Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 3, Chapter 16 : The Languages Lost (Six Days in April) | Summary



Lourdes and Pilar Puente arrive in Cuba in April 1980, right after Felicia Villaverde's burial. Lourdes is outraged by nearly every aspect of life on the island and communicates this outrage and her pro-American sentiments loudly at every opportunity. Passersby laugh as Lourdes shouts to them about the prosperity awaiting them in America. Lourdes thinks they're "brainwashed," but Pilar, who can see the future as well as other people's thoughts and dreams since her sexual assault in the park, knows that "the language she speaks is lost to them. It's another idiom entirely." Celia del Pino speaks to Pilar about her life. She says that "women who outlive their daughters are orphans" and that "only their granddaughters can save them, guard their knowledge like the first fire."

Lourdes becomes very fond of her nephew, Ivanito Villaverdes, but her mother remains "a complete stranger" to her. Returning to the former Puente ranch, Lourdes is afraid that "her rape, her baby's death were absorbed quietly by the earth" and that they have no more meaning "than falling leaves on an autumn day."

Pilar paints portraits of Celia. Celia says she wants to be painted as a flamenco dancer with red flowers and asks Pilar if she will stay with her. Pilar paints her grandmother in many shades of blue. Celia tells Pilar about the hardship before the revolution and says that "freedom ... is nothing more than the right to a decent life." Pilar is aware of her mother's constant state of outrage and wants to stay longer with her grandmother. Celia tells her she can paint things that don't undermine the state, because Cuba can't yet "afford the luxury of dissent." Pilar thinks that "art ... is the ultimate revolution."

Celia gives Pilar the letters she has written for Gustavo, and a book of Federico Garcia Lorca's poems she knows by memory. Here with Celia in Cuba, Pilar feels herself changing; there is "a magic ... working its way through [her] veins." Yet she knows she has to return to New York, because she belongs there "more."

Lourdes goes to the Peruvian embassy in Havana where Cubans who oppose the regime of El Lider are taking refuge. When she sees El Lider himself there, she wants to become a hero by killing him. El Lider tells the people in the embassy they are free to leave and go where they wish.

Returning home Lourdes feels unable to transmit her father's message to her mother; all she can sense is her mother's declaration during her infancy that she will not remember Lourdes's name. She dreams of a violent mass emigration out of Cuba. The next day she drives Ivanito to the Peruvian embassy in Havana with the intention that he escape the country as a "political refugee."

Pilar and Celia speed to the Peruvian embassy to intercept Lourdes and Ivanito. Pained, Celia says "we have no loyalty to our origins." They arrive at the embassy to find violent chaos breaking out. Pilar is struck in the head with a rock. At last, she and Ivanito find each other. Then she finds Celia and lies that she couldn't find Ivanito because he had already left on a plane. Celia goes into the sea, where she releases her pearl earrings.


In this climactic chapter, the tensions of the entire novel and the preceding decades come to a dramatic head. It is 1980, but just as in the Revolution of 1959, family ties intersect with the day's political events in ways that bring about enormous changes.

Pilar's intuition that the language of her mother, Lourdes, is "lost" to the Cubans indicates the degree to which Lourdes has lost touch with the reality of life there and her Cuban identity. Ostensibly, Lourdes speaks the same Spanish as they do, but her meaning is so different as to be incomprehensible. This language of "Cuban" is congruent with the magic Pilar feels there. This magic is a reclaiming of her identity, which is rooted in the nonverbal textures of existence characterizing her family life in Cuba. Suddenly the stories and memories are tangible, alive.

In this chapter Pilar equates art with revolution. On the surface, this may seem like a naive statement. Both art and revolution can create radical change in society, but with few rare exceptions, art does so without violence. Furthermore, art is a subjective experience, a personal revolution, a way of revealing a new understanding of the world that the viewer/experiencer can accept or reject. Political revolutions, however, force a new way of thinking and being onto a whole society. That being said, art is the "ultimate" revolution in the sense that no revolution or regime, no matter how oppressive, can completely stifle the creative spirit.

In that spirit, Pilar stays true to her artistic vision and paints her grandmother in shades of blue—Jorges's color—despite Celia's wish to be painted as a flamenco dancer in red. Pilar continues her right of remaking history to suggest her own truths. Just as the revolution remade Cuba, Pilar remakes the present for posterity by recording it subjectively in art.

Importantly, in this chapter, Celia chooses to let go of two things that have been precious to her for decades: her letters to Gustavo, which she gives to Pilar, and her drop-pearl earrings, a gift from Gustavo. Pilar doesn't say much about her gift, but it is important enough to Celia that García saves them for the last words of the book in the next chapter. As for the earrings, Celia hardly removed them since Gustavo gave them to her in 1934. In the wake of the loss of Ivanito, this suggests that at last Celia has accepted loss as a permanent condition of life. Her family has been fractured yet again with Ivanito's disappearance, and Celia resigns herself to this reality. It is likely, however, that her ability to let them go is only possible because of her new connection with Pilar. As one door closes, another opens. And through this door, Celia may come to a new understanding.

Pilar chooses to lie to her grandmother about Ivanito fleeing the country to protect both her grandmother and Ivanito. Pilar could not deny Ivanito the opportunities she has had living outside of Cuba, even though she has spent her youth longing to return there. This is, in a way, part of Pilar's recognition that she belongs to Cuba but belongs "more" in the United States. However, Pilar's lie recalls the tendency of Lourdes, her mother, to remake history to her own suiting, which Pilar criticizes in earlier chapters.

This long chapter contains a large number of narrative shifts. The narration jumps between first person and third person, and shifts between the perspectives of Pilar, Lourdes, Celia, and Ivanito. Just as the plot reaches its climax, García's narrative strategy and the novel's structure also come to their highest, most complex point here. This creates a sense of ambiguity that reflects the complexity of the difficult situations described in this chapter.

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