Readers of Silent Dancing and The Line of the Sun will encounter in The Latin Deli many of the personalities and situations familiar from Ortiz Cofer’s two earlier books. The delicatessen of the title is a bodega in Paterson where residents of El Building shop for such Puerto Rican comestibles as plantains and Bustelo coffee.
Most of the stories and poems in The Latin Deli are told from the perspective of a young girl torn between two worlds. The father, English-speaking and light-complected, is a working-class man who constrains a daughter in whom sexual desire is awakening. The mother is temporarily resident in El Building, ever longing for Puerto Rico and refusing to learn English.
El Building is a vertical barrio, an attempt to preserve in Paterson some sense of the community its inhabitants have traded for the economic opportunities the mainland offers. The girl in most of Ortiz Cofer’s stories speaks English well, yet she endures discrimination directed against Puerto Ricans.
In “American History,” the narrator, bright and more fluent in English than Spanish, is barred from classes for the gifted because English is not her native language. She develops a crush on Eugene, a boy from Georgia who is taking classes for the gifted. On the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, she accepts Eugene’s invitation to go to his house to study with him; Eugene’s mother, however,...
(The entire section is 457 words.)