Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Junot Diaz Really, Really Loves His Latinas: Is There Anyone Writing With Equal Affection and Desire For Black Women?

Oh, hello. I’d like to introduce you to someone. Reader, this is Nilda. Oh man, Nilda is something. She’s Dominican, and has super-long hair, like those Pentecostal girls, and a chest you wouldn’t believe—I’m talking world-class. She’s nice, right? Or, like, have you met Alma? She has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. And oh shit don’t even get me started on Magda, with the big mouth and big hips and dark curly hair you could lose a hand in.

These are just a few of the fine, fine women who date Yunior, the hero of Junot Díaz’s excellent new collection of stories, This Is How You Lose Her
Some more Junot Diaz, our founding "ghetto nerd," for you. With the release of his newest book, Diaz really is getting some much well-deserved shine.

Dude loves his Latinas. As a fellow traveler, I love all women. As such, I am a great advocate for race-mixing as my trips to space mountain involve vigorous--and often (whenever possible)--explorations across the color line. I love black women; as Big Pun said, I regulate every shade; but I also have a particular fondness for women from the Iberian peninsula.

If I am a tourist in such appreciation and lustful moments of hedonistic consumption(s) of the human ambrosia that is the female form, Diaz is the master.   

Fittingly, Slate has a piece dedicated to Junot Diaz's apparently incomparable wit and finely honed ability to describe the various varieties, subtleties, and types of Hispanic-Latina beauty. There Dan Kois writes:
Díaz’s commercial breakthrough, Oscar Wao, was also his breakthrough in lady-describing. Look no further than page 13, where a neighbor of seven-year-old Oscar is described thus: “Mari Colón, a thirty-something postal employee who wore red on her lips and walked like she had a bell for an ass.” Oh, my. Sit back for a moment and admire that sentence, the way you might otherwise sit back and admire the ass in question.
Five pages later, we meet the first girl who dumps Oscar, Maritza. Oscar never forgives himself for that one. “A ghetto Mary Jane, hair as black and lush as a thunderhead, probably the only Peruvian girl on the planet with pelo curlier than his sister’s ... body fine enough to make old men forget their infirmities, and from the sixth grade on dating men two, three times her age.” Like once-awkward Maritza, a newly confident Díaz is parading his talents in front of us, daring us to stare.
How wonderfully voyeuristic. It may just be prose on a virtual screen, but such imagery--and how it reminds me of a certain Puerto Rican sister from back in the day--makes a certain part of the anatomy lift like a lead pipe with wings aided by an anti-grav field.

As is true with such things, I do not know if it is just the thought of her that is so exciting these years later, or the memory of the fact that I enjoyed the attention of a queen--one who inspired dudes to have the "how the hell did he get her face?"--and had partaken of her many times and in many ways.

I am getting the vapors. Please let me compose myself for a moment.

The fantasy was a reality. It is rare that such dreams come true...and do not disappoint. But I digress.

Potentially onanistic, self-abuse inspiring tours of one's mental Rolodex of sexual and sensual experiences is fun, a healthy diversion.

But, I have a serious question.

Are there any mainstream authors as popular as Junot Diaz who are writing with such passion, desire, worshipful lust, and affection about black women?


freebones said...

no, and the fetishization of women purely for their ethnicity is kind of creepy to me. not all latina women have a chest you wouldnt believe, as this guy says.

but some do.

chaunceydevega said...

@free. dreams, ideal types, fetishizing, objectification and pleasure. you can't let that big brain of yours get in the way ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling this post. I am only aware of ZZ Packer (who has pretty much disappeared) who in 2005 or so was a sensation portraying the "ghetto nerd" experience but not sexuality like Diaz. And she is now delving into an apparently decade-long project about post-Civil War Buffalo Soldiers. Yay. So I suppose we just get one contemporary work from her, LOL. Anyway, you don't want to start examining the literary fiction publising industry. Your head will explode. Just enjoy Diaz' work and be happy with that, LOL.

chaunceydevega said...

@anon. thanks for the suggestion. so sad we don't have more options. sigh...unless you want to talk about ghetto lit. yuck.

A. Ominous said...

Sorry, I think JD gets a "description" fail by doing exactly what Philip Roth does in order to get in trouble (only JD gets praised for it); describes his females by volume. Well, of course, JD uses his kink-o-meter for the hair. But I'd be more thrilled to see a WOC describe a female character with the subtlety and penetration (no pun left behind) of Kundera, in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", describing Sabina and Tereza, two characters who are firmly lodged in my libido, still, 30ish years later. They aren't tape-measured for their exemplary T and A... they're given life in the shape of their actions, moods, words, characteristic way of dressing, sleeping, eating, dreaming, etc. Can't someone do THAT for a Sista? Because a million Sistas have great hair/T/A... but that's not what makes a memorable character.

