Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686

Culture Clash
The clash between American and Spanish culture becomes the impetus for the immigrants to come to the Latin deli. In an interview in Melus, Ortiz Cofer notes that this theme predominates in all the stories and poems in The Latin Deli. Her work reflects her own experience with trying to reconcile the contradictions in her cultural identity. She explains, "I write in English, yet I write obsessively about my Puerto Rican experience...That is how my psyche works. I am a composite of two worlds...I lived with...conflictive expectations: the pressures from my father to become very well versed in the English language and the Anglo customs, and from my mother not to forget where we came from. That is something that I deal with in my work all the time." She continues, "One of the things that is so dissonant about the lives of children in my situation is that I would go to school in Paterson and mix and mingle with the Anglos and Blacks, where the system of values and rules were so much different than those inside our apartment, which my mother kept sacred. In our apartment we spoke only Spanish, we listened only to Spanish music, we talked about la casa (back home in Puerto Rico) all the time. We practiced a very intense Catholic religion, with candles in the bathtub, pictures of the Virgin and Jesus everywhere." The customers in the deli, like Ortiz Cofer's parents, struggled to hang on to the traditions of the past, in order to maintain a clear sense of who they are and where they came from. There they see the symbols of their culture—the Mother and Child magnet and especially the food. They also can hear and speak their native tongue.

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Identity
In an interview in Callaloo, Ortiz Cofer explains how places like the Latin deli helped Spanish immigrants reestablish their cultural identity. She writes, "The book is called The Latin Deli because the centers, the hearts of the barrios in New Jersey were the bodegas, which were called delis by some of us. There were Jewish and Italian delis. So if you sold sandwiches, well, it was a deli and that was part of our language...[F]ood is important in its nurturing of the barrio. To my parents their idea of paradise was eating pasteles (pork meat turnovers)." The deli owner in "The Latin Deli" is similar to a woman in one of the collection's short stories, "Corazon's Café." Ortiz Cofer explains that this woman is "fully committed to nurturing the barrio, to bringing life to it, not by standing on a soap box,...

(The entire section contains 686 words.)

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