Autobiographical essays reveal the challenges of a first-generation American.
New York Times contributing opinion writer Crucet (English and Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Nebraska; Make Your Home Among Strangers, 2015, etc.), winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, among other awards, makes an affecting nonfiction debut with a collection of essays that explore family, culture, and her identity as a Cuban American. Her parents, Cuban refugees, named her after a beauty queen in the Miss USA pageant. They believed that “you give your kids white American names so that their teachers can’t tell what they are before meeting them,” and so they have a better chance at avoiding prejudice. For Crucet’s mother, “her ideal daughter was a white girl because she had long internalized the idea that as Latinas, we’d be treated as lesser, that we were somehow lesser. And she just wanted better for me, which meant: whiter.” Because she grew up seeing Cubans who worked as doctors, police officers, and teachers, she did not realize, until she went to college in upstate New York, that mainstream American culture looked predominantly white. As a light-skinned Latina, Crucet often made a deliberate choice not to reveal her racial identity. In college, when she read Nella Larsen’s novel Passing, she “first recognized this trespassing as an act in which I had sometimes found myself but didn’t yet know how to define” and first noticed that whites “who misread me as also white” sometimes showed “the kind of pervasive racism usually reserved for white-only spaces.” Among the “white-only spaces” she sensitively examines are Disney World, “grounded in whiteness and heteronormative gender roles”; college classes, where white professors and white students singled her out “as the official Latinx ambassador”; the process of planning a wedding to a man who came from “a white monolingual American family”; and a cattle ranch in Nebraska, where she signed up to work with the hope of learning something about the culture of her prospective students at the university.
Thoughtful, deftly crafted reflections on race and identity.