Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.
As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.
In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Angie Cruz’s Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz was a story that by the title alone I was intrigued to devour. Why? I mean if you haven’t read my “About Me” biography or my previous post, Yo soy Dominicana! I will admit I delayed reading this a bit because as a mother myself, I was triggered knowing Ana was only fifteen and Juan Ruiz was 32. I kept turning the pages and judging Ana’s mother. I was furious the way she just handed Ana over to Juan, no ceremony, no clothes, just a laundry list of how-to’s good wife practices with a little brown bag.
However, after getting over the anger I started empathizing with Ana. This novel reminded me of my own mother and grandmother. Although, they were never married off to someone, My grandmother was supposed to marry someone she didn’t love. It was tradition in Dominican Republic for teenagers to be married off to older men for prestige, money or simply put, opportunity. Fortunately for our family my grandmother was more like Teresa in this book. She went with her heart and wasn’t afraid to love without placing labels and/or price tags on love.
My mother ironically, married my father who was 33 years older than her and it wasn’t an arranged marriage. Let that one sink in for a minute. My mother was Eighteen when she married my father and he was 51. My father was a US Haitian citizen who resided in Dominican Republic. Many saw opportunity in their marriage but my mother saw an intellect with an expansive vocabulary. You can say she married him out of admiration. Mami was very much like Ana when she first arrived to the US. She also felt stuck in a place where she didn’t know the language, no friends or family and carrying me on her arm. It is the most suffocating and stifling feeling for any foreigner.
Complexity in Stories We Share:
The more I read the more I began understanding things about my own culture. It was like bridging the gap and some of those bridges I chose to burn. I used to think my Dominican women were pathetic (sorry to be so raw) for putting up with domestic violence as Ana did. However, I began to see the similarities between all the women in my family and Ana’s reasoning. It was the justifying that a slap, open fist, a bruised leg is not as bad as choking. The comparison that went on in Ana’s head and the silent theory that maybe the other women are also hit; felt like a ghost from the past venturing me back to my younger days. Ana tolerated Juan’s violent outburst and drunkenness because she was afraid, lost, completely depended on him and felt responsible for her family. So much pressure weighed on the shoulders of a fifteen year old. It’s unbearable to think that this was typical Dominican behavior. Nonetheless, she remained curious. Curiosity is what I believe kept Ana going. She was curious to learn about the world around her, to become independent, and quite honestly, within this curiosity she tasted freedom.
I found it refreshing that author Angie Cruz, added complexities around racism and events that occurred during the period of Ana’s Arrival (Malcolm X killing, Dominican Republic turmoil e.g.). It was also informative to learn about the way legal system revolving land worked in Dominican Republic etc. I heard rumors when I was younger, but never really understood how land could be taken when it is private property. Although, I have never been called a spic publicly, I have experienced racism from both the black and white communities. It was like being hispanic meant you were too light to be black and too dark to be white, although, many Dominicans consider themselves white (we won’t discuss this now it’s too much to unpack), I am glad the author briefly discussed this throughout the book. I appreciated the dialogue and the representation of the varying treatments darker skinned Dominicans experienced with their own kind, Dominicans, as well. The striking conversations between Ana and her mother, her attraction towards Cesar all made it even more interesting. Cesar was of darker skinned color than his brothers with coily hair, which made this short lived romance between Ana and him, even more juicier.
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Astrid is an Afro-Latina (Dominican and Haitian) poet located in the outskirts of Philly, PA. When home you will find her playing mommy to her two boys, attempting to catch some Z's between basketball games, stuffing her face with whatever she grabs to go, attending art shows with her husband and/or writing—releasing emotion on paper. She is a full-time lover of words and works full-time in the pharma industry. Who also happens to be a blogger, novice photographer, emerging poet, rookie podcast host on I mean can we discuss, and the author of two poetry/anthology books Molt and The Serpent's Rattle.