Caught Between Two Worlds

by juanmanuelbenitez

rioheadshotBY JUAN MANUEL BENÍTEZ

Reluctantly. That’s how I start this new English-language version (could we please make it at least bilingual?) of Política Pop. Simián says that by writing in English the gringos will read us. Really?

I wonder if I can be witty, smart and funny in a language I’ll always consider my second (and yes, after ten years in New York, I still dream in Spanish.) Besides, do I want to become the Latino voice in the US, deciphering the Hispanic world to the mainstream (inglés, poh favoh) reader? That’s boring.

To tell you the truth, I’m a little tired of being the one reporter asking the immigration question at a debate, devoting a whole interview to the issue, or the one some politicians watch to hone their Spanish-language skills. (It’s funny how they always come ready with their cue cards, like first-grade students eager to show off their basic homework.) All that was kind of fun for a while, but quickly turned tedious.

This ethnic reporter thing doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. Because let me tell you something: that guy at my Dominican laundromat says I’m not one of them (“usted es blanco, europeo”.) And I’ll spare you my livery cab (“you look blanquito, you are blanquito”) eternal conversation driving down the West Side Highway. In fact, my Latino persona is full of tricks: I cut my hair short, something like a caesar (my friend Dennis says I look more ethnic), and my accent when speaking Spanish on television is elaborately fake, so viewers won’t start laughing and running away from the “lispy” Spaniard.

Funny, because most of them seem to think they are white anyway, like I proved in this television series my dear professor June Cross would like to see in English (“do it for us stupidos who can’t understand Spanish, pls?”) I guess Simián might be right after all: in this country, if it’s not done in English, it doesn’t exist.

But in a blogosphere full of native US writers (and out-of-the-job reporters), would anybody in this country care about what a Chilean, an Argentine and a Spaniard have to say about pop culture and politics? Would English-language readers/viewers treat me as an equal if they hear my thick accent? Or would I have to find some new tricks to fool them too?

Let me call Arianna.

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