Meaning of Consuelo / Edition 1 available in Paperback
In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman's quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.
"Judith Ortiz Cofer has created a character who takes us by the hand on a journey of self-discovery. She reminds readers young and old never to forget our own responsibilities, and to enjoy life with all its joys and sorrows."--Bessy Reyna, MultiCultural Review
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FULANO, NA, n.m.f.: So-and-so, what's --
his/her-name; tart, whore;
Mr. /Miss /Mrs. Nobody
María Sereno walked in his leisurely way toward the cart selling piragüas that appeared on our street corner every day at noon. The fulano of our neighborhood, María Sereno, born Mario Manuel Santiago Sereno, wore tight red pedal pushers and a man's T-shirt over an obviously empty brassiere. His image contains my earliest understanding of a key phrase in my family's conversations: el fulano or la fulana; used to refer to the outsider, he or she never called by name.
The flip-flops on his big feet made a slapping beat to the subtle back-and-forth swaying of his hips. His black hair was slicked behind his ears, a coquettish curl wrapped around an earlobe. The women hanging clothes in their backyards or taking a break on their porch rockers stared unashamedly at María, smiling in a superior way or raising an eyebrow at one another. The piragüero, seller of ices, was a war veteran with a metal leg. He would sometimes let out a long wolf-whistle as he watched María approach. María Sereno just kept walking regally toward his daily treat of a shaved-ice cone topped with thick, sweet tamarind-and-strawberry syrup, which he would noisily suck on while standing there in front of man, woman, and God. He'd lick it with his long pink tongue. His eyes would be closed in some kind of sugar ecstasy, and then he'd smile enigmatically at no one in particular -- like a Puerto Rican Mona Lisa -- and head back to his mother's house, where he lived in a room with its own private entrance.
His mother was a widow on a pension and María Sereno was her only child. At the age of twenty-eight, he was still her dependent, since the farthest he would go toward male attire was pedal-pusher pants, which kept him from finding a decent job; any man who hired him would be exposed to ridicule too. He did manage to bring in a little money as a manicurist -- a trade at which he excelled. He attended to the hands of women in their own homes, but community rules were strict; María Sereno could never be found in one of our casas decentes by a husband or any other adult male; instead he had to knock by prearrangement at the back door and be willing to fall into deception should one of the men arrive unexpectedly. "He came begging for my old nail polish again, the sinvergüenza," the woman could then say, shaking her head in amused dismay at the disapproving husband or son. "You know how they are. Next he'll want to exchange recipes." And María Sereno would hang his head like a reprimanded child and stink away. That was the deal.
When there were no interruptions by the man of the house, María Sereno would arrange his tools over a black velvet cloth on someone's kitchen table and begin concentrating on the hands of the day. He took pride in his work. My mother was a regular customer, though my sister and I were sworn to secrecy about María Sereno's monthly visits to my mother's kitchen. It was up to me as the oldest to keep Mili, who was only four, from telling. Mili liked María Sereno. She had confessed to me that she wanted to be a nail-painter like him when she grew up.
In public we were to pretend that we didn't know him. But Mili sometimes forgot. That sunny autumn afternoon, Mili and I tossed a rubber ball back and forth across the little square of yard in front of our new, modern cement house that sat on a street planned according to the geometric designs of North American developers. Our yard was precisely the same size and shape as our neighbors' yards, although there were still, as I quickly learned, subtle indicators of privilege. For example, the well-tended roses, the pruned hibiscus hedges of legitimate house owners were missing from our leased space. Our father was a veteran, and we had earned our suburban life, though we did not own our house. My mother did not see any need to tend a garden on land that did not belong to her. Our barren plot let everyone know that we were not setting roots in this place. Therefore, they were hardly obligated to include us in their communal lives. So, it was as a kind of outsider myself that I began to watch the little dramas of the street and learn the language I'd need for the roles that I was soon to play.
From early on I saw María Sereno go through his daily show of defiance, and the women practice their front-yard deceit. Only eight, I did not know duplicity from manners. It was all what you were told to do, what you had to do to be gente decente, decent people, which is what we all thought we were or wanted to be -- except for María Sereno.
María Sereno strolled past our yard just as Mili missed catching the ball. He stopped in his tracks, hands on hips, and watched us, apparently fascinated with the pink-and-yellow sphere rolling toward him. Then he looked at Mili and raised one of his heavily drawn arched eyebrows -- like those of American movie stars -- and opened his mouth in mock horror. Mili giggled, apparently as delighted as I was by María Sereno's ability to transform himself from man to woman, the ultimate clown's trick. I caught my breath as I saw him grab the ball with his free hand -- he was still holding the snow cone in the other -- and take a few steps into our territory.
