Though the United States is a melting pot of different cultures, difficulties in assimilation has occurred for nearly every major ethnic group throughout their respective histories. This sample literature review explores immigration and integration themes in Judith Ortiz-Cofer’s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. The author puts forth a number of stories that describe the difficulty of growing up in the United States while attempting to actualize a Latino cultural identity.
Silent Dancing & Fighting Naked: Similarities and differences
For Latinos in the United States, assimilation, and daily life were often times a struggle that most families had to deal with. The challenges were varied and consistent when it came to learn the English language, dealing with cultural differences and raising families. Luckily, scholarship from immigrants and Latinos has left readers with a chance to really understand what life was like. Judith Ortiz Cofer, in Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, offered numerous short stories that recalled her own time growing up with a military family in the United States.
Moreover, a detailed account of growing up in a Latino family was also collected in Esmeralda Santiago’s collection, When I was Puerto Rican: A Memoir. Both of these collections offered a glimpse into the daily life and hardships of growing up in a Latino family while dealing with the duress of being an immigrant in the United States. Ultimately, while both Silent Dancing and Fighting Naked shared examples of prejudice towards immigrants and grueling work situations, Fighting Naked showcased a difference in terms of gender roles and stereotyping.
Latino struggles and discrimination
Both of the short stories gave examples of how the family was mistreated on the basis of racial prejudice. For example, in Cofer’s story of seeing her parents struggle, she recounted the way in which her father was unjustly treated.
One major challenge was that Cofer’s father had a difficult time finding an apartment on the basis of his origins: “it seems that Father had learned some painful lessons about prejudice while searching for an apartment in Paterson” (Cofer 88).
The basic human need of housing for a whole family was told as being a grueling experience for the family. Moreover, Cofer also offered examples of how her father was constantly mistaken for a Cuban and subject to discrimination based on stereotypes. Santiago also offered examples of such mistreatment when it came to her formal schooling in Fighting Naked.
Santiago lamented that the cultural standard was for kids to fight over petty reasons “…in a way unknown to me at home” (Santiago 32).
Surely, part of her mistreatment in school had to do with the cultural aspect of being foreign. Ultimately, it was clearly a challenge and similarity between the two short stories that racial prejudice played a role.
Understanding Silent Dancing’s financial themes
Another major similarity between the two stories was that the families had to work extremely hard in order to make ends meet. That is, the struggle of finding a job culminated into grueling work hours that men had to face while women took care of the family.
For instance, Fighting Naked gave an example of how “Papi didn’t come home for days. Then one night he appeared, kissed us hello, put on his work clothes, and began hammering on the walls…” (Santiago 22).
The father had to work long hours in construction while the mother, like most latino women, was burdened with taking care of the entire family with a limited supply of food and adequate housing. This notion of a difficult life was also exemplified by the dire conditions that Cofer outlined.
In recounting the home where she lived, she lamented that “my mother was as new to this concept of beehive life as I was…” (Cofer 88).
With the term beehive, it was clear that the housing was tight and not adequate for such a large family. Moreover, Cofer noted that her sleeping situation was not comfortable:
“The hiss from the valve punctuated my sleep, which has always been fitful, like a non-human presence in the room” (Cofer 88).
Surely, despite the fact that the father worked long hours, the housing that the family had was the best that they could afford. As a result, there was a strong similarity in terms of the horrendous living and working conditions that the Latino immigrants faced.
Devoid of gender-based discrimination
One major difference between the two stories was that Cofer’s story did not include any serious examples of gender-based discrimination or abuse. For instance, within Silent Dancing, Cofer remarked how her father worked really hard to make sure that the girls and mother had all of their essentials, despite being locked in the house all day.
A specific example of the father bringing in a television set was shown which was because of Christmas with gifts and a television set which was a gift over “Father’s guilt feelings of the isolation he had imposed…” (Cofer 91).
Surely, this showed that the father was concerned about the women’s loneliness in being home alone all day without other people. Despite this, Santiago’s Fighting Naked was centered on how the father mistreated his wife by cheating on her and mistreating his family. One conversation between the mother and father clearly exemplified the gender-related issues of fidelity and treatment of women:
“No, we can’t talk about this in the morning. You leave before the sun comes up, and don’t you show up until all hours, your clothes stinking like that puta” (Santiago 25).
This example clearly illustrated how gender-related issues played a key role in this story, while no the other.
Latino immigrants in the two stories faced challenges that were similar, such as racial discrimination and working long hours in disparate conditions. However, the key difference between the two was that Fighting Back showcased gender-related issues that were not present in the first one. Mainly, both stories showed how the fathers worked endless hours and the mothers were stuck with caring for the family and children. Also, racial discrimination was a clear challenge. Despite that, fidelity and mistreatment issues within Fighting Back in terms of the mother and father was not present in the first story, where the father was very conscientious of the family of women and their positions.
Ortiz-Cofer, Judith. “Silent Dancing.” Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. Boston, MA: Arte Publico Press, 1991. 87-100. Print.
Santiago, Esmeralda. When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006. Print.