Too Late for a Big Change?
by Joe Torres
“Why are you doing it?”
I recently had a conversation with my god-daughter about my WIP (work in progress). We talked about how I was hoping, through my work, to change the way some people might view our community, in however small a way.
I’m Latino. My mother is Caucasian, and my father is Hispanic. When I was a kid I was always too brown for the white kids and too white for the brown kids. As I got older, that changed as I found friends who didn’t care what color I was. Nevertheless, I always felt I had to prove how “brown” or “not brown” I was.
Then I joined the Marines, and for the most part racism wasn’t an issue. We were all green, many shades of green, but all green. You would occasionally run into racist pricks, but they were few and far between, at least the ones who were open about it. Sometimes you’d meet Marines who hadn’t known a lot of people who were not white. They grew up in small towns, or all white neighborhoods, and they had laughable ideas of what other cultures were like.
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who never really gave a single care as to other people’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other label we feel the need to stick on others. Until now.
As I was speaking with my god-daughter, we talked about how the characters in my book would be of different ethnicities and wouldn’t just be stereotypical supporting characters, but characters of real substance, some of whom happened to not be white. We wrapped back around to the book’s two main characters and – you guessed it – they are both white.
I’d made the decision during my initial planning sessions of who and what and had never revisited it until trying to connect the dots on the some of the science. It was then that I recognized this huge gap. I had painstakingly created some interesting (at least I think they’re interesting) characters who weren’t stereotyped.
On ER, we were always nurses or janitors, but never doctors – except once or twice, and those characters were very flawed (John Leguizamo was a doctor, but ended up being an abusive cokehead). In cop dramas, we are always patrolmen and criminals, one of the few exceptions being a character from N.Y.P.D Blue. Jimmy Smits played an amazing character named Bobby Simone, a cop of Hispanic descent who carried the show for quite some time. That was a defining moment for me when I was younger. And it was all but forgotten when I started planning my book.
As this realization hit me, I was in shock. I literally could not believe it. I had subconsciously made a decision that contradicted all the high-minded ideals I was so proud of. Then I began to try to rationalize to myself why a Latino couldn’t be a protagonist.
“Because no one will care.”
“No one will relate to the character.”
“No one will buy the book.”
So race was having tons of impact on the decisions I was making about this book, but not in a good way. Then, of course, the self-reflection began. “Am I a self-loather? Am I ashamed of who I am? Am I not confident enough in what I can create? Should I even be writing this book?”
I’m soldiering on with my work, but I have decided to make some serious changes to it – and it seems to be going well. Better than before, actually. It feels right. So wish me luck. Hopefully I can avoid pandering.
Joe Torres writes sci-fi adventure with heart. He is currently working on his first novel, Force of Nature. Joe lives in Gilbert, Ariz., with his wife and either the most amazing child on the planet or a demon from the depths of hell, depending on which side of nap time you find yourself.
Well said! Your message brings up a common dilemma for writers…Do we write to please a specific audience, or do we write from our own convictions?