Junot Diaz still feels like an immigrant

Updated at: 09/19/2013 10:06 AM
By SIGAL RATNER-ARIAS

(AP) NEW YORK - He has won a Pulitzer, teaches Americans how to write at MIT and his Spanish-sprinkled stories have been acclaimed in the United States. But Junot Diaz, who arrived from the Dominican Republic at the age of 6, says he has never stopped feeling like an immigrant.

And he thinks the idea of immigration reform is as romantic as the coming of Jesus.

"Well, I am not a believer so I don’t know!" he said with skepticism in a recent interview.

"I hope he comes for whoever believes in him. And it’s the same thing (with immigration reform)," he added. "I haven’t seen much either from our political leadership or from our president. ... I don’t know, to me, when I see it, I’ll believe it. I can simply say that what I’ve seen most concretely is an immense hostility toward immigrants and an immense disrespect for everything that we do for this country."

Diaz, who received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008 for his debut novel "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and who teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is promoting the Spanish and paperback editions of his most recent book, "This Is How You Lose Her," a collection of short stories about love, sex and estrangement that, like his previous work, gives the reader a look inside the immigrant experience.

"I’m not certain that anyone stops being an immigrant. With that said, I certainly never stopped being one," Diaz said. "I think most people have very little experience about the internal lives of immigrants and the reality of immigration. We have a lot of myths about it, and boy do we love our myths. We assume that immigration is a deficiency that can be overcome, that there’s some strange advance that one makes where one sheds this inadequacy to attain some sort of national purity."

The author, 44, also said that the rush to "overcome the immigrant" is a reflection of how immigrants and the process of immigration make people uncomfortable, something that is also reflected in a term he finds "sloppy": Spanglish.

Asked what he thought about what some Spanish scholars fear is the deformation of the language in the United States, he said he’s more interested in the fact that today the U.S. has a massive bilingual community that is constantly replenished with the arrival of new immigrants in a way not seen in recent history.

"And the ability of the community to actively borrow from their vocabulary! You have Colombians being influenced by Venezuelans, in the United States. You have Salvadorans being influenced by Puerto Ricans, you have Mexicans," he noted with fascination. "We have multiple Spanishes and I think people are becoming multiply fluent."

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Online:

http://www.junotdiaz.com/

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Sigal Ratner-Arias is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)