'Barrio Imbroglio' Author Daniel Cubias Brings Humor to Latino Literature and the Detective World
This article is part of Palabras, the Latin Post Latino Author Series.
Born in NYC and raised amid the Germanic culture of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, author Daniel Cubias was considered very exotic.
He was the only Latino friend to countless kids, and his cousins were the only other Latinos he knew. That static upbringing helped to shape Cubias' perspective as a writer, sharpen his attentiveness to the progress of U.S. Latinos, and urge him to examine his cultural identity.
With Salvadoran roots on his mother's side and Irish/Italian roots on father's, Cubias has often felt a sense of duality, but he's always very much felt Latino. As the only Latino, he was the local authority on foreign culture.
"[My friends] would ask questions about where my mom was from, and why she still had that crazy accent after all the years in America. And they asked me teach them swear words in Spanish... you know, good stuff like that," Cubias said to Latin Post. "But growing up there, it was a great upbringing, but it was also a very interesting duality of cultures because I'm very much a Wisconsin guy and a Midwestern guy, but I also had the awareness that I was a little different... that my background differed from my friends and my family dynamic was different."
Cubias gave one example of how his family dynamic was different. Probably until adulthood, he believed that everyone was close to their cousins, and saw their cousins multiple times a week. It wasn't until he was much older that he realized that most of his white friends only saw their cousins at Christmas.
"I started to realize as I got older that I definitely had a different family experience than my friends did. Then, I thought it was interesting enough to where I started to think about how my background was different," said Cubias. "I think the impetus for being a writer came from the stories that my mom would tell about growing up in El Salvador and about what was going on in El Salvador at the time. The civil war was going on, and that's how my cousins came over, to escape that war, and they had stories,
There were so many crazy stories and so many crazy things going on that got me interested in storytelling; a lot of it came from the background of my family and from my mom. Also, from my mom, I was exposed to literature. She introduced me to people like Gabriel García Márquez, and when you read things like that ... in your naivety, when you're younger, you're like, 'Yeah, I can do that.' With that inspiration, and the stories that I heard, I launched into writing."
Cubias began writing when he was a teenager, but it wasn't until after college that he dove into professional writing and business writing. He launched a site titled the Hispanic Fanatic, which focuses primarily on Latino culture and issues. Additionally, he went on to write for Being Latino and Huffington Post, where he directly addresses the state of Latinos, examining their place in the cultural landscape of America. With his fiction, particularly his newly published novel "Barrio Imbroglio," he takes a more subtle approach to investigating and exploring identity.
"Barrio Imbroglio" tells the story of a young, second generation Latino detective, Abraxas Hernandez. When Hernandez's cousin in murdered, he takes on the case and works the mean streets of East Phister to unearth the truth. During the length of the investigation, readers learn a great deal about Hernandez, his connection to his old neighborhood, and the tremendous stress of his job.
"[With 'Barrio Imbroglio'] there were basically three small inspirations that added up to one big inspiration. The first inspiration that I had was, I wanted to write a novel featuring a Latino character, because frankly, we do not have a lot of that. We have great Latino writers, obviously, but we don't have a lot of Latino characters. Secondly, I like mystery novels...and I thought, why not have a Latino detective?" said Cubias. "We actually don't have a lot of Latino detectives in fiction, and the few that we have, to my knowledge, nothing really big has broken through the mainstream. If you think about a lot of the detective novels or mystery novels...you can't think of a Hispanic lead character in any of them. And thirdly, along with the primary inspiration, I wanted to a sense of humor."
If you look at Cubias' blog posts and his novel, it becomes quickly apparent that it's meant to be funny -- in a dark way. According to the author, humor gets dismissed quite a bit in Latino culture and people believe that being funny can't co-exist with seriousness. However, icons Monty Python and Jon Stewart prove that very funny people can tackle very serious issues.
"I basically realized that detective novels are always really tortured and angsty... and they're recovering alcoholics and they have problems...and they're great, but you read enough of them and you're like, 'Wow, another tortured, angsty detective... Are any of these people funny?'" Cubias stated. "Also, you read a lot Latino fiction and it's depressing, because of the state of Hispanics can be rather depressing, there's not a lot humor. So what I'm try to do here is stand out as a writer, and because I tend to write funny. ... I try to use my sense of humor to make things funny, and also address these bigger issues. Just because you're serious, don't mean you're somber. You can still be funny."
Cubias first novel, an unpublished collection of his family's history, is not funny, but instead is "heavy-handed." Like many first time novelists, Cubias choose to address vital issues head on. He bluntly showcased struggles in El Salvador and familial hardships, failing to implement any humor or subtlety.
"When approaching my second novel, my wife made a point. She said, 'You're not a somber, serious guy in real life' -- Not that I'm a clown or anything -- 'but your novel is just very, very depressing.' I thought, she's right, why don't I try to write something that fits my personality, something I'd like to read? I like fun stuff, I like funny things. ... I think a lot of people like funny things, and that's the way I tried to approach it ... with a sense of humor," said Cubias.
During the interview with Latin Post, Cubias maintained that sense of humor when discussing Latinos' emergence in mainstream culture, their lack of visibility in film or television, the economic disadvantages they face, his role in helping to share important stories related to the Latino community, and how unlikely it is that Latinos will ever totally blend in with mainstream culture, because "we always will stand out, and I think in a good way.
"I'm not a big fan of the term 'color-blind society.' I'm sure when people use it, they have good intentions, but I think a lot times when that's used, the subtext is 'We want you to be as white as possible.' At the risk of being hokey, I think that there's strength in diversity, and acknowledging things [that make us different] should not be scary," said Cubias. "If we blend enough things together, you won't be able to tell the difference. But, I think Latinos are always going to be kind of distinct, I think people should always be happy to be a little distinct, whether you're Latino or Irish. Otherwise, it'd be dull."
Logically, the next book for Cubias to tackle after his first publication would be a sequel to the novel, "Barrio Imbroglio." However, he's torn between reworking his first novel, writing the sequel, and writing a horror novel.
"I've found that Latinos love horror movies...everyone in my family loves horror movies. That's what we did when I was a kid, we watched horror movies. So, I'm actually debating writing a horror novel with my co-writer, or even a horror-comedy novel," said Cubias. "My co-writer said one word to me, zombies. And I went, oh boy, I love zombies ... and zombie movies. Who doesn't? Now, I'm kind of torn. The logical thing for me to do is write a sequel to this book, but I also like the idea of having a zombie novel with Latino characters, which is something you don't see too often."