In the story entitled “The Neighbor,” seventy-nine-year-old Sarita has just called 911 to report a disturbance next door. Sarita doesn’t much like her neighbor Matilde and thinks she’s a fool to put up with the philandering boyfriend who beats her. But Sarita feels obligated to help because Matilde’s mother was her best friend. “That’s for not singing at your funeral, even though I promised,” she whispers to her dead comadre. And this time, Sarita’s deliberate provocation of the volatile situation next door will end the beatings once and for all.
Past and present are interwoven in this award-winning collection of 11 stories dealing with migration across geographical and cultural boundaries. Set in California and Mexico, the characters in these stories struggle with all that life throws their way, including abusive boyfriends, separation from loved ones, and unfaithful spouses, all in an uneasy search for a balance between a Mexican past and a Mexican-American future.
With vivid brushstrokes, Hernandez paints a collage of Latinas who work vigorously to overcome drastic situations. A woman is convinced that her brother-in-law’s constant fooling around with co-eds caused her sister’s heart attack, and she obsesses about getting revenge even if it means turning to brujeria. A young woman who has flunked out of college multiple times finally goes home to confront the memories of her father’s sexual abuse that she hasn’t been able to flee or forget. On her deathbed, Chata reveals to her daughter that when she was growing up in a small Mexican village, her first love was a beautiful prostitute.
Themes of survival, identity, and cultural conflict are woven through the stories in this intriguing and entertaining collection, the winner of the University of California-Irvine’s Chicano / Latino Literary Prize.