Hector Santinio (EHK-tohr sahn-TEEN-ee-oh), the youngest son of Mercedes Sorrea and Alejo Santinio. Born in New York City in 1951, Hector spends part of his childhood in Cuba with his parents. A near-fatal infection contracted in Cuba turns him into a sickly, lonely, and overprotected boy. Hector grows up in a dingy apartment in New York City resenting his overprotective, superstitious mother and his violent, alcoholic father. Although his parents are Cuban, he rebels against their Cuban ways and refuses to learn Spanish. In his mind, Cuba is associated with illness and with his unhappy home life. At the same time, however, he considers himself inferior to his father, whom he fears. Even after his father dies, Hector remains haunted by Alejo, who appears to him in dreams and visions. Only after Hector moves out of the apartment is he able to achieve a measure of autonomy and spiritual peace.
Alejo Santinio (ah-LEH-hoh), the head of the Santinio family. A mail carrier in Cuba, he meets and marries Mercedes Sorrea; shortly after the wedding, they immigrate to the United States in search of a better life. Although Alejo is at first full of hopes and ambitions, material success eludes him, and he resigns himself to being a cook in a large hotel, where he works from the mid-1940’s until his death twenty-five years later. Seeing other members of his family arrive in the United States and prosper, Alejo becomes embittered and turns to drink and to other women for temporary solace. A big, friendly man with a winning manner and a tendency to live beyond his means, Alejo has many friends. At home, however, he is sullen and authoritarian. Often coming home drunk in the evenings, he brutalizes his wife and his two children. When he dies suddenly of a stroke, his children are relieved as much as aggrieved.
Mercedes Sorrea (mehr-SEH-dehs soh-RREH-ah), Alejo’s wife and Hector and Horacio’s mother. Although initially in love with her husband, Mercedes soon comes to resent him for being a failure. A poet in her youth, Mercedes is frustrated at not