“I modeled Yunior clearly on my own experience as an immigrant kid growing up in NJ. That binary…of home/failure or away/success—I grew up with that shit all around me, the Scylla and Charybdis of my childhood. On one side you had the escape narrative that insisted that the only way out of economic social deprivation—the only way to advance, to make something of yourself—was to abandon your community and build a life exclusively in the larger (whiter) world (as if the reason one is poor and marginalized is because of one’s community). A narrative that was on me particularly hard as an immigrant, as a kid who had been designated as “smart.” The idea that I would maintain any loyalty to my broke-ass landfill neighborhood once I got to college was considered on all sides as pretty absurd. (Clearly I understand the desire to escape insecurity and hostile material conditions, but I don’t agree you need to erase the past that made you possible to do so. Any success that requires you to sacrifice your younger self over the altar of Advancement is no success at all—at least not to me.)”
“As an immigrant and an honors student (before I got kicked out of that track senior year) and as a kid who grew up deep in the neighborhood, I had both narratives on me to an oppressive degree. And felt a lot of pressure to choose one side or another: to either embrace home like mad or reject it like mad. Of course within each choice was embedded a whole set of expectations. If you stay at home, don’t talk too much about books, don’t try to get motherfuckers to engage in “intellectual’ discussions,” don’t talk about an ethnic studies course you took or the study abroad you did in Japan. Same thing: if you go away to say college, don’t dwell too much on race and certainly not on how racialized poverty and class are in this country. Don’t mention white supremacy. Keep your ghetto shit to yourself.”
“Over time I became very aware that people had a lot invested in you choosing sides. You had to choose one or the other but not both, not neither. Complexity was out of the question. Multiple loyalties were another way of saying betrayal. I eventually realized that these bipolar choices were not only ridiculous, they would also require me to jettison the essence of who I am. My multiplicity, my complexity, my simultaneity.”
-Junot Diaz. Read the Rumpus interview in it’s entirety here. Photo taken in New Orleans, LA 2008.