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Esther Cepeda / Politics

Ignoring Our Homegrown Talent

CHICAGO -- A few years ago, I noticed that Latin American artists get a lot of play in the states compared to U.S.-born Hispanic ones.

For instance, in 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru won the Nobel Prize in literature and it seemed as though no one could stop commenting about what a big deal it was. People were talking to me about it as though his achievement would somehow change my life.

But to me, Vargas Llosa's award was as inspiring as Herta Mueller's the year before: His was nice, but unrelated to my personal circumstances.

Something similar happened last year when theater critics went gaga over playwright Tanya Saracho. She'd written an adaptation of the Russian classic "The Cherry Orchard" called "El Nogalar" -- "The Pecan Orchard" -- and because a Chicago critic once referred to her as the "Chicana Chekhov," the alliteration and coincidence led to a breathless New York Times profile of Saracho.

The article was titled "Mexican? American? Call Her Writer" and it stuck in my craw. Not because Saracho isn't a brilliant artist with an important voice to share with the world but because it was yet another instance of American media looking well beyond our borders for examples of up-and-coming Latino talent.

It's not like Saracho goes around pretending to be Mexican-American. In fact, the article noted her ambivalence toward being called a Chicana and stated clearly that she describes herself as a "green-card-carrying Mexican citizen."

Still, it hurt when, a few paragraphs later, the co-founder of a Latino Chicago theater company made this damning observation: "She's the first really viable local Latino playwright we've had."

Ouch! In a state with 1.6 million Mexican-Americans and in Chicago, the city with the fourth-largest Mexican-American population in the country, we had to wait for someone to immigrate to become the shining beacon of artistic hope for the fastest growing minority population in the country?

Bless her heart, Saracho never desired to be pigeonholed as a Latina playwright, and last I heard she was working on plays containing no Hispanics or Latino issues so she could truly assume the mantle of brilliant dramatist, nationality aside.

But there is a tension between U.S.-born descendants of Latin American immigrants and foreign-born Latin Americans who live in the U.S. and get lumped in with the overall Hispanic community.

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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