The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina by M. Padilla
I’ve been making an effort to broaden my reading horizons. When I took the multicultural lit course this summer, I realized that my reading has a very Anglo bias. Other than works by some Asian-American writers–Gail Tsukiyama, Lisa See, for instance–most of my reading tends to be white. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is my penchant for British literature. So I’ve been making a concerted effort to read across cultures. Oddly enough, I find that I read a lot of multicultural books when I was a kid, from slave and Native American narratives to Jewish-American fiction and more, I don’t know how much of this was due in part to the curriculum when I was in grade school, and how much resulted from constant desire to know more about other people, places, and times as I was growing up.
That’s kind of a long wind-up, but it goes to show that I’ve somehow become more limited in my reading choices as an adult. When I saw The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina listed on the LibraryThing Members giveaway a few months ago, I clicked to enter the giveaway and was really excited when it arrived. I was already reading Latina lit for my class and this seemed like a great chance to try something new. Another explanation… yeah, yeah, I’ll get to the review in a moment … If the Z at the end of my last name isn’t a dead giveaway, my being from South Florida might be a sure indicator that I’m Hispanic. I’m Cuban-American to be precise. I won’t go into a thesis on why I use the term Hispanic rather than Latina when referring to my ethnicity, but I will say that my being a Cuban-American from Miami definitely affects my reading of Latina/o literature, especially Chicano/Mexican-American Cali lit. It’s a very different cultural experience, even the Spanish slang differs. There is a lot of cultural discovery when I read Latina lit, including realizations about my own experiences as a 2nd gen. Hispanic girl.
At first, I did not think I would connect with Padilla’s Girls. Julia seemed a little too self-deprecating for me, and Ime and Concepcion too superficial. Nina and Marta were interesting, but they seemed like minor characters by comparison. I was wrong. I soon became absorbed in the plot and started to connect with Julia and her desire to prove herself as an independent career woman in a society that had little regard for girls from the barrio. I grew up watching novelas with my mom and granma, as do most girls in Miami. Novelas are the Hispanic woman’s primetime entertainment–long, soap series generally involving some sort of love story between treacherous wealthy people. Sometimes there is a Cinderella-story plot featuring a poor woman or man from a village or small town falling in love with some rich person. There is always a rich person, or someone always comes into money and love. You need both, after all for a happy ending. This novel was almost like a novela–the kind of novela I wish were being broadcast, instead of the impossible fantasy stories. Girls has all the challenges, romance, and drama of a Spanish soap, but it’s also a story about finding one’s self and realizing that you can become the person you want to be and still hold on to who you are at heart. It’s an empowering tale. There is no perfect, tie-a-ribbon-around-it happy ending, but it is all the better for its honesty.
Getting off the soap-box… this was a fun, chick lit read that really surprised me–especially when I realized Padilla is a man.