Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about—he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.
This quotation opens Chapter 1, and it formally introduces the reader to the novel’s main protagonist: Oscar. Two things stand out about Yunior’s introduction. First, he presents Oscar to the reader solely in terms of his sexuality, thereby introducing male sexual identity as a major theme in the novel and in Oscar’s life. Second, Yunior emphasizes what Oscar’s sexual identity lacks, and he frames this lack as a failure on Oscar’s part to live up to the stereotype of Dominican men as sexually charismatic. Each of the examples Yunior uses to describe what Oscar was not doubles as a reference to male sexual prowess. The phrase “home-run hitter” references a man who has the capacity not just to get a date with a woman but to “score” by having sex with her. The term “bachatero” refers to a person who sings or dances to a form of music called bachata. The dance that accompanies bachata music involves a four-step pattern with punctuated pelvic flourishes that might suggest expert sexual ability. The last example, of “a playboy with a million hots on his jock,” is the most explicit of the three in its reference to male sexual prowess.
The stereotypes that Yunior offers reinforce impossible standards for Dominican male sexuality that prove damaging throughout the novel. These standards had a negative impact on Oscar throughout his life. In his early years, Oscar appeared sexually precocious, demonstrating a degree of swagger that earned his family’s admiration. Oscar’s swagger also earned him comparisons to Porfirio Rubirosa, a historical figure whose infamous sexual prowess turned him into a household name among Dominicans. However, as he grew into a shy, dorky, overweight adolescent, Oscar felt the loss of his sexual confidence acutely. He retreated into himself and felt increasingly ashamed that he couldn’t live up to the hypersexuality displayed by many Dominican men. Yunior was a man in Oscar’s life who had apparently achieved the ideal of Dominican male sexuality, and he cultivated a public persona as a jock and a womanizer. Yet Yunior’s sexual prowess caused much heartache for the women he frequently cheated on. Whereas Oscar’s inability to live up to these standards of masculinity greatly harmed his self-worth and contributed to his depression, Yunior’s success greatly harmed others.