Cruz (Soledad, 2001), chronicler of New York Dominican life, traces a family’s embittering struggle to establish itself between a revolutionary Dominican Republic (circa 1965) and early 1990s Bronx.
Don Chan of Los Llanos, D.R., is the patriarch and anchor of this somber tale. A Chinese who somehow washed up on the beach when he was a child, he ended up marrying the same woman, Caridad, who discovered and took care of him 70 years before, and with whom he tended a farm he acquired during the revolutionary days of the mid-60s. But Caridad has died, and Don Chan leaves his country for the first time in 1991 to live with his son and family in New York City, where Santo and Esperanza fled ten years prior to work as a cab driver and nurse’s aide, respectively, while trying to raise two children in a better life. To Don Chan, however, they live like rats, in a tiny, noisy apartment with much crime, fear and no trees; he fires Santo up remembering the good old days when the peasants, led by Don Chan and the prophetic teenager Miraluz, organized themselves and tried to resist the rich dictator Trujillo, even briefly voting in their own president, Juan Bosch. Yearning for home proves too much for Santo, who becomes the tragic casualty of a cab holdup, while Esperanza, educated on Dallas reruns, rejects her past as a defeat and disastrously embraces the acquisitiveness of America. Their children, most unfortunately, are caught up in this generational mayhem, and Don Chan, resistant to the changes of the present, adrift in Nueva York, gradually loses hold of his sanity. Cruz handles this sad tale with dignity devoid of melodrama. She demonstrates enormous affection for her characters without sentimentalizing their naivete or ignorance. Her Esperanza, for example, is a silly, greedy creature, willfully self-disillusioned yet also tremendously adaptable and devoted to her family.
A powerful, affecting second effort.