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  • Uriel Quesada (bio)

As someone who writes in Spanish about and from the United States, I belong to an artistic minority. I am a rara avis with audiences that many times cannot understand each other. As an immigrant, identity is a recurrent topic of reflection in my writing. In the past, American writers were always American, even after living for decades in a foreign country. They never became immigrants, but expatriados with links to the U.S. national cultural or political environment. Something similar happened to major Latin American writers. They preserved a national identity based on language and country of origin. Julio Cortázar was Argentine even with his strong French accent. Gabriel García Márquez was never Mexican, even though he moved to Mexico City in the sixties and lived in the San Angel area until his death. Nowadays, the situation could be different. Junot Diaz was born in the Dominican Republic, but could be considered either American or Dominican. Writer Daniel Alarcón is described as Peruvian American, American or Peruvian depending on the source. In both cases, however, their literary language is English, not Spanish. In my case, I am an American-born Costa Rican; since 2010, I have had double nationality for practical and emotional reasons and belong to two communities that sometimes tend to exclude each other. I am a gay Latino.

I would like to think that my writing comes from a linguistic, ethnic, cultural, political, and sexual-orientation margin. During my almost twenty years in the United States, I have served several times as the perfect token for diversity purposes: Here comes the successful immigrant, the discrete dark-skinned alien, la loca que escribe. I am very aware, however, that I have agency or the capacity to act. Yo tengo agencia. Well, in Spanish you do not have agencia, there is not [End Page 129] a precise, direct translation to the word “agency.” So, there is an English word that has to be explained in Spanish. You cannot take for granted that people will understand your “agency.”

Being an immigrant writer with agency is a privilege and a responsibility. Being able to write in Spanish about the United States makes me also a kind of cultural bridge, and I do my best to honor that role. With that in mind, how to explain Orlando to a Spanish-speaking audience? Orlando means family fun and great shopping for middle and upper-class Latin Americans, never a city where social conflict is possible. People’s hearts may be moved by the massacre at the Pulse nightclub, but we are still talking about a distant place and about a circumstance where words like “gay,” “immigrant,” or “Puerto Rican” may have no clear meaning. In many ways, we are talking about an abstraction. When something like that happens, the tragedy at Pulse may become just another reason to support a rigid ideological agenda. In Costa Rica, for instance, there was a moment of silence at the National Congress to honor the victims at Pulse. Not all the members of Congress participated, and one even said to the press, “Bad things happen when you go to the wrong places.” I watched a TV note on the burial of a victim in Puerto Rico. Some of his relatives did not talk about loss or forgiveness, but about sin. According to them, the victim had failed God. In the eye of the relatives, he died as a renegade, and probably he deserved his fate. These two examples show me how the tragedy at Pulse was, for many, an untranslatable event. No human beings died, only sinners. The night club was not a safe space (actually, sinners cannot be saved anywhere), but a site where corruption was possible. No one mentioned Omar Mateen the killer. Was he only an instrument in God’s hands?

In the past few years we have seen a lot of progress in the political and civil rights arenas, not only in the United States but across the Americas. New important legislation has been passed in Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. In 2015, I met Dr. Tereza Viera, a prominent...


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