On not keeping it real (and other inconsistencies)

The fiction writer known as H. G. Carrillo (and familiarly as Hache, which is Spanish for H) died from COVID-19 this April 20th, shortly before turning 60. He was considered a “Latino” writer, specifically an Afro-Cuban exile, whose oeuvre prominently reflected and reputedly plumbed the meaning of that identity. He was also a gay man. However, he was hardly known in the Cuban American community, and it seems he never did Miami (his life transpired in Michigan, Chicago and the Northeast). His chief work and only novel was Loosing My Espanish (2004), whose protagonist is a Cuban American; he also wrote short stories and a 2007 piece titled “Who Knew Desi Arnaz Wasn’t White?” 

On May 22nd, the Washington Post ran his obit with the expected data, quickly replaced by a dramatically revised version after WaPo was contacted by his sister and niece. It came out his real name was Herman Glenn Carroll, born in Detroit, and neither Cuban nor “Latino” at all. His false persona, kept up over 20 years, was apparently only known by his family–it was news to everyone else, even his husband and partner of many years. His sister had confronted him long before over disowning his true identity, which had hurt his mother, but his response was evasive, and he didn’t see his family much.

Carroll apparently taught himself Spanish. After his then partner died of AIDS in 1988, he took up writing, adopting the Carrillo persona by the 1990s. He got a BA in Spanish from DePaul and an MFA from Cornell, where he was mentored by Chicano writer Helena Viramontes. After that, he taught at George Washington University for 8 years as a specialist in “Latinx” writers. At his death, he was Chair of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, a writers’ association. His whole literary and academic career was based on his “Latino” persona (a third identity card to play), and he was taken for an exponent of the Cuban exile experience (or “emigre” experience, as WaPo put it). One must admit he pulled it off amazingly well.  

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.

 At least as early as 2005, and presumably for many years thereafter, he was working on a second novel about Cubans in the US, reportedly involving the death of Fidel Castro, but very little is known about it, and it never came to fruition. Perhaps he realized he was biting into more than he could chew, or maybe he decided not to push his luck and left well enough alone. Such a novel could have attracted very risky attention from the wrong people, namely real Cuban Americans, though even his long-time literary agent bought his Cuban act.

After he died but before WaPo outed him, memorial acknowledgments of his passing were posted online by Cornell University, George Washington University and the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. They are still up and unrevised, and I could find no subsequent posting from any of those institutions addressing the truth about “Hache.” It is no doubt “polite,” expedient and PC to “let it go.” Even the revised WaPo obit was exquisitely tactful, as if great care was taken to avoid any, uh, unpleasantness—which I seriously doubt would have been the case if Carroll had been a white heterosexual who’d posed as “Latino.” Rather tellingly, WaPo never used the term cultural appropriation in its extensive obit, although the fact was blatant enough. 

Apart from this blog, which ran the story May 26th, most of the Cuban exile blogosphere does not appear to have picked it up (including, curiously, blogs by Cuban writers). Neither major Miami newspaper reported Carroll’s death nor his unmasking. The media at large has not seized upon this as a hot item, and there has been no real condemnation, let alone outrage, from the usual suspects (I fully expect this was one “Cuban” who voted Dem and backed Obama’s Cuba policy). It’s as if Carrillo was an illusion only meant for and consumed by non-Cubans, who cannot get worked up over being deceived. It’s also as if special dispensation has been granted to this assiduously sustained lie, for fairly obvious reasons.  

So, why did Carroll do it and how did he go about it? Most likely we’ll never know–probably even his family doesn’t, and everything indicates he didn’t tell anyone else. However, the key story here is not the fraud but the reaction to it, such as it’s been.

Imagine that.

7 thoughts on “On not keeping it real (and other inconsistencies)”

  1. Actually, as far as I could find, there’s been no condemnation at all from the usual suspects, the prescribed tone evidently set by the downright lyrical WaPo obit (which my mother might have sarcastically described as sobrecogedor). Certainly, the Miami papers should have been all over this thing, doing at least as much digging as I did and calling the matter out for what it is (considering that’s their job, for which they get paid).

    Obviously, a non-Cuban can write a novel with a Cuban protagonist, as Hemingway famously did in The Old Man and the Sea, but Hemingway, despite having lived in Cuba for years, where he owned a house, never adopted a spurious Cuban identity. Carroll simply pulled a con, and plenty of people swallowed it–and rather eagerly, I might add. This is akin to the non-Cubans who run around as professional, albeit bogus, Cuba “experts,” and are also bought as such.

    Really, it’s too much, but practically nobody has a problem with this sort of thing except “those people,” who can be treated as shabbily as desired because that’s been totally “normalized” and entails little or no risk. You can ask anybody, starting with “His Holiness,” the “Vicar of Christ.”

    Lord, the disgust.

  2. And check out the crap that he wrote–the Desi essay. Predictable ghetto literature. He’s projecting his own angst as a black man on Cubans and making us seem like some sort of self-hating black snowflakes trying to pass for white or something [talk about projection!]. If you stomach it, take a look at it:


    • Rayarena, whatever Carroll wrote about Cuban exiles in any of his works is no more valid than what any non-Cuban with neither real knowledge of nor connection to the Cuban American community or Cuba could write. At best, it is the opinion if not fabrication of an outsider, and a fraud at that.

  3. And by the way, I don’t just seriously doubt that a white heterosexual who did what Carroll did would have gotten a pass; I’m virtually certain that would NOT have been the case. The woke crowd would have been furiously virtue signaling, and the institutions the fraudster had been associated with would have been forced to condemn him or her whether they liked it or not. Again, the key issue here is not what Carroll did, but the way it has been handled–or not handled. Once again, the double standard works against “those people,” a very old and familiar story.

  4. I cannot believe the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald somehow “missed” this story–we didn’t, and they’re the professionals, not us. It was reported even in Australia, for heaven’s sake. One must conclude they chose to ignore it, although they had to know there would have been quite significant interest in it among their readers. Maybe somebody should ask them to ‘splain that. Of course, the Heralds are what they are.

  5. I know I repeat myself, but it really is astonishing that WaPo could go on and on about flowers and bees and an old blind dog yet never once call the central issue by its name: completely fraudulent appropriation of an alien cultural identity without even a scintilla of justification. At least Jeanine Cummins, who’s been given a far harder time over her book about Mexican migrants, is apparently 25% (not 0%) Hispanic. Talk about inconsistency, to put it gently.

  6. The more I think about it, the stranger it seems that neither Herald paper in Miami touched this story. I don’t mean initially, since “H. G. Carrillo” was practically unknown to Cuban American Herald readers. However, once the poop hit the fan, Herald coverage became virtually obligatory. So why the silence?

    True, if they reported the fraud, they could not be studiously “neutral” about it like WaPo because their Cuban readership, which is lamentably significant, would have called BS and the Herald would have looked at least pathetically weak. But, if they called the fraud by its name and condemned it, they would have looked bad to their colleagues in the “industry” and quite possibly to those who appear to think that condemning a non-white person, no matter how justifiably, is no longer acceptable. No-win situation.

    This was, however, a test, and the Herald organization failed it. No great surprise, but still disreputable.

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