Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368

There are a number of themes that come up in this short story. One theme that arises through all of the main characters is that "one cannot avoid one's past." Both Sonya and Macky are tied to their past through their difficult living situation. They are essentially latchkey kids, because...

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There are a number of themes that come up in this short story. One theme that arises through all of the main characters is that "one cannot avoid one's past." Both Sonya and Macky are tied to their past through their difficult living situation. They are essentially latchkey kids, because their father brought them to the country in search of a better life but is never around because of how often he must work to help support them. So, even though they've moved to try to escape rough conditions, their new situation is difficult because they were not able to get ahead in the past.

The owner of the Cariboo Cafe is also trapped in the past. Both his failed relationship and the death of his son JoJo continually haunt him, to the point where the pain of the losses resurfaces near the end of the story after he calls the cops on the old lady who has abducted Sonya and Macky. Finally, the woman who has taken the two children is also stuck in her past. Her own son Geraldo was abducted and killed by Contras, and the pain of the loss haunts her to the point where she believes that Macky is her lost son.

Another theme that is present is that "racism oppresses not only those it is directed toward but also those who exhibit it." The owner of the cafe believes that he is a fair, just person, yet he refers to the woman who enters his cafe as a "weirdo," and then when she says something in Spanish, he goes on to say: "Right off I know she's illegal, which explains why she looks like a weirdo." Later, when federal agents bust a factory next door, he says, "I see all these illegals running out of the factory to hide, like roaches when the lightswitch goes on." While the racism is directed outward, the insidious nature of it has warped the owner's personality into that of a despicable, unlikable man. Not only does it taint him, it also causes him to put the abducted children in danger when he fails to tell the authorities about them the first time they enter his shop.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

“The Cariboo Café” is a story of the terrible psychic wounds wrought by political repression and displacement. Two of its primary themes are the randomness of terror at the hands of powerful authorities and the banality of evil. Readers see the latter in the young guard with whom the mother pleads in El Salvador and in the hazy thoughts that lie behind the café owner’s actions. For Helena María Viramontes’s Latino characters, the world is a dangerous place. Racism is insidious: The café owner sees himself as a relatively good and generous man, but he feels no loyalty or connection to the Spanish-speaking workers who frequent his café. He can thus turn them in to the police without thinking and does not clearly understand the discomfort he feels as they are taken away.

In using two different settings for her story, Viramontes draws parallels between the kinds of repression experienced in the United States and in El Salvador. In Central America her characters are subjected to a reign of terror instigated by a totalitarian and corrupt military regime. In the United States undocumented Spanish-speaking residents live in poverty and in fear of relocation or reprisal from police acting in conjunction with immigration officials. Viramontes explores the terrible emotional consequences of such forms of repression and the intensity of the urban environment of poverty. The horror, loss, and bewilderment that her characters experience sharply contrast with their simple desire to live a decent life unencumbered by fear.

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