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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 603

"The Cariboo Cafe" by Helena Maria Viramontes is a famous, albeit somewhat confusing, short story told in three primary parts. The first part focuses on a protagonist named Sonya. She is a young girl that is taking care of her younger brother Macky. They live with a man who is referred to as her Popi (which can be assumed to be her father); he is not often home and she is forced to take care of her younger brother. One day after being held down and nearly stripped by a boy named Lalo, she loses her house key and is unable to get her and her brother into their home.

Part two is told from the perspective of the owner of the Cariboo Cafe. The owner details the events of a day or so, in which a man overdosed in the bathroom, and the investigating officers cast suspicion on the owner himself. He also describes a woman who comes in with two little children, who the reader is able to recognize as Sonya and Macky. The owner feels an affection for Macky because the young boy reminds him of his son JoJo, who was killed in Vietnam. The owner begins to refer to Macky as "Short Order," but doesn't like the distrustful look that he is given by the boy's sister, Sonya. After the woman and the children leave, three illegal immigrants run into the cafe and hide in the bathroom. When the police arrive, the owner tells them where to find the three men and the men are taken away. The owner sees a news report about the two children from before, but doesn't tell the police he has seen the missing kids. The next day, the woman comes in with the kids again and part two ends.

Part three is told partly from the perspective of a third person omniscient narrator, and gets very confusing. The first part focuses on the older woman who has Sonya and Macky with her, and details the events of her earlier life. She suffers from the loss of her son. Geraldo, who was abducted by Contras when he was a child. In part three we find out what happened to him. The trauma of the terrible loss causes her to leave their home and go to the United States. The entire experience has caused her to become delusional, and when she discovers the two children she believes that the young boy, Macky, is her son. She takes the two children into her care, bathes them and feeds them, and they stay the night in her place.

The story then shifts back to the cafe, and continues with the same omniscient narrator. The woman brings the children back to the cafe, and the owner recognizes them. He grows nervous and calls the police, trying to maintain his composure until they arrive but the situation causes him to begin to cry over the familial losses he has suffered in his own life. The police arrive and the woman, believing the police are the Contras coming to take Geraldo away from her again, attempts to flee with Macky. When she can't get away, she throws a pot of hot coffee on the officers, thinking she is protecting her son. She pleads with onlookers for help, and then begins to fight the officers. In the final paragraph the story shifts to her perspective and the reader is able to see the true level of her delusion as she is either knocked out or killed while thinking "I'll never let go. Because we are going home. My son and I."

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1045

“The Cariboo Café” is a powerful short work that is representative of many of Viramontes’s fictional concerns and techniques. The story is complicated by a shifting point of view, which moves from past to present without explanation, and readers may have some difficulty following the plot initially. However, this technique is exactly what Viramontes wants the reader to feel in order to experience the kind of displacement and alienation that her characters share. The first section of the...

(The entire section contains 1648 words.)

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