say that it also assists in changing a person’s thought process through this science of words, whether good or bad. In this regard I would argue that culture shapes literature to a large degree; however, I could also argue that literature shapes culture because once something is written and read people will begin to interpret it one way or another. It then takes on a life of it’s own and continues to perpetuate new thoughts and ideas to change the way a society thinks.
The next question is, how much does literature shape culture? I would say that the more words that are written and shared, the more a society will process and interpret new conceived ideas; therefore, perpetuating new thought processes in cultures and helping to bring about change in some form or another. Of course, measuring this pendulum swing on how and when things change due to literature would be difficult to do.
Overall Publishing Culture
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013 there were over 54 million Latinos in the United States. According to the Census center we have over 325 million Americans in the U.S. That means that Latinos make up about 17% of the population, yet Latinos who receive publishing contracts by a major publishing house is small by comparison to the overall population. There are a few Latino authors given contracts, but by in large, it is only a selected few in comparison to the ‘white’ American authors.
What this means is that the majority of America is seeing mostly literature written by ‘white’ authors which in turn shapes the current literary culture in this country. From a bigger perspective, it also continues to shape the overall thinking culture of America. It is this carefully orchestrated shutdown of Latinos in the overall big literary world that will sustain this falsehood of what America is truly about. It is this continual shutdown of various literary cultures, (Latino, Asian, Blacks, and other minorities) that keeps perpetuating the myth that only ‘white’ writers are worthy of getting published or that Latinos don’t read or buy books. And for that matter, other cultures as well.
Because mainstream books only provide insight into ‘white’ Americana, many books in our educational systems rarely show the true picture of who we are as a nation, but rather only showcase what the major publishing houses give us. In actuality, they control our culture to a degree. They are the literary media if you will. They provide us with a bag of books that are sold by their respective companies and we continue to look at their best selling lists as if this was the next best thing to sliced bread.
So what do most of us do? We all run to look at these best selling lists and buy one of these books ‘they’ve’ said is a bestseller all the time knowing that it’s about the bottom line for these companies. They have to sell books after all because that’s their business. They have successfully led everyone to believe that only books published by the major publishing houses are worthy to read and that self published books are a lowly fruit. I would have to say that this is great marketing on their part because we have all fallen for their bag of tricks!
So how has Latino literature shaped the United States today you ask?
I would say that it has moved the pendulum a little bit, but it’s only through the persistence of Latino writers who continue to push the envelope and who continue to fight for a place in the literary world regulated by the big publishing houses. Unless Latino authors begin to get a plate at the big boys table, the overall task to become well-known authors across the United States will remain a challenge.
In summary, I would say that several things have to occur for changes to come about. The first thing is that Latino authors must continue to fight to get their books in the mainstream through various marketing techniques if not through the main publishing houses. Secondly, we have to look to the 54 million other Latinos and work together to outsmart the status quo. We have a lot of buying power and we need to use it to our advantage. This is how we will eventually shape the immediate culture to buy our books because there are so many great writers within this group. We just have to be the catalyst that creates this change.
Of course, a short list of some of the great writers within our Latino group are authors such as Paulo Coelho (The Witch of Portobello & the Alchemist), Julia Alvarez (In the Time of Butterflies), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Hundred Years of Solitude & In the Time of Cholera), Carlos Fuentes who wrote dozens of novels and plays, Isabel Allende ( El Cuaderno de Maya), Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street), Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me Ultima), Victor Villasenor (Rain of Gold & Burro Genius), Junot Diaz (This is How You Lose Her), etc. It is the tenacity and talent of these few named individuals and many other Latino writers who continue this literary revolution that won’t be stopped.