As the news about Junot Díaz spread across the twittersphere Friday morning, I was disappointed but not surprised. How could I be? I’ve know, on some level, about this abhorrent behavior since I first picked up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as a senior in high school. Junot Díaz filled his work with misogynist characters, living in a misogynist culture. However, now I know the machismo of his characters is not merely a critique or portrayal of our male-dominated society, it’s a reflection of Díaz himself, a serial sexual harasser.
As an impressionable student leaving the feminist utopia of my (primarily white) all-girls school, I had finally found a voice that resonated with me, one that spoke the language I had grown up with: Spanglish. After being educated in the tradition of feminist authors like Friedan and hooks, I had been waiting for a male author who “told it like it is” and acted as an ally. And what I found was a Dominican American writer that I believed exposed the repulsive nature of machismo through his characters. To me, through his sexist characters, Junot Díaz was critiquing machismo and presenting the underbelly of our patriarchal culture. I so wanted this to be true.
I told myself he was different. I saw Díaz as highlighting how Latina women were treated in our culture and outing that treatment as ugly and vile. Finally, I thought, a cis Latino man was describing the gender dynamics in our community in full color.
“Miss Lora was too skinny. Had no hips whatsoever. No breasts, either, no ass, even her hair failed to make the grade.” – Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her
Looking back, I feel guilty. Guilty that I was so eager to look past the misogynistic hints and references in his writing to embrace a critically-acclaimed author and claim him as one of my own.
We are a marginalized people. It’s rare for a Latinx American to win the Pulitzer Prize. For so long we have been sidelined as a people and as a culture. The narrative the media has written for us is embarrassingly limited and until recently (cough *Jane the Virgin* cough) mostly told through the eyes of (cough *cis white straight* cough) men. Other Latinx authors such as Cisneros, Alvarez, and Esquivel had all written and warned me of this machismo. They showed how to spot it and how it has limited women of our past and present. I ignored their teachings when it came to Díaz, but no more.
Díaz may be an excellent writer but he writes and talks about women as objects. Today proves that he took advantage of his privilege as a man and the rare representative of our culture to achieve such heights of success. A victim of abuse himself, he chose to perpetuate the cycle of violence that has exploited women since the beginning of time. I cannot accept or ignore the machismo inherent in his work and conduct as it continues to sideline women and all victims of abuse.
“In September he headed to Rutgers New Brunswick, his mother gave him a hundred dollars and his first kiss in five years, his tío [uncle] a box of condoms: Use them all, he said, and then added: On girls.” – Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The news about Junot Díaz this morning has called many to acknowledge their privilege and sometimes willful ignorance of misogyny and homophobia. As for me, I am a woman and I stand with women. I am a Latina and I stand with my Latino community. Our community is more than machismo. Our men are not all abusers. I am so disappointed that Junot Díaz, with all of his talent and platform, chose to perpetuate these limiting stereotypes rather than break them.
But as Roxane Gay said, “We need to have a more vigorous conversation that simply saying, ‘Junot Díaz is cancelled,’ because that does not cancel misogyny or how the literary community protects powerful men at the expense of women.” As we continue to grapple with the patriarchy that envelops every facet of our culture, I know I will be spending my time reading and finding strength in my writing heroines.
“She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow […] Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.” – Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street