With an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos, this important anthology of contemporary fiction represents the wide range of cultures and experiences that mark the diverse ethnic groups of the Latino community.
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Julia Alvarez was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States when she was ten years old. After receiving her undergraduate and graduate degrees in literature and creative writing, she spent twelve years teaching poetry in schools in Kentucky, California, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Illinois. Homecoming, her first book of poetry, was published in 1986. Her novel-in-stories, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, was published in 1991 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and was named a NYTBR and ALA Notable Book of the Year. She lives with her husband in Middlebury, Vermont, where she teaches at Middlebury College and is at work on a new novel.
At Customs they had her unpack the tent even though she warned them it was going to be more trouble than it was worth to fold it back into its cloth sack. But they insisted, four minor officials, three more than were needed, unfolded the flaps, checked the case, found the instructions Steven had written out for her tucked inside. By the time T¡o Mundo came through the guarded doors with the man in charge, the officials had draped the canvas over the conveyor belt and were prepared to unfold it further, blocking the passageway.
"They didn't believe me," she said to her uncle about the four men still fumbling with the tent. "I told them it was just a tent."
"A tent!" Tio Mundo pulled a long face. "What on earth does my pretty niece want with a tent?" He turned to his buddy in Customs, who was ordering the officials to put stickers on Yolanda's things and detain her no longer. "These girls of Carlos come down and each time it's something new!" The head official wipedhis mouth with the back of his hand and smiled vaguely. His lips still looked greasy, as if he'd been eating a fried snack in his office when Don Mundo had dropped in to ask if they couldn't do him a little favor and speed his niece through the line.
In no time the inspectors had zippered shut Yolanda's bags, but as she had predicted, they were unable to fold the cumbersome tent back snugly into its case. Two porters carried it between them, hammock style. There could have been a body hidden inside it.
Outside, the limousine had pulled up to the entrance. Through the tinted green glass, Yolanda could make out Lucinda and Carmencita and Tia Carmen. She rushed forward to say hello to her favorite cousins and aunt, but before she had reached the car, a young man shot out from behind the lifted trunk and hurried to open the door. He had such an eager look in his eye that Yolanda felt he must have met her before. He was a slim young man, no taller than she, though he looked to be a few years older, in his early twenties possibly. Her uncle came up between them and patted the young man on the back. "This is Francisco," he introduced the new chauffeur, so there would be no mistaking him for one of the darker-skinned cousins. Francisco touched his forehead. "At your orders, senorita."
The ride to the compound was catch-up. Who had married whom and what the forecast was on their happiness. New babies and whom they looked like, who had died and who was ill. Tia Carmen stopped in the middle of the news. "You seem--" she cupped her niece's cheek in her hand, "happier this year."
Her aunt was right. There was a man in Yolanda's heart, but she was not about to confess and go through grueling interrogations. Besides, her Dominican aunt seemed to have psychic powers. Those dark, soulful, loving eyes could see through to their niece's heart. They could see at the bottom of her overnight case the birth control packet Yolanda was finishing off.
"Maybe it's just I'm a little heavier this year," Yolanda suggested. Her aunt always equated weight with well-being. Then quickly, Yolanda changed the subject to politics. "How are things?" A new president had been elected after years of unrest.
Her uncle had turned around in the front seat where he'd sat because the car was too crowded. He flipped his hand front and back. "Things are as¡, as¡," he said, shrugging.
"To tell the truth, no one's thinking much about politics these days." T¡a Carmen shook her head tragically. In her elegant, dark mourning dresses--there was always a fresh death to mourn in such a large family--her words had the ring of pronouncements. "Betsy hit us so hard, we're still catching our breath."
"Just like a woman!" T¡o Mundo winked at Francisco, and the two men shared a manly chuckle.
"Ay, Papi," Lucinda groaned. But there was affection in her voice.
Her uncle continued. "The new president, I'll say this for him, he's on the ball. The new highway will be ready next month. There's construction now up in Bonao--"
"With your permission, senor," Francisco interrupted. "A highway is not a house. Many are without a roof over their heads." He pointed past Uncle's face. Yolanda looked and saw empty fields on both sides of the road, bare of the usually feverishly lush vegetation. Here and there, four wobbly poles held up a thatched roof of palm branches. "The hurricane took the trees so there's no palm wood to finish the walls of those huts."
"People live there?" Yolanda shook her head. She had thought they were shade stands for the merchants on the side of the road. But even as she acknowledged Francisco, she was aware of the uncomfortable silence that had fallen inside the car. The chauffeur had spoken out of place. Someone was going to have to take the new man aside and instruct him on the do's and don'ts of working for the clan.
"What about you, young lady?" T¡o Mundo covered the hand she had put on the front seat to pull herself forward when Francisco had spoken. "The boys up there must be lining up! Let them look all they want. You come back and marry one of your own!" T¡o nodded at his daughters. "What's that saying of the Americans? No charge for looking at the merchandise?"
This was the kind of moment Yolanda would later recount to Steven, and he would shake his head. "It's like going back to the nineteenth century," she would roll her eyes to the ceiling. "Chaperones, virginity, girls can't do this, girls can't do that." Sometimes, Yolanda had to admit to herself, she enjoyed the fuss. It made her feel like a romantic heroine, valued and important, instead of anonymous, one of several hundred co-eds crowded into a lecture hall, her foreign name mispronounced. Except for Steven--he made her feel plenty important. She had not told her parents about her long-haired, bearded young lover who had applied for c.o. status and was one of the campus agitators against the war. Her parents would have forbidden her to see him, no less camp out with him in the very tent she had brought down. In a way, she was getting back at them by bringing the contraband tent into the country!
Yolanda had tried talking her parents into letting her stay in her college town that summer working and sharing an apartment with "friends." But the answer was no, n.o., spelled the same way, Spanish or English. Until she graduated from college and was on her own, she was to spend her summer with her Island family. She knew the ground plan--what her uncle had nodded about to her aunt--that she should meet and marry a young man from a prominent family, maybe one who had also been to school in the States. That way her education would be an asset, not a liability.
Having been forced to come against her will, Yolanda was determined to be here on her own terms. But this was nothing new. She always brought new ideas. Hippie ideas; one of the aunts had read about the phenomenon in a magazine her husband had brought her from the States. A few summers back it was vegetarianism. Everything in life, Yolanda explained, had a soul, and you built up karma like cholesterol you had to work off. Last summer, Yolanda wasn't eating at all, fasting, she called it, to cleanse and stroke the organs. But she looked as skinny and pitiful as the country poor in a drought year. She read Zen poetry in translation to Yuri, the gardener, who said that if the senorita said so, the sound of one hand clapping made sense to him. It was no more riddling than the Virgin Mary giving birth to a human god baby. This summer, she was reading Steven's trouble-making books. The class system was wrong. All the people should own the means of production. Her aunts and uncles were up in arms defending themselves.
Several times she went out back of the kitchen to a small courtyard enclosed by concrete blocks with a filigree design, where the servants gathered to relax during lulls in their work day, after meals or late at night. They welcomed her warmly, but always with so much protocol that she felt she was intruding. "Please senorita." They all stood and offered her their chairs. "I can stand too," she reminded them.