Sunday, September 13, 2020

The curious and disgusting case of H.G. Carrillo

Via The WaPo, GWU Professor Lisa Page sounds very apologetic as she reveals that a guy from Detroit passed himself off as a Cuban for years and years, and only after his unfortunate death, did his immediate family "out" him.  Read Page's "explanation" here.

Page asks in the headline: When writer Hache Carrillo died, the world discovered his true identity. What does that mean for his legacy?

Seriously? That's in question?

I can tell Professor Page that - at least for me - it (a) upsets me for a reason that I'm not 100% sure as to "why" and (b) leaves me perplexed that a guy from Detroit could get away with this for a large chunk of his life.

Lisa Page is co-editor of “We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America.” She is also assistant professor of English at George Washington University, where Carrillo also taught.

Five gets you ten that he never participated in a single event in Miami.  He would have been nailed as the impostor that he was within the first few seconds of a conversation with a 10 year old Cuban kid.

How about his writing about the "Cuban immigrant experiences" - from which I can see how a lot of reviewers fawned over?

I've had never read Carrillo - in fact, I had never heard of him until he was outed and THAT made a story in Cuban-American circles, as most of us had never heard of him either.

Shouldn't that have raised an alarm somewhere?

The Babalu Blog notes:

I doubt he visited Cuba, and he apparently steered clear of real Cuban exiles and Miami. According to newspaper archives, he was never featured in Miami’s Nuevo Herald and only once in the Miami Herald (a 2004 review of his novel, but only about the book, not him). In 2005, he visited a college in central Florida to present his novel, and the Orlando Sentinel ran a brief interview with him. Asked who’d had the most influence on his writing, he named several authors–who included no Cubans, not even Reinaldo Arenas, but did include Gabriel García Márquez, who is anathema to the Cuban American community. It should have smelled fishy, but Orlando is not Miami.

 Let's read Carrillo/Carroll and see how long before he starts sounding fishy...

I found a short story titled "Cosas" here, and by the third word in the story my alarms already went up! 

The story starts like this: "Esteban y Casamiro were headed for a place that did not exist and they were out of cigarettes." 

I've never heard of any Cuban named "Casamiro" ---- "Casimiro" with an "i" yes... but "Casamiro" - but maybe it's just me...

I'm on page 2, and it is clear to the most casual observer that this impostor is not Cuban - at least through his writing, which uses Spanish words like "pinche" and "vatos" that are NOT part of Cuban slang (not to mention that he misspells "cerveza" as "cervesa." 

On page 23 I grudgingly give him a "maybe" on his use of "Santo patron" -- doesn't sound "Cuban" - more Mexican, as Cubans usually just say "mi santo" to refer to whatever saint's day it is on their birthday. Also on that page he writes: "Esculpame Padre" - when he should have written "Disculpame."

Page 30 he refers to Cachita as "La Virgen del Cobre" which (maybe it's just me) but sounds very odd, as she's usually referred to as either "La Virgen de la Caridad de El Cobre" or "La Virgen de la Caridad"... but the "del Cobre" bothers me... should be "de El Cobre." He also calls her "Señora", which sounds weird to me in praying to Cachita, which is how Cubans refer to the Virgin. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious now...

Page 30: He refers to a whore as "la maja" - I don't even know what that means? Unless that's a weird reference to Goya's Maja?

Page 33: "Chingao" is a Mexican curse word, not Cuban - If anything Cubans would say "Singao" with a very soft "s" sound.

In page 35 Casamiro curses these words: "Buche! Chancho!" - no idea what those curses mean, but they're not Cuban slang... a "buche" is a "swallow/sip" as "un buchito de cafe" (a sip of coffee).

Page 36: The cursing here is Google Spanish... makes me cringe that somehow this passed as Cuban cursing... any reader of Cuban ancestry would immediately start dialing numbers in Hialeah.

Last page: Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish - not Cuban -- this is the ultimate insult!

I'm torn by the fact that this fabricator of a false identity perhaps got where he got - including a faculty post at George Washington University - by eschewing his African-American identity in exchange for an Afro-Cuban identity, and in the process perhaps... what?

Lisa Page (and others) seem to give him a "pass" because he was clearly a nice guy and loved by his students.  It saddens me that his family, and his mother (who after his death was quoted as saying that she was "really hurt by the whole façade" had to live through this fakery and most immense of cultural thefts.

It saddens me that Herman Glenn Carroll - his real name - had to live for over two decades with the weight that this immense lie must have carried on his conscience. I feel sorry for him.

And I still cannot comprehend how... in the age of information, this happened - did not a single "real" Cuban-American or Cuban scholar ever read anything that this guy ever published and raise an eyebrow?

Does it say something about the critics that reviewed his work and the organizations the heaped prizes on him?

Makes my head hurt.

Update: I've expanded the article here.

Jacob Lawrence

When I was in the Navy, moving every 2-3 years was part of the deal - and I hated each one!

One of the few good things about moving is when you find things that you had forgotten that you had stashed away. And a nice surprise during one of my last moves was the re-discovery of this small (7 inches x 5.5 inches) portrait of one of my professors. 

It's a portrait of Jacob Lawrence that I created back when I was a student at the University of Washington School of Art many decades ago.

He is/was of one of the most influential and courageous American artists who's never been given a show at the National Gallery of Art  -- although the Phillips Collection did step up to the challenge of a major Washington, DC area art museum actually focusing on a great artist who just also happened to be an African-American, and put up a great exhibition a few years ago.

Jacob Lawrence