Common Reading Author Describes Living in the Margins and Cultural Difference
November 23, 2009
Menendez is one of several authors featured in an anthology that was the common reading assignment for students this fall.
As a self-described traveler, Menendez says she bridges the gaps in understanding between the culture of her family's homeland - Cuba - and the rest of the world with stories such as In Cuba I Was a German Shepard.
Her published stories reflect the Cuban culture and give audiences a glimpse into the world she knows so well.
"In the 1990's there was an explosion of immigrant literature; we explained things. People wanted me to write about this culture," Menendez told the crowd that gathered in deWitt Hall on November 17.
Menendez told the group about her work as a journalist and columnist at the Miami Herald and her journey to the graduate program at New York University that helped kick-start her career as a fiction writer.
"If you are writing or doing anything you care about and you believe it is truth, keep going," Menendez told the audience after describing the starts and stops she experienced with her first published story.
Menendez also explored the importance of the role that she and others play functioning in the "margins" of American society - where they can explain another culture and still operate within the mainstream.
She draws on these ideas when faced with situations of cultural ignorance and insults.
"The myth of America is we are a melting pot and tolerant of other cultures," Menendez said, explaining that clashes between cultures is common when borders come together. She also referenced the teachings of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss who opposed the idea of a monoculture culture and believed that through difference people learn about themselves.
She said that Strauss would say it is understandable that people defend their culture when they feel it is under threat.
"That's when people take up the flag," she added.
Menendez concluded her talk by embracing her role as a storyteller who spans the gaps between cultures.
"I love the margins. I love the borders and I draw energy from those people who [don't]," she said.