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Laura briefed her four daughters on their manners before
the family went out to dinner with an important couple, the Fannings.
She warned them to behave themselves and to let her order for them. The
family had been in the United States for three months after escaping
from the secret police, and Laura would often cry or lose her temper.
She tried to interest the girls in the dinner at a Spanish restaurant
by mentioning a floorshow with flamenco dancers. Sandra was upset
by an unfriendly and prejudiced neighbor who complained about the
noise the girls made.
The family put on their best clothes for the dinner and
got excited for the special occasion. Dr. Fanning had arranged for
the family's arrival in the U.S. through a fellowship, and was helping
Carlos get a job and pass the American medical licensing exam. The
couple realized the family had little money, and wanted to treat
them to a little luxury. Sandra secretly hoped the Fannings might
adopt her so she could be rich and have an allowance. Their mother's
father paid the rent, bought the girls' clothes, and took them to
That night their father splurged and they took a taxi
to the restaurant. Sandra realized she missed the chauffeurs and
maids she was used to in the Dominican Republic. Their mother insisted
it was fair that the Fannings pay for the elegant dinner, since
her family had hosted them luxuriously when they visited the Dominican
Republic. Their father was embarrassed by his temporary inability
to support his family.
Sandra thought Dr. Fanning's wife was ugly and did not
understand why he had married her. Sandra flirted with the busboy
and drank so much water that she had to go to the bathroom. Her
father and Mrs. Fanning accompanied her, and Sandra noticed when
Mrs. Fanning planted a brief kiss on her father's lips. Sandra was
shocked by what she had seen. In the bathroom mirror she noticed
that she was a very pretty girl and could even pass for an American
because of her light coloring. Her father asked her not to tell
her mother that the drunken woman had kissed him. Sandra then feared
that the busboy would try the same thing on her. Mrs. Fanning kept
drinking more wine until Dr. Fanning told the waiter not to serve
her any more. Mrs. Fanning called him a "party fart," which the
girls did not understand. Sandra did not eat her food and instead
watched the beautiful and passionate dancers. Then Mrs. Fanning
ran on stage and made a fool of herself, which the rest of the restaurant enjoyed
watching. Sandra resented her ruining the show, though Dr. Fanning
then toasted to the family's arrival in the United States.
When offered a little Barbie doll dressed as a flamenco
dancer, Sandra ignored her mother's warning not to ask for extra
treats from the Fannings and asked to buy the doll. Her father refused,
but Mrs. Fanning insisted that her husband pay for four dolls, one
for each girl. When her mother prompted her to say thank you, Sandra made
her doll give Mrs. Fanning a kiss on the cheek and said "gracias."
The entire family feels an enormous pressure to behave
properly in an American social setting, and express their gratitude
for the favors Dr. Fanning has done for the family. They also need
to let loose for a night and have some fun after the traumas of
leaving the Island and immigrating to the United States. The family
was used to a very high standard of living in the Dominican Republic,
and they feel deprived by having to live in a small apartment, consider
the needs of unfriendly neighbors, and adapt culturally and economically
to their new situation. The outing with Dr. Fanning presents the opportunity
to prove that they can survive and even enjoy the process of becoming
Americans. Sandra's perspective on the evening is crucial because
she witnesses a darker and embarrassing side of American culture.
The Spanish restaurant serves as a kind of cultural haven, where
Sandra feels like her heritage is appreciated and celebrated rather
than complained about to the superintendent of their apartment building.
The drunken American woman intrudes into this cultural haven twice,
first by kissing her father, and secondly by interrupting the dancers'
Though Sandra seeks a respite from American culture, she
cannot separate herself in a fantasy of passion and artistry for
long. The issue of class also interrupts her family's fantasy of
luxury. Especially for a child like Sandra, who had been spoiled
in the Dominican Republic by her family's wealth and social position,
it was difficult to transition into a social setting where her family
name earned her no particular respect or extravagance. For her father,
the shame of his inability to provide his family with the same wealth
and prestige they had enjoyed at home leads to a sense of powerlessness. His
desire to fit into the American culture leaves him unprepared to deal
with an unexpected situation, and he is mortified by the idea of scandalizing
his family and his benefactor by exposing Mrs. Fanning's indiscretion.
Ironically, despite the family being on their best behavior,
the evening turns out to be an enormous embarrassment for all involved.
Sandra uses this awkward moment to get a doll, perhaps indicating
that she will be able to manipulate social situations in her new
culture to get what she wants materially.
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