Junot Diaz arrives late for his interview, ticked off and out of breath. The Dominican American author, whose work is onstage at Intersection for the Arts, was walking down 15th Street in the Mission when he saw a white woman on the sidewalk, berating a Mexican woman for her lack of English.
"We were just talkin' about immigration and stuff and there is this woman screaming, 'Learn English! Learn English!' I was like, 'Yo, what the f -- is your problem, yo?' It was like nasty, dude. The poor woman she was screaming at was trembling."
Diaz, 37, emigrated from the Dominican Republic when he was 6 and grew up near Perth Amboy, N.J., on the periphery of a landfill. He knows about poverty, racism and marginalization; he knows how immigrants become targets for misdirected resentments.
"This immigration s -- has got people flippin'," he says.
A few deep breaths. A slug of water. Focus. And then Diaz, a slender, tightly wound man, is ready to move on. He sits at a long table at the Intersection's upstairs gallery, looking slightly shell-shocked.
In fact, the incident he witnessed on 15th Street is indivisible from the kind of thing he writes about. Diaz is the author of "Drown," an acclaimed 1996 short-story collection, mostly semiautobiographical, about growing up in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey during the '70s and '80s.
It's a scary time for new Americans. With the Bush administration putting the clamps on illegal immigration and legislators calling for a 700-mile wall to stop Mexicans at the border, Diaz says it's more important than ever to speak up.
You can find the interview here