Four characters spanning three generations dominate the storyline of Dreaming in Cuban (Garcia, 1992), four women of the same blood who could not possibly contrast more. Centered on the rise to power of Fidel Castro and the ways in which the members of the family del Pino embraced or rejected la revolucion, Dreaming in Cuban is poignant tale enriched with beautiful language. The matriarch of the family is Celia del Pino, a woman whose passion for the lost love of her youth can be replaced only, but not completely, by her ardor for the socialist ideals Castro brings to the island.
Celia stands alone in her patriotic zeal; her lone companero in the family, son Javier, disappears to Czechoslovakia to further the movement there and to hide his politics from his father, Jorge. Celia is, of all her family, the only one suited to bear the torment life brings to them all. She knew before they were born that her daughters, though flesh of her flesh, would be strangers to her.
And although she would realize before his death that she had grown to love her husband, it was a different love than the torturous passion she bore for Gustavo, her wayward Spanish lover who disappeared from her life completely when she was just a young woman, not a love to replace but to reside, understandingly, alongside it. Even her zeal for El Lider and the revolution, a cause to which she could devote herself fully as she was never able as a wife and mother, exposed to her that quality which is mostly non-existent among men, a spirit of generosity.
She knew that, without it, Cuba would fail (Garcia 114,115). Celia’s daughters are as different as the countries they live in. Lourdes, eldest, whose name her mother at her birth vowed to forget (Garcia 43), would immigrate to America to escape Castro and the revolution, while Felicia would be imprisoned by cruel husband who would nearly destroy her. Lourdes, always her father’s daughter, was fittingly named after the miraculous French locale (Garcia 42). Fitting not because there was anything miraculous about her, but because it reflected the faith Jorge embraced and Celia scorned.
By being born a girl, Lourdes denied her mother the chance to escape her marriage and seek out Gustavo in Spain, and it was perhaps due to the consequent shunning that Lourdes’ various attempts at different types of fulfillment are seemingly in vain. Whether by constantly eating, constantly sexually devouring her poor husband, over-mothering her daughter Pilar or harrying the immigrants who are always so briefly in her employ, Lourdes never manages to be fully satisfied with herself or with the world.
Even her conversations with her father after his death left her confused and disoriented, as if the solace he sought to bring her only furthered her malcontent. Felicia was also named with portent, though in a much more sinister fashion than her sister. When Celia was in the hospital she met a woman who had murdered her husband by dousing him in gasoline and lighting him on fire. She would later be killed, also by being burned alive. Her name was Felicia; Celia would name her second daughter in memory of her friend.
Felicia would grow to marry a man, a merchant marine who was rarely home, and when he was only to abuse his wife and share his venereal diseases. Losing herself in that horrible place that resides choosing between family and family, Felicia would eventually seek to free herself as her namesake had, by burning her husband. Unfortunately for Felicia she did not manage to fully escape the clutches of unreality, and she would even drag her young son Ivanito into its grasp. Pilar is Lourdes’ headstrong, rebellious daughter.
Having moved to America with her mother at a very young age, she has a rather idyllic memory of her grandmother and Cuba, but it is what she longs to return to. For her entire life in the U. S. , her mother has sought to repress her, much as she would like to suppress the revolution the took her homeland from her. Much as Lourdes remembers the first words her mother spoke in her presence, Pilar remembers conversations word for word all the way back into her infancy. Pilar’s great understanding of things at such a young age was likely why she did not simply accept things for what they were as many children do.
And her refusal to accept the state of things, a feeling all of the other women in her family can readily identify with, would lead to her running away bringing on a whole new world of problems to understand. From generation to generation, the women of the del Pino family are constantly and consistently different. Pilar was born at the beginning of the revolution but would grow up away from it, her mother and aunt were the of the generation targeted by the movement but would ultimately resist it, and only Celia, her grandmother, of the conservative generation mostly likely to scorn socialism would completely embrace it.
And so each generation of the family stood alienated; alienated from the others of their own respective generations whose ideals did not match their own, and alienated from their own family members for the same reason and many more. Looking back on one’s own life, it is easy to remember the feeling of the latter, rolling your eyes at your out-dated parents or sighing in exasperation at your rebellious children. But imagine having no peers to turn to, no comrades to share stories and advice with, no empathy anywhere to be found. It is no wonder fulfillment was ever beyond their grasp.
If the women of this story share any common ground, it is in their blood and their inability to find peace. And one, quite possibly, could be used to help the other. A great deal of the trials these women face lie in the division amongst them, and if they ever tried to address that, then maybe they wouldn’t have to continually seek answers in pecan sticky buns and Cuban sugar cane fields and Santeria cults. Perhaps that is the solace the spirit of Jorge del Pino is trying to bring; perhaps he is saying, “You are my family, my blood, my wife, my daughters, my granddaughters. Know that there will be differences.
Know that you have made mistakes and will have regrets. Agree to disagree. Forgive one another. Love one another. Move on. ” Perhaps that is a little too simplistic. But I recognize something in this story that is all too common among people, a throw-your-hands-up attitude that occurs when life happens and the current feels too strong. People are willing to surrender to one crisis in order to reach the calm waters that bridge the gap to the next. But if you don’t learn how to handle the rapids, what do you do when you reach the waterfall? References Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. New York, Ballantine. 1992.
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