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Fiction by Norwegian Women

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lessons Learned in the 'Hood

When the Dominican-American writer, Junot Diaz, won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I was thrilled. I’d been a fan of Diaz’s work for years, so I received the announcement of him winning this award as if my own little brother had won. I was proud and elated and I needed to share this news when I first read of his selection in the New York Times.

I am African-American and I live in an almost exclusively African-American neighborhood. Like many neighborhoods similar to my own, the Mom and Pop corner store is now owned and operated by Dominicans. From my observations, there are little substantive exchanges between these two, ethnic groups given the fact that they have frequent encounters with each other. Diaz’s honor that day was one to be shared. I had my daughter take the news article saluting Diaz to our neighborhood Dominican grocers. The husband and wife team who run the store did not know of Junot Diaz, just like my son’s African-American barber does not know of Percival Everett.

But this couple was just as thrilled to learn about Diaz and his triumph. They posted the news clipping in their store and boasted of his literary prowess to their customers. I later gave Ana, the wife, a copy of Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Ana was amazed that a Dominican-American woman was sharing her immigrant experience and that other people were even interested. Ana and her husband have since moved on, but she had begun to keep a journal she simply called her story.

Our city is a veritable hothouse of cultures to learn from and to celebrate. Philadelphia’s Latino community is large and diverse and we should avail ourselves of this phenomenal resource. On September 20, 2009, we have the opportunity to do just that-Feria del Barrio. This neighborhood festival is one of Philadelphia’s largest celebrations of Latino culture and music and it is hosted in the heart of the Latino community. Everyone is invited. To learn more, visit the website of Taller Puertorriqueno

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