A few years ago, I read three books for one selfish reason – the characters had the same last name as me.
My last name, DeLeon, isn’t common, so it was exciting to see my name in print. The first of these books, Rick Riordan’s 2006 Mission Road, featured a character named Ana DeLeon who was tangled up in the investigation of an unsolved murder. Mission Road, unlike Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, isn’t particularly memorable, but the other two DeLeon books are awesome.
The most famous of these books is Junot Diaz’s 2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The lead character, Oscar DeLeon, is a misfit whose Dominican-American family suffers a curse brought on by a former dictator from their homeland. This funny book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with Diaz becoming the second Hispanic to receive that honor.
But my personal favorite DeLeon character comes from Stewart O’Nan’s 2008 Last Night at the Lobster, which depicts Manny DeLeon’s last day on the job as manager of a New England Red Lobster on a snowy day. DeLeon is just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life, but his sense of decency makes him one of those characters that you wish you had as a friend. I’m proud to share the same last name as him.
Hispanics are frequently seen on popular TV shows and movies – but hardly on the pages of best-selling novels.
Sure, bookstores will devote some space to Hispanic writers. But you don’t see them as characters in mainstream fiction, even though Hispanics account for nearly 16 percent of the United States population and are one of the country’s fastest-growing ethnic groups, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Because I’m a nerd, I write down the books I read. When I look back at my list of books I’ve read in recent years, I found only a handful of books featuring Hispanic characters – the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; Rick Riordan’s thriller, Mission Road; and the wonderful Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan – and those books’ main characters shared the same last name as me (which will be the topic of an upcoming post).
People of color are often absent from mainstream books. When I read Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, I was happily surprised to see that the main character was of Indian descent, not the same old white girl that occupies many novels.
I want to see more Hispanic characters.
So what am I going to do about it? I’m working on a novel featuring a Hispanic woman in the lead role. I still have a lot of work to do before I finish that book, so I created this blog about Hispanic literature. I’ll be reviewing classic and mainstream books with Hispanic characters; spotlighting Hispanic writers; and analyzing the role of Hispanics in literature. Join me.