On the topic of invisibility, I'm thinking about the Latino intellectual that so many of us loved to hate back in the 1980s and 1990s, Richard Rodriguez. When he came out against affirmative action in 1982 with his memoir Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, we were too caught up in our disagreements with his conservative stances to notice the beauty of his prose. His next two books, Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father (1993) and Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002), have revealed that Rodriguez is, arguably, not only the best U.S. Latino essayist of his generation but perhaps the the most interesting American essayist currently writing.

Rodriguez's second book, which he characterized as an argument with Octavio Paz (his "Mexican father"), included the brilliant chapter "India", which theorized how the indigenous, the "Indian", was a central stage on which U.S. Latinos stood, beyond outdated or romantic notions of what the word "Indian" might signify: "I grew up in Sacramento thinking of Indians as people who had disappeared. I was a Mexican in California; I would no more have thought of myself as an Aztec in California than you might imagine yourself as a Viking or a Bantu. Mrs. Ferrucci up the block used to call my family 'Spanish'. We knew she intended to ennoble us by that designation. We also knew she was ignorant. I was ignorant."

In the recently published Brown, Rodriguez develops this "Indian" theme throughout nine interrelated essays that are beautifully written. Very few journals or newspapers seem to have taken notice of Rodriguez's second and third books, perhaps because he can no longer be easily classified as a neoconservative, Latino poster boy. Looking over my own preoccupation with the word "brown" in my notebooks and poems of the past few years, I recognize the presence of Rodriguez's essays.

"Brown as impurity.
I write of a color that is not a singular color, not a strict recipe, not an expected result, but a color produced by careless desire, even by accident; by two or several. I write of blood that is blended. I write of brown as complete freedom of substance and narrative. I extol impurity.
I eulogize a literature that is suffused with brown, with allusion, irony, paradox--ha!--pleasure.
I write about race in America in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America.
Brown bleeds through the straight line, unstaunchable--the line separating black from white, for example. Brown confuses. Brown forms at the border of contradiction (the ability of language to express two or several things at once, the ability of bodies to experience two or several things at once).
It is that brown faculty I uphold by attempting to write brownly. And I defy anyone who who tries to unblend me or to say what is appropriate to my voice.
You will often find brown in this book as the cement between leaves of paradox.
You may not want a paradox in a book. In which case, you had better seek a pure author.
Brown is the color most people in the United States associate with Latin America.
Apart from stool sample, there is no browner smear in the American imagination than the Rio Grande. No adjective has attached itself more often to the Mexican in America than 'dirty'--which I assume gropes toward the simile 'dirt-like', indicating dense concentrations of melanin.
I am dirty, all right. In Latin America, what makes me brown is that I am made of the conquistador and the Indian. My brown is a reminder of conflict.
And of reconciliation.
In my own mind, what makes me brown in the United States is that I am Richard Rodriguez. My baptismal name and my surname marry England and Spain, Renaissance rivals.
North of the U.S.-Mexico border, brown appears as the color of the future. The adjective accelerates, becomes a verb: 'America is browning.' South of the border, brown sinks back into time. Brown is time."

{Richard Rodriguez, "Preface", Brown: The Last Discovery of America , New York: Penguin, 2002, pp. xi-xii}

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