A few minutes ago, I received an NYT e-mail informing me that Pulitzer Prize-winner Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, has died at the age of 62. I’ll cop to the fact that I haven’t read it — or any other works of his that I can recall. However, I trust that his work was indeed of high quality, and have never heard it disparaged.
I was somewhat distressed, however, by one aspect of the obit (bylined to Bruce Weber). The lead (or lede, if one wishes to feel all inside baseball about journalism) declares Hijuelos to have been “a Cuban-American novelist who wrote about the lives of immigrants adapting to a new culture[.]” However, two paragraphs later, we get this:
A New Yorker by birth, education and residence, Mr. Hijuelos (pronounced ee-HWAY-los) might have been (and had been) said to be more American-Cuban than Cuban-American.
This strikes me as an odd thing to say. Just what is the criterion here, and of equal import, who determines such classifications? Is one better than the other (which feels implied by the construction)? Is there some threshold of authentic ethnicity that may or may not be passed here? Is it a matter of provenance?
I realize that we live in an ethnicity-obsessed era, in which “wise Latina”dom is seen as a qualification for the Supreme Court, but where George Zimmerman becomes a “White Hispanic” (a term with which I had previously been blessedly unfamiliar). But this just feels too far for me, even if I can’t quite place it.
Meanwhile, although I hope not to encounter it any time soon, I have to wonder how V.S. Naipaul‘s obit will handle this sort of thing.