You know what you are? With hopes of saving enough money to send for her son and raise him with opportunities, she came to New York. But her story is that of so many Puerto Rican women who came to the big city during the Great Migration 19 and live to tell only of their struggles— economic, spiritual, political—to survive. By showing our humanity, even to ourselves, the stories can serve to combat both our internalized self-hate and the hatred others direct at us.
Mohr is one of the very few Puerto Rican authors who deal with heterosexism, homophobia, and homosexuality in the context of their writings. Rudi, the owner of the luncheonette that provides a common backdrop to all of the stories in In Nueva York, characterizes the clash of cultures that so permeates the Puerto Rican reality on both the island and mainland: the American culture that places priority on economic advancement and the rule of law, and the Puerto Rican culture that places priority on communal responsibility and the will of God.
Listen to me! Fifteen years was all that he was allowed to live in this world before he was shot down like a dog and buried without a marker! I am all alone. I cannot have his father make things right. He must have a headstone to show that he was part of this world. God in Heaven has to help me reach that man who shot my boy! After a confrontation with Rudi, who makes it known that he was cleared of all charges by the court, Mrs. You have an obligation to my son! You shot a boy, not an animal! You say the courts cleared you, eh?
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What about God? Are you cleared with Him? What do you want? For God sakes, why are you here after three months? What do you want from me?
A headstone, Mr. Padillo, so that everyone will know that my son Tommy once lived, and so I will have a place to go and mourn him, a place with his name. Mohr shows us what happens when we, like Rudi, forget the will to love within our own culture; that is, even without the cultural clash of American and Puerto Rican values, there are ways in which the culture prohibits a large majority of its people to express the fullness of their being, namely women. In this sense, every story has a name of its own Zoraida, Carmela, Virginia, etc.
It is a struggle that parallels that of the Puerto Rican community for self-determination and freedom from colonial dominance. The stories show our capability for such relationships and evidence of their existence; the stories also give voice to the experiences of those who are victimized by the absence of such relationships.
As a storyteller, she often takes on the persona of one-in-relation; that is, her characters are often those of child in relation to parent, mother in relation to child daughter in her case , wife in relation to husband, grandchild in relation to grandmother, and so forth. In the context of these relationships, we see a woman struggling to come to terms, in resistance and acceptance, with the ways the other impacts upon her life.
She seems to suggest that we are most destructive to ourselves and others when we refuse to acknowledge the contradictions we live and embody and when we equate reconciliation with negation and denial. In her only novel to date, The Line of the Sun, Ortiz Cofer introduces the narrator, Marisol, the daughter of Ramona, around whose family the story revolves.
My mother told me her story throughout the long, lonely first season of our newest exile. In the years that followed I concluded that the only way to understand a life is to write it as a story, to fill in the blanks left by circumstance, lapses of memory, and failed communication.
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An example of such a disaster occurs in The Line of the Sun: the apartment building where Marisol lives is set ablaze when a spiritist meeting turns chaotic. The spiritist meeting itself occurred without any consideration of the new environment.
This is not to pass judgement on the medium, in this case Elba, who had no choice but to hold the ritual in her apartment. The burden is to tell the story in such a way as to provoke some response, a healing response that must change given the change of circumstances and forces against us. As such, Marisol, not Elba, is the true medium of healing and hope because she tries through her narration to reconcile her own spirit with the traditions of her family.
In order to survive in new circumstances and to be truly free to love and create, we, like Marisol, must confront the contradictions and live through them; this is of particular importance for women whose silence and invisibility are usually deadly. Yet, the line of the sun is also the borderline between old and new, south and north, Puerto Rico and the United States, that come together in her very being. One day I would have the courage to put it all together, I thought: a puzzle that would reveal many things about my own life.
Perhaps I would start the story in the present and go back, giving myself more and more freedom to invent ways of telling it. Her autobiography props up the myth of the American dream: poor immigrant country girl overcomes all the odds and climbs the ladder of societal success to the highest rung. Ten years her senior, he impregnated but refused to marry her when she was fourteen.
A coffee brewer for a split lip. A toaster oven for a black eye. A rocking chair for a broken rib that kept her out of work for a week. Without giving away the entire story, its ending appears all too familiar.test.galenachamber.com/map80.php
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There is no transformation or reconciliation in the story itself. This is not what we are prepared, nor wish, to hear. But this is the message we must hear if we are to have an authentic response to the prophetic imagination of the author. It is precisely this prophetic message that jolts our complacent consciousness, that makes us think about our condition in a new way but that refuses to prescribe an easy solution.
To say we are accomplices in our continued captivity is, at the very least, to acknowledge the theft of our spirit, and, more importantly, to recognize our inner, collective power, our moral agency, to get it back. In our hearts, we want to believe independence is the right choice, but our history forces us to see it as a lost cause. Still, we are not willing to give up so completely as to vote for statehood. It would be the ultimate statement of our surrender. This is why so many Puerto Ricans will vote for the status quo.
It fosters the illusion of choosing a destiny, neither capitulating nor fighting.
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But it continues to evade the question of who we are as a people. An elusive cultural identity lies at the heart of our unwillingness to declare ourselves either a nation or a state.
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Ironically, neither violent insurrection nor the democratic process seem able to solve that question. We need to look at ourselves hard and stop hiding behind the status quo. It is not a choice. It is a refusal to choose. Her story illustrates how the silence that envelopes such a refusal slowly but certainly leads to greater isolation and alienation.
Her involvement in any meaningful community is nonexistent; she listens to the sermons of the Pentecostal preacher from her porch as they are broadcast to the neighborhood on a Saturday night. While they share the same child care and housekeeping tasks, they are different, she reasons, since they are Latin American and she is American. Santiago conveys the incredible hardship of breaking such a cycle, given our history of oppression. Can we call her an accomplice after acknowledging her victimization and survival? Her story is truly a tragedy.
First, through the form of the parable, it allows us to see the condition of Puerto Rican women in particular and Puerto Rico in general as unjust to the core. There are no illusions to suggest otherwise.
Second, the author leaves us and the story unreconciled. Reality has been presented, imaginatively and in sharp relief, with no conclusion nor the possibility of conclusion in ways which will ease our conscience. The abuser winds up for the ultimate blow.
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