Pack your bags and get ready to have your cheeks pinched—we're going to grandma's house. Oh yeah, and get ready for some hardcore introspection and reflection, too. This isn't "Over the River and Through the Woods"—it's Cristina García's 1992 novel, Dreaming in Cuban, a poetic meditation on her own experiences as a young Cuban-American who, like her alter-ego Pilar Puente, returned to Cuba as a young woman to meet her maternal grandmother for the first time. Like Pilar, García struggled with her "hyphenated" existence and longed to find a way to reconcile the two sides of her life in a way that would help her feel like a unified person in both public and private life. And here we thought we were just going to get spoiled with grandma's homemade cookies and pie. At least there's always Thanksgiving.
It couldn't have been an easy journey for García, as it isn't for Pilar, her grandmother Celia or her mother, Lourdes. As Pilar says:
Cuba is a peculiar exile, I think, an island-colony. We can reach it by a 30-minute charter flight from Miami yet never reach it at all. ("Six Days," 219)
She's expressing a sentiment that is felt not only by those who have been forced away from their homeland, but by those characters who spend their lives trying to make Cuba into a place that fulfills and sustains them. Let's just say—it's no easy task.
Despite Pilar's kind disposition toward the island and her years of longing to return to it, she finds, as her mother does, that there is something about Cuba that cannot be embraced or touched by outsiders (which they have now become). There is a grandeur and beauty about Havana, in particular, but sadness, poverty, and social challenges keep Cuba isolated and impenetrable far more effectively than any ring of ocean ever could.
Pilar takes a few steps toward her goal of embracing this half of her identity—she even begins dreaming in Spanish—but she can't make the whole journey in one leap. The years of separation from her beloved grandmother and another departure feel utterly daunting to her, though she knows that she really belongs back in her adopted home, New York.
If you pull up Google Maps and ask it to do something really wonky like provide walking directions from Sweden to Germany, it will find a path for you, despite the forbidding stretch of water that you'd have to cross (okay, okay—there's a ferry). But if you ask that same site to find you a way to get from, say, Hemingway's house in Florida to our main character Celia del Pino's house in Cuba (a mere 90 miles), you'll get the following message:
"Sorry, we could not calculate directions from Key West, Florida to Santa Teresa, La Habana, Cuba."
Okay, we know there's a major difference in navigating between two free European countries and moving between the hostile waters that separate Cuba and the U.S. But the Google Maps exercise reveals a deeper and more poignant truth understood by over one million exiles who have left Cuba since the revolution in 1959: you simply can't go home again. Even if you could physically cross the Straits of Florida and find the home where you grew up, there would be an invisible barrier that would keep you from being part of your native society again. How's that for uncomfortable?
If you are a member of a "hyphenated" family or have the direct experience of immigration yourself, you understand firsthand the difficulty of separation and the need for adaptation and the creation of a new identity. For the rest of us, we have narratives like García's to help build our capacity for imaginative empathy with those who take such unbidden journeys.
Who's Got the Time?
This site offers a variety of useful timelines associated with García's work. There is, of course, a timeline of events in the novel (no small feat to create, we're sure), but also a timeline for Cuba and pertinent American history and culture. Hover over entries to see images and further information.
Everything Cristina García
This is García's professional website and includes interviews, events and appearances list, her C.V. and gasp! Her phone number.
The BBC put together a wicked useful history of Cuba by using topic-oriented timelines.
The Best Of
As there are no adaptations of García's novel at this time, we thought we'd give you other opportunities to bust out the popcorn and Twizzlers. IMDB has thoughtfully compiled an extensive list of movies from or about Cuba. Don't miss Juan of the Dead or Vampiros en La Habana.
A parent in Sierra Vista, Arizona got pretty worked up when her 10th grade son had to read sexually explicit scenes from Dreaming in Cuban aloud in class.
Cristina García Speaks
Here you will find the transcript of the interview with Cristina García that appears in the 1992 Ballantine Books edition of the work.
Feeling a little light in your knowledge of how Castro came to power? A little rusty on the Bay of Pigs Invasion? BBC comes to the rescue with articles, videos, live footage of Castro and President Kennedy, pictures and audio clips.
The National Geographic video offers a look at the religion and its rites in Cuba. Warning: there are images of animal sacrifice in this footage.
Alice Donut's Dreaming in Cuban
This song was recorded in 1995, three years after the publication of García's work. Coincidence? We think not. Our suspicions are confirmed by the post-punk feel of the song. Pilar would approve.
More of a Good Thing
NPR's Melissa Block and Robert Seigel offer a brief summary of Cristina García's latest book, King of Cuba.
Thinking about Cuba, 50 Years Post-Revolution
A wide-ranging interview on Canadian Radio's "Writers and Company" show.
Sacrifice and Worship
Article and images about the rise of santería in Cuba. Warning: images of animal sacrifice.
NatGeo's Picture Book
National Geographic does it again, providing stunning images of modern Cuba.