Last spring I had the pleasure of taking a class called Ethnic American Minority Literature. The books were excellent and here is a response I wrote on Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban.
Displaced identity is examined in Dreaming in Cuban as Cristina Garcia explores the consequences of self-exile as represented by the Lourdes character’s hatred of her birthplace and her struggle to sustain her huntress identity in her new home of America. This struggle sees Lourdes do everything to put Cuba behind her physically (in terms of locality) and mentally (her embrace of capitalism). While Latino literature often examines themes of conflicted identity caused by exile, Garcia uses Lourdes’ diametric attitude towards Cuba to show exile can cause a refutation of national identity, as Lourdes abandons her Cuban identity and embraces her American identity. Lourdes becomes a successful entrepreneur, a reflection of her identity as a huntress, regardless of where she lives. Lourdes’ success in maintaining her identity in America comes at a cost as she loses her love for Cuba.
The theme of identity is common to Latino
literature as writers explore the displacement of people from their country due to unrest caused by American imperialism and its destabilizing involvement in foreign affairs. Here, Cuba, which became independent in 1902 but which was still subject to American occupation and intervention, found itself vulnerable to corruption (as shown with the Batista regime) resulting in civil unrest that continued during and after the Cuban Revolution. The revolution occurred because of American interference in Cuba, both during the Batista regime and after the Cuban Revolution when the United States refused to recognize Cuba, placed an embargo on it, and tried to depose Castro through the Bay of Pigs operation. Lourdes’ homeland as she knows it, has been destroyed (which it can be argued is ironic since she takes on the role of a citizen of the country that indirectly or directly destroyed everything she loved about Cuba).
Like many revolutions, the post-revolution period sees societal upheaval as Lourdes and her husband’s land is seized, a contributing factor in their American exile. Exile can mean a forced absence but in Lourdes’ case it is a “…state or a period of voluntary absence from one's country or home” (“Exile”). This self-exile affords Garcia an innovative way to address the theme of displaced identity.
While Latino literature often shows exiled characters longing for spaces and geographies left behind, that is not the case with Lourdes. Lourdes’ actions and behavior show a pronounced difference between other Cuban exiles who seek a similar climate and a community of fellow Cubans. Lourdes does not embrace the Cuban community in Miami with its Cuba-like climate. Instead, she tells her husband, “I want to go where it’s colder” (69), and when they reach New York, “This is cold enough.” (70) It can be argued Lourdes wants nothing to do with her former homeland, whether it is its weather or reminisces of good times.
Latino literature often sees conflicted identity as exiled characters deal a longing for their dual identity as exiles from one country and residents in another. This can show the consequences of imperialism and while Garcia does examine conflicted identity through characters such as Pilar and Rufino, her examination through Lourdes is creative, and arguably more effective as Lourdes abandons her Cuban identity, taking on her American identity wholeheartedly. In the process, she continues the same defiance of traditional gender roles she had in Cuba. It is arguable Lourdes’ identifies as a huntress, despite gender roles of the 1960’s (and later 70’s). Even in Cuba, Garcia notes that “Lourdes never accepted the life designated for its women” (130). She takes on a traditional male role when she defends her husband’s property from the Cuban soldiers and the role of provider when her husband is unable to adapt to working in America. The text suggests Lourdes validates her American identity partially through operating a successful business. Lourdes’ determination to succeed is seen despite setbacks such as the return of her dead father. “Lourdes works extraconscientiously, determined to prove to herself that her business acumen, at least, is intact” (66). Lourdes has difficulty keeping employees due to her work ethic, “Nobody works like an owner” (67). Lourdes will not settle for anything but the best from her employees, which means she goes through them on a daily basis. “Lourdes felt a spiritual link to American moguls, to the immortality of men like Irenee du Pont, “She envisioned a chain of Yankee Doodle bakeries stretching across America…” (171) Garcia strongly suggests Lourdes equates business success with being a good American. This success and ability to provide for her family is arguably a way for her to validate her huntress identity.
Lourdes’ hatred of her former home is part of her new identity, and should not be interpreted as a case of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” where her hatred of Cuba hides a secret love for her homeland. Lourdes’ compounded trauma in losing her child and her subsequent rape by Cuban soldiers leads her to hate Cuba and everything the revolution represents. This is seen in her American patriotism and continued digs at her mother whether it is sending her pictures of pastries or reminding her of Cuba’s economic woes. Even when Lourdes returns to Cuba, she disparages the nation to its citizens at every opportunity.
Cristina Garcia suggests why Lourdes hates Cuba. Her homeland has betrayed her not so much by the new regime causing such an upheaval but by its ignoring Lourdes’ loss. “What she fears most is this: that her rape, her baby’s death were absorbed quietly by the earth, that they are ultimately no more meaningful than falling leaves on an autumn day. She hungers for a violence of nature, terrible and permanent, to record the evil. Nothing less would satisfy her” (Garcia 227). As a huntress, Lourdes defends her family from all harm and it’s arguable she expects the same from her homeland. When Cuba fails to acknowledge Lourdes’ loss, it loses her respect.
Garcia chooses to explore the related themes of identity and exile in Dreaming in Cuban through Lourdes in a nontraditional manner, showing an exile who is not only content with her new home but disdainful of her original home. Although Garcia shows Lourdes successfully adapting in America, this should not be interpreted as a pleasant picture of displacement caused by American imperialism. While Lourdes is successful in embracing her new identity, it can be argued her loss of her Cuban identity makes it a pyrrhic victory.
"Exile." Merriam-Webster.com. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exile. Accessed 8
Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. Ballantine Books, 1993.