I knew I was to yell for Mami if anyone violated our family borders in this American-style neighborhood of strangers -- thrown together by circumstance rather than by fate or birth -- so unlike her pueblo where families and friends lived next to one another. But I froze. Was he friend or foe? He came inside our home often by invitation, though only through the back door. My mother put her beautiful hands into his big ones like she did with Papi -- the only two men she touched that way. I stood there frozen in my indecision as María Sereno knelt in front of my little sister, handed her the ball, and, taking her grimy little hand in his, pronounced her nails "Un desastre, mi amor."
Should I have screamed then? We were not to let any man who wasn't in our immediate family of father, grandfathers, and uncles touch us. Women we knew were allowed to caress and kiss us -- somehow that was different. But was María Sereno a man or a woman? I could not tell in the bright sunshine of that tropical afternoon. My mother kept saying he had been born a boy. But that was years ago, long before my time. Had he turned into a woman after that?
In total confusion -- knowing that we were being spied upon by many eyes up and down our street, by women who would tell Mami that I had let him/her come into our yard and not yelled for her like I had been told to -- I turned and dragged Mili kicking and screaming into the house. Gasping, I pushed her toward our mother, who had been mopping the pink tile floor, one of her favorite activities. She mopped daily until she could see her own reflection on the squares imported from Cuba, where Fidel Castro was hiding in the mountains and biding his time before he freed our sister island from its corrupt dictator. She seemed lost in thought, probably daydreaming about that rebel leader whom I had heard her call handsome and muy macho, but now, startled, she let the mop drop. Mili grabbed her waist, screaming that I had hurt her. I was glued to the window facing our yard. I saw that María Sereno had dropped his snow cone on the gravel and was picking up the paper cup. I saw the piragüero's face contorted with laughter, saying things I could not hear. He was slapping his metal leg as he looked this way and that, like he was a ringmaster in a circus making certain both sides of the audience had gotten the clown's joke. María crushed the paper cup and stood up. I could feel my mother close behind me with Mili still wrapped around her middle. María rolled the cup around in his palms like I did when playing with dough, then, glancing to both sides of the street as the piragüero had done, he reached his hand under his T-shirt and stuffed the paper ball inside it. The result was that he looked like he had grown a lumpy little breast, just one. He then began to walk in the slow regal pace that had been interrupted by our game, and headed toward his mother's house at the end of the street.
My mother watched him too. Her quick breathing told me she was gathering her anger; she reminded me of the new vacuum cleaner Papi had recently bought from a door-to-door salesman. It had been a strange purchase made by a man who did not realize that it's neither easy nor necessary to vacuum ceramic tiles, but who was anxious to provide his family with all the latest amenities of city life. He had been too proud to return the purchase and, in the process, to admit his ignorance to another man, who probably knew exactly what he was doing to this poor jibaro.
Copyright © 2003 Judith Ortiz Cofer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Meaning of Consuelo is a coming-of-age novel about a girl named Consuelo who is growing up in Puerto Rico. Consuelo explores her role within her family (as a woman, a sister, a daughter) as well as her role in a greater society. Coming-of-age novels are easy for students to relate to since they are coming-of-age themselves. Consuelo provides a strong female character in a culture which is different from the suburban or urban, American one that many students will be accustomed to, exposing them to diverse cultural experiences, as well as demonstrating that individuals of vastly different cultures can still think and feel the same way.
This book was truly great.
The Meaning of Consuelo The Meaning of Consuelo, a book written by Judith Ortiz Cofer, gives everybody the opportunity to understand Puerto Rican culture. This amazing novel is narrated by the main character, Consuelo Signe. This novel is about her life, and the certain events lead up to the Signe family's tragedia. I read this book, and really enjoyed it. Judith Ortiz Cofer incorporated a lot of Spanish vocabulary into the book; and the back of the book contains a glossary with the definitions of the vocabulary. There were things that I personally liked about the book, and things that I didn't like. I like how the author talks about Puerto Rico, and explains what the scenery looks like. She also gives a good idea on what the characters look like, and what their personalities are like. One thing that I found interesting was how the author made Consuelo look like the care taker of her younger sister Mili. Since Consuelo's mother asked her to take care of Mili every day, that was all Consuelo ever did except for going to school. In other words, Consuelo didn't really have the social time with her friends that every teenage girl needed. Judith Ortiz Cofer put a lot of effort to make this book very understandable for readers all over the world. I strongly recommend this book to girls, or anyone who likes to read about the cultures of the Hispanic world. The Meaning of Consuelo is definitely a book that everybody should look into reading.
The Meaning Of Consuelo is a book set in Puerto Rico. It follows the life of Consuelo, a young Puerto Rican girl. It starts out when she is eight years old. Consuelo is the main character, she is portrayed as quiet, serious, and calm. She is the complete opposite of her younger sister, Mili, which is pointed out many times throughout the book. It is shown that Mili is favored over Consuelo, because of Mili's outgoing personality. I really enjoyed this book, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a great book. I enjoyed it because you really got a sense of the culture of Puerto Rico.
This book was very good. I liked how realistic it was. I felt as if I were really in 1950`s PuertoRico. I would of just liked a little more in the ending. But otherwise, great.