Anonymous said...

This seems like it may be a bit of a misreading to me... as are some of the comments as well...

Aren't these descriptions told in the voice of Yunior, tragic misogynist and chronic cheater who seems to look at all women only as a checklist of more or less attractive body parts, and is incapable of seeing us as full human beings? Doesn't Yunior end up alone again and again because of the selective vision that inspires him to describe his women only in terms of bell-like, dimension-warping asses and "good hair" that might devour your hand (like a b-movie monster is sitting on her head, but sexier)?

Now, physical desire and appreciation are surely part of any healthy relationship, and every Latina and Black woman deserves far more worship than she gets. But if Yunior's shallow objectifying gaze, written by Diaz to be cringeworthy, has you suffering from floridly described nostalgic hard-ons - which you admit may be partly about the gaze of other men as they envied your arm candy -

what is going on there

chaunceydevega said...

@Steve. Great points. How do we balance a love of the physical--even if we are talking about racialized bodies and all that entails--with how memorable characters are drawn/written in literature?

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. What is going on here? The complexities of memory, desire, humanity, wanting, etc. That combination is not always politically correct. And yes, the personal is political. But, the personal and the political may not always be neat, progressive, and pc.

I will make a provocative reference, I forget who she was, but a womanist activist famously said, to paraphrase, "yes, I am a woman and a black feminist and I get all the stuff it entails, but that doesn't mean I don't like getting fucked."

Double negatives a plenty, but you get the point. I hear you. Do pick a name and chime in some more.

freebones said...


oh believe me, i do not.

but i call 'em on more of a case-by-base basis, you see. and i think saying all latinas have large breasts is as bad a stereotype as any.

fun piece though. and interesting point, since i admit i have avoided your intent in the original writing. :)

A. Ominous said...


"How do we balance a love of the physical--even if we are talking about racialized bodies and all that entails--with how memorable characters are drawn/written in literature?"

Well, that's just it: we (esp. the "we" with, you know, dicks) are sexual creatures and we create/project sexual fantasy images a few thousand times each day; don't need much help doing it. A really clever (or experienced) writer will let the *reader* provide the physical details, when it comes to physicals, which deft elision performs the neat trick of skirting the risks of both "objectification" and cliche. Because, let's be frank: the vast majority of "lovingly" described female characters in fiction have stupendous racks. It's really all just one Russ Meyer vixen with exchangeable heads.

The worst offender in the "serious" writer category is Martin Amis, who hasn't written a novel free of double-Ds since Thatcher ruled; Philip Roth does it, too.

DeLillo, on the other end, rarely or never does bootie or boob-size, writing his characters from the inside out, doing most of the characterization with dialogue and with subconsciously-evocative names, even, but very sketchy physicals.

I think a writer getting to the part in his/her development when she/he can resist the urge to write out his/her idea of a perfect friend or a dream date or an ideal self is the first point that has to be reached; and, after that, the willingness to scoop the descriptive goop out... to pare down.

I'd like to see more WsOC pushed to that point... I'd like to see/read a WOC do a Sista as perversely-realized as Kit Moresby (from Bowles' Sheltering Sky) or as touchingly-sexy as the big sister in McEwan's The Cement Garden or as cool/pragmatic/detached as Britta in DeLillo's Mao II.... and, damn: dusky versions of Sabina and Tereza would be welcome as Hell. Don't really need the identikit inflatable body-part accessories to come with the book!

chaunceydevega said...

@SA. Fully developed "real" characters? How dare you?

A. Ominous said...

You may call meeee a dreamer....

Bemused said...

really late, but...

i've always loved the way Walter Mosley describes Black women. I'm specifically thinking of Etta, Mouse's wife, but i'm also remembering the women in Killing Johnny Fry. Yes, the women are rendered through the male gaze, but Mosley has never had a problem constructing male characters struggling with eros and pathos in the pursuit of sex.

Monday's Baby said...

Not many do, unfortunately. The only person who comes to mind without a Google search or plumbing the recesses of my brain is Colin Channer. In his book >Waiting in Vain, he does a wonderful job of describing all that is attractive and sensual about the (BW) protagonist without objectifying or making it feel like a sticky-paged magazine.