Book Review: Open Borders - Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García
One year ago, I sat with two friends in a bakery down the street from Seattle Pacific University, where we were taking a class on Latinx Literature. We ordered sticky buns and chatted about the latest novel we were reading – Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Gacría. This outing was inspired by the character Lourdes in García’s novel, whose bakery (named “Yankee Doodle Bakery”) is the epicenter of the American Dream, and a reflection of her ideologies of what it means to be “American.”
Lourdes roots her self-expression in her appearance. By overeating sticky buns and gaining significant weight, she is the embodiment of the fat American stereotype. She sells apple tartlets, her version of American pie – reinforcing her patriotism. Lourdes fully embraces every aspect of American culture around her, including wearing a red, white, and blue suit to the opening of her Yankee Doodle Bakery. García describes Lourdes as such an over-the-top expression of American identity to emphasize how much Lourdes rejects her Cuban identity and culture once she immigrates.
The novel also recounts stories of the rest of the del Pino family – consisting of Lourdes and her daughter, Pilar, who immigrated from Cuba to New York City, and Celia and Felicia, Lourdes’s mother and sister, who both live in on the island. The novel describes a central object or person that each woman entrusts her identity to, which García uses to contrast the women’s generational differences. Despite these differences, these women are connected to each other through their Latinx identity.
García uses the stories of these women to illustrate how generational differences affect the ways Latinx individuals experience – or reject – their culture. For example, Lourdes despises her mother’s decision to stay in Cuba and describes Celia’s love for El Líder (a stand in for Fidel Castro) with distain. Lourdes cannot understand her mother’s unwillingness to progress; Lourdes believes herself to be the progressive one of the family, moving to the U.S.A. and fully adopting American habits. Pilar, too, lives in objection to her own mother’s views, disagreeing with Lourdes’s obsession with the American Dream.
Although the family has their disagreements on political leaders and expression, García connects these women to each other, and to their culture, in a beautiful way. In a culture that so often is consumed with hyper masculinity and machismo, García uses Dreaming in Cuban as an ode to love between these women. Using the geography of Cuba as an island, and New York City being surrounded by water, García repeats a central theme: that the ocean blurs lines and barriers, and connects these women – to their past, to each other, and to themselves. As much as they wrestle with, push away, or hold onto various aspects of their cultural identity, the lines that outline who they are will never be solid. They will never be drawn in solid borders.
This description of imperfect borders is what makes Dreaming in Cuban an important piece of Latinx Literature (and one of my all-time favorite reads). Because Latinx culture is so multifaceted and cannot be pinned down by any singular race, ethnicity, nationality, or even language – the lines that contain this cultural group are blurred, like García describes. Reading García’s novel brings Latinx individuals – like myself – a sense of solidarity; there is no singular experience in this identity.
About the author: Analyn Grasz is a student at Seattle Pacific University, planning on graduating in June 2020 with a degree in Integrated Studies. She hopes to one day have a classroom of her own. Until then, she spends her time baking, going to concerts, and working with children.