Junot Diaz

I’m always intrigued by stories like “Invierno” – of an adult reflecting on childhood experiences. (To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorites.) This story contains some universal childhood anecdotes (fighting with a sibling, getting dressed up when guests come over). But there are also some aspects that are unique to Yunior’s experience of being an immigrant. His family doesn’t know any English, so they watch a lot of TV to try to learn the language. This didn’t seem to be very effective. Later, when Yunior tries to play with the neighbors, he can’t communicate: “We sat there for a while, my head aching with desire to communicate…” (141). I can imagine that this language barrier would be very frustrating for a little kid, especially since Yunior seemed so optimistic about befriending his neighbors: “This was my first real encounter with Americans and I felt loose and capable” (137). Poor Yunior never does get the chance to befriend his neighbors, though, because of White Flight. “In less than a year they would be gone. All the white people would be. All that would be left would be us colored folks” (141-142). I’ve learned about White Flight in a few of my classes. The racial minorities come into a neighborhood, and the white people promptly leave. This phenomenon leads to highly segregated neighborhoods. Because white people don’t want to live in predominantly black or Latino neighborhoods, property values in these neighborhoods go down, and the residents are left with poorly funded schools and fewer resources in their neighborhoods.

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“The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars” is earlier in the book, but later in Yunior’s life. He is an adult now, and has cheated on his girlfriend. Usually, I don’t have sympathy for cheaters, but I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. He seems to feel at least a little guilty about cheating on his girlfriend, since he keeps reassuring himself that he’s not a bad guy. The story starts with him saying “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds – defensvie, unscrupulous – but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good” (3). (On another note, this quote also brings up an interesting thought about human nature – is it true that everyone is “basically good”?) Later, he again is trying to convince himself that he isn’t a bad guy: “I’m thinking over and over, I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a bad guy” (22).  Seems to me like a manifestation of guilt.

Like the White Flight in “Invierno”, there are also instances of racial discrimination in “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars.” In a pretty blatant example, Yunior says “All of Magda’s friends say I cheated because I was Dominican, that all us Dominican men are dogs and can’t be trusted. I doubt I can speak for all Dominican men but I doubt they can either” (18-19). Magda’s friends aren’t even trying to hide their prejudices against Dominican men. In another example, Yunior says “When she smiles niggers ask for her hand in marriage; when I smile folks check their wallets” (16). This sounds to me like racial profiling. People are suspicious of Yunior; they pass a harsh judgment on him – thinking that he will steal from them – seemingly because of his race.

 

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