Why does the protagonist change and become sick in "Fiesta 1980" by Junot Diaz?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Junior or Yunior [Spanish pronunciation] is the protagonist of the story “Fiesta 1980” by Junot Diaz.  As the narrator of the story, Yunior uses Spanish words and phrases to remind the reader of his authentic voice and his cultural heritage.

The story begins with Yunior's father coming home late and pushing past his wife to take a shower.  To her children, their mother looks particularly beautiful to her sons.  She smells “like the wind through a tree.”

The father in Yunior’s family is domineering.  He yells rather than talks to his children.  The children experience emotional abuse as the father uses his words and attitudes to control his children. The father’s behavior makes everyone nervous.

When the father gets out the shower, he rants because Yunior has eaten before the trip. Lately, Yunior has been vomiting when he gets in his father’s van.  He had never had a problem with any other car before this one.

The first time he threw up in the van was when his father took him to the library. The second time he had to throw up in the van because he could not get the window down.  His father had to clean up the mess. 

Today, he grabs hold of his son’s ear to illustrate his displeasure toward him.  His ear continues to sting until his father is ready to leave for the party.  On the way to the party, Yunior throws up.  His mother helps him.  His father pokes him in the cheek. 

The father is cheating on his wife with a Puerto Rican woman. Yunior admits to the reader that he met his father’s mistress right after the father got the van.  One time, after Yunior had gotten sick, the father took him to the mistress’s house who helped clean him up.  His father and mistress went upstairs and had sex while Yunior watched television.

Sub-consciously, Yunior is reacting to his father’s infidelity.  Every time that he is in the van, he is somehow reminded of the Puerto Rican woman.  He purges because he is trying get rid of the memories by vomiting.  Even, his brother was taken by the father to the mistress’s house.

 ‘Papi’s taken me there twice now,’ he said.

‘Why didn’t you tell?’ I asked

‘What the hell was I going to say? Hey, Yunio, guess what happened today? I met Papi’s sucia!’

During the party, Yunior watches his mother and is unable to understand the relationship between his parents.   At the party, all of the boy's favorite foods are laid out for the buffet.  The father is so worried about Yunior vomiting in the car that he forbids him to share in the fiesta.  Even though all of his cousins and aunts and uncles eat, he cannot. 

His mother does not stand up to his father.  His aunt gives him some food that his father does not know about.  The illness of Yunior is psychosomatic. 

His problem comes from his father’s exposing him to his affair.  What a terrible thing to do to a son who loves his mother!  Yunior feels disgust towards his father’s affair with a Puerto Rican woman while he is married to their mother. 

The disgust and sickness is expressed through his vomiting or “car sickness”. Vomiting in the car is an insult for his father.  The story ends with the Yunior telling his mother in the van on the way home that he has to vomit again. 

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