This was quite deft. Junot Diaz was on New York public radio yesterday (minute 22 or so). Novelist Diaz is Dominican-American; and his interviewer, Leonard Lopate, seemed a wee bit ethnocentric. Or old school. Diaz flicked the lure:
Lopate: Last month… Ayad Akhtar… told me that he was mostly inspired actually when he was becoming a writer by Jewish-American writers. He felt like he wanted to give voice to Muslim-Americans in the way that Chaim Potok, Philip Roth and Woody Allen are voices for the Jewish American experience. Is that something you can identify with as a writer?
Diaz: Well I mean as a writer, I don’t know about anyone else, I’ve drawn, I’ve so withdrawn so many debts, I’m like way over my limit at the ATM machine of other writers. For me the African-American community had an enormous impact, not only as someone from the African diaspora, but for someone trying to embrace and wrestle the American experience from an orthogonal point of view. As an immigrant, of course, Asian Americans have been absolutely foundational. I mean, Where would I be without Maxine Hong Kingston? Where would I be without writers like Anjana Appachana? I mean really, again like I said, the multiplicity of voices and of artists that have made me, are hard to give credit to.
And this was beautiful. Lopate asked Diaz about the influence of Jose Marti the Cuban patriot and poet.
Diaz: I’m just obsessed with Jose Marti… For me Jose Marti was a figure who believed profoundly that our borders, who we are as nations, are not there to keep us apart but they were there for connection, they were there for unity. He believed that a Haitian had as much stake in the Cuban liberation as a Cuban.
These days we tend to think of our national identities like we think of an expensive car that we keep in our garage that we don’t want anyone else to borrow. He didn’t believe that at all. He believed that our national identities were capacious enough to contain everyone.