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Yolanda had returned to the Dominican Republic for the
first time in five years, possibly to stay on a permanent basis.
Her extended family had prepared a cake to welcome her home, shaped
like the Island. Candles marked out the major cities, and her younger
cousins fought over who would get to eat which city. One of the
maids could not find matches to light the candles, so they waited
for her to fetch some from the neighbor's house. Yolanda's aunts
and cousins bluntly criticized her appearance, as Yolanda silently
critiqued theirs. Her aunts complained about how difficult it was
to find good help these days, for instance a chauffeur who could
keep the car full of gas. Yolanda was struck by the maids' gestures
of pleading that she recognizes from illustrated Renaissance books.
She also had difficulty speaking in Spanish, stumbling over what
she wanted to explain and missing certain key words. Her aunts explained
that the word antojo means a craving for something
you want to eat, or more specifically, the desire of someone who
has been taken over by a saint. Yolanda decided that her antojo was
to drive north into the countryside toward the coast to look for
guavas. The aunts cautioned her against this plan, as it was dangerous
for a woman to travel alone through the mountains in an expensive
car. Taking a bus was also out of the question, because Yolanda
would have to ride with campesinos, or peasants.
Yolanda decided to drive north anyway, in a Datsun borrowed from
a cousin. As she drove, she enjoyed the scenic countryside, and wondered
if the Island would be her permanent home. She was startled by an
army bus full of leering soldiers, and was also unnerved by an armed
guard patrolling in front of a flowery mansion. She suspected that
her relatives owned the mansion. She stopped in a small village
to ask where to find fresh guavas to pick herself. An old woman
suggested that her grandson could guide her to the guava grove,
so Yolanda took a group of young boys guava picking. After they
had loaded the car with guavas, they got a flat tire. Yolanda told
the boy she would give him a dollar if he would run back to the mansion
to ask for help. While he was gone, two men with machetes approached
the car and asked Yolanda if she needed help. She was terrified
of the men and could not move or speak. When they asked if she was
American she responded in English and tried to explain that she
had a flat tire. They changed the tire for her and she gave them
money to thank them for their help. She drove down the road to find
the boy who she sent for help. Because the security guard did not
believe that a Dominican woman would be out alone after sunset,
the boy was beaten for telling lies.
Yolanda has traveled to the Dominican Republic in order
to search for her cultural and personal identity. Her difficulty
relating to her relatives and other Dominicans reflects the emotional
complexity of immigration. Having left her home country at a very
young age, she has lost much of the language and culture that forms
her family background and national heritage. For this reason, she
approaches situations differently than the rest of her family, and
there is a gap between their cultural perspective and her own. This
gap leads to a certain distance between her and the other members
of the family. The intimacy she should feel upon being reunited
with her aunts and cousins contrasts with the alienation she actually
Yolanda's return to her extended family is complicated
because she does not fit into Dominican culture the way her cousins
do. She sticks out physically because she dresses informally and
wears her hair long and naturally, whereas her cousins wear designer
pantsuits and color their hair. She does not fit in linguistically
because she has forgotten much of her Spanish and cannot express
herself well. She also has a dramatically different perspective
on class than the rest of her family. She notices the poor treatment
that the maids receive, as well as deferential physical postures
that reflect their class subordination. They seem to adopt these
humble postures to deflect the aunts' verbal abuse, and Yolanda
sympathizes with them rather than her complaining aunts.
Because she has left the United States and is considering
staying in the Dominican Republic permanently, we can guess that
Yolanda does not fit in well to American culture, either. Yet, during
her moment of greatest crisis and fear, she embraces her identity
as an American and chatters on in English to the men who only want
to solve her car trouble. Her initial distrust of the men reflects
her fears of the Dominican Republic and all the unknowns it represents. Though
she should be at home in her home country, she feels like a stranger
and is more comfortable when treated as a foreigner.
Yolanda consistently expects the wrong reaction from the Dominicans
she meets. She expects the two men with machetes to try and harm
her, when in fact they only want to help her on her way. She also
expects the mansion security guard to respect the young boy she
sends for help. Yet because she does not behave as a Dominican woman
would, the guard does not believe the boy's story. This event shows
that Yolanda will not be able to integrate herself into Dominican
culture and society as if she had never left. Her twenty-nine years
living in the United States has shaped her identity, so she can
only return to her homeland as an outsider.
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