These lyrics from the popular musical “Chicago” came to mind as I read the readings for this week’s class on the topic of Latino Americans. Seemingly caught between two worlds, Latinos are often reduced to the stereotyped status of culturally invisible. Through the short story, “Fiesta 1980”, Junot Diaz complicates and therefore breaks down these stereotypes of Latinos in America. The issue of being culturally invisible is hinted at and then complicated when the family is getting ready to attend a fiesta and the boys cannot help but hear the neighborhood kids playing baseball without them. They can tell by the yells and cheers that the score is close and that if they were in the game (as they typically were) they would have made a difference in the outcome.[ii] By having the story unfold in this fashion Diaz presents a complicated story of Yunior and Rafa as sometimes major players and at other times nearly nonexistent culturally. In this case, as in most cases, reality is not one or the other situation but both – depending on the day.
Diaz wrote about the Latino experience in New York in 1980, a current exhibit at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington D.C. presents the contemporary Latino experience in New York as portrayed by Latino artists currently living in New York. The exhibit is curated by Paco Cano, Eva Mendoza Chandas, and Jodie Dinapoli and is entitled: “Ñew York: Latin American and Spanish artists in New York”. Ñew York showcases the work of 19 artists originating from 10 countries of Latin America and Spain – all now based in New York – who have made this city the gravitating force of their artistic discourse. The show includes photography, video, drawing, sculpture, and mixed-media work. These artists offer insight into urban, political, social and personal issues, highlighting the diversity among Latino communities in New York and more widely, in the United States. The exhibition addresses mobility in an era of widespread displacement where barriers between the global and the local are broken down. [iii]
One of the featured artists of the exhibit is photographer Dulce Pinzón. One of Pinzón’s series of work, The Real Story of the Superheroes,deals with the issue of cultural invisibility for Latinos. Pinzón photographed Latinos currently living and working in New York and recasted them as Superheroes in their everyday environment. The issue of invisibility is complicated by being both negated and reinforced in his work. Latinos are the central figures in the photographs but this is complicated by the use of the masks and costumes that often hide their faces. Pinzón remedies this loss of identity by titling each photograph with the person’s name, job, and how much money they are able to send to their family. The definition of a Superhero for Pinzón is one who not only works extremely hard but is self-less in their determination to help others.
Pinzón argues that “The principal objective of this series is to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.”[iv]Pinzón further states that quietly Mexico’s economy and America’s workforce have both come to rely on these self-less superheroes who are too often cast as merely cultural cellophane.
[ii] Junot Diaz, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction (New York, Simon & Schuster), 244-255.