The aim of this chapter is to suggest that both the society and the family have their significant role as formative units to an individual. Both of these factors coexist in a parallel relation and in optimal conditions they reach a unity. However, as I am going to prove in this chapter, social environment often gets into a conflict with familial and/or individual spirit, which might have a harmful impact to an individual and his/her relationships. Such inner conflict is distinctively pronounced in García’s Cuban family. As a Cuban immigrant born in Havana, García used the novel as a mean to reassess her individual and familial dislocation between two national bodies. As she explains in the interview with Scott Brown:
I grew up with very bifurcated sense of myself. At home, things were intensely Cuban. In the rest of my life, it had very little meaning. I probably thought of myself, first and foremost, as a New Yorker – an urban kid with an affinity for many cultures yet beholden to none. It wasn’t until I started to write fiction that my private Cuban self merged with my public self.(251)
Cuban’s approach to women’s issues differs in many aspects from other Latin American countries. Susan Kaufman Purcell presents three factors which attribute to the fact that Cuban women had achieved higher status towards men than women in any other Caribbean country. First, the influence of Catholic church with its patriarchal traditions proved to be less important in Cuba than in neighboring countries. Second, unlike most other Latin American countries, Cuba never developed system emphasizing traditional patriarchal authority. Rather, Cuban plantations employed a wage-earning labor force. This agricultural structure engendered a stronger, more independent role for women in society. Third, Cuban socialist revolution itself emphasized equal opportunities for both men and women and one of the goal of the revolution was to involve women to public life.
Even before the Revolution women had been elected to Cuba's House of Representatives and Senate. They had served as mayors, judges, cabinet members, municipal counselors, and members of the Cuban foreign service. The Constitution of 1940, one of the most progressive in the Western Hemisphere with regard to women's status, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex and called for equal pay for equal work.
The Revolution in 1959 brought changes in all political system in country. Despite many objections against communism, the new system undoubtedly contributed to higher education and employment rate among women as we can see from the following text5:
Prior to revolution most Cubans believe that the woman's place should center on the home. By the late 1940's however, Cuban society had accepted the idea that upper-class and upper-middle class women might choose to work in the absence of financial need, provided the labor occurred in a 'respectable" professional or bureaucratic setting. At the same time lower-class women, who often had to perform low-status menial labor outside the home, could rarely afford what was seen as the luxury of unemployment. Organized child care in prerevolutionary Cuba remained extremely limited. Often, lower-class working women took their older daughters out of school to supervise younger children and, in essence, to serve as surrogate mothers. This contributed to a high drop-out rate among girls.
In 1943, for example, women comprised only 10 percent of labor force. Ten years later the figure had increased to 13.7 percent. Although dramatically underrepresented in white-collar and blue-collar jobs, women did account for approximately 46 percent of Cuba's professionals and semiprofessionals.
6.2García: Conflict between two worlds
In her novel, García managed to highlight familial conflict between generations, where the generational gap was empowered by political consequences, raising from the context of Cuban revolution. Throughout the novel we can follow the theme of nationalist antipathies between U.S. and Cuba as a red thread. Therefore, García shows us the extent to which the situation within the society influences private lives of its members and in this chapter I am going to analyze its consequent effect on relationship within the family.
Pilar, the most split character in the novel, started her narration at the age of 13, when she decided to escape from her parents’ house in Brooklyn and to return to her grandmother who lives in Cuba. She provided readers with the political disputes which had saturated her memories from the early age. When her mother decided to leave Cuba, Pilar was only two years old. Pilar remembered that she lost her loving grandmother Celia that day, because Celia decided to stay on the island, and they had not seen each other since that time. Such an early loss has influenced Pilar’s future life more than one would assume. She had never been able to create close tights with her mother, neither Lourdes was able to forgive Celia her devotion to Cuban regime. From thirteen years old girl we learn about her mother’s political view, and her hatred for communism: “ My mother says that Abuela Celia’s had plenty of chances to leave Cuba but that she’s stubborn and got her head turned around by El Líder. Mom says “Communist” the way some people says “cancer,” low and fierce.”(26) Considering Pilar’s indifferent feelings towards her mother, especially reinforced by her age combined with longing for her grandmother, we will understand her strong attraction to Cuba as well as her over-critical attitude towards the community they lived with her parents.
The novel touches the issue of ethnic identity via Cubans’ relation to other migrant groups. As stated earlier in this thesis, Cuban Americans are considered to be the most successful migrant group within the whole Hispanic community. Generally, Cubans enjoy a reputation of dedicated entrepreneurs who came to the United States with nothing and built a profitable business. A reader of the novel can trace that feeling of superiority to other immigrants, when Pilar informs that her mother “hires real down-and-outs, immigrants from Russia or Pakistan, people who don’t speak any English, figuring she can get them cheap.”(31) Although immigrant herself, Lourdes is depicted in an exploitive way towards others and furthermore she considered herself to be the “welcome wagon” as Pilar continues: “She believes she’s doing them a favor by giving them a job and breaking them in to American life.(32) This way, Lourdes conveyed not only her strong desire to assimilate within the major American society but also indicated that her assimilation process had succeeded. Lourdes is not portrayed in any supportive role, instead she dissociated from her staff, giving them hard time, suggesting their dishonesty and taking humiliating process of checking their purses. According to the role of out-Herod Herod, in Lourdes’ person we might trace higher level of hostility towards immigrants than in “real” Americans.
Lourdes’ American patriotism is traced in her business activities, too. In the occasion of the Fourth of July celebration she planned to sell "tricolor cup-cakes and Uncle Sam marzipan" to express her conviction that "she can fight Communism from behind her bakery counter" (136) Lourdes perceived every opportunity to prove herself pure American “like huge burning effigy of el Líder” (137). That way she managed to distance herself from her Cuban roots, accepted commercial way of bicentennial celebration and became part of a nation-building project. This behavior is in concord with previous chapter where I wrote about her ability to settle in new country. Although Lourdes admitted that she “missed the birds she had in Cuba”, she did her best to leave her past behind.
García alludes to Mexican community as well: Pilar’s first boyfriend, whose mother had come from Mexico, was fond of Lourdes, although she denied giving him any respect. Pilar speculated about any reason for such affection and finally she concluded that “his mother cleans motel rooms for minimum wage, so I guess Mom must seem exotic by comparison” (137) This remark is interesting for us mainly in respect to the topic of this thesis, since Mexican and Cuban women are directly confronted with one another, and unfavorable position of the Mexicans is apparent even to their own children.
Pilar, unlike her mother, did not conform to American standards and she expressed that in her own provocative way. With her inclination to anarchism, she represents the most rebellious female character in the novel. When she was asked to decorate her mother’s bakery, she portrayed the Statue of Liberty as a punk. By this revolting act she aimed to rebel against her mother’s ideals and offended basic American values in the same time. Lourdes was exposed to inner conflict – whether to defend National Symbolic she believed in and which Pilar had just betrayed, or to defend her daughter from the crowd of indignant immigrants. Finally, her maternal instinct won and she acted naturally as any other loving mother, becoming aggressive in order to protect her child’s controversial work. Pilar described the scene: “as if in slow motion, she tumbles forward, a thrashing avalanche of patriotism and motherhood, crushing three spectators and a table of apple tartlets. And I, I love my mother very much at that moment.” (144) This is probably the strongest and the most emotional scene of the novel. Mother-daughter tights are openly confronted with social environment. Despite many disputes between each other, both protagonists were passing through strong emotions, both are struggling between their public and private self. While Pilar overcame her fear of mother’s reaction in favor to demonstrate her rebellious spirit, Lourdes as the more matured one, let herself express her essential feeling – strong protective maternal instinct. This emotional outburst functioned as a cleansing flame in their mutual relationship - no matter how much they disagree with each others’ public face, when critical situation arose, they naturally showed their mutual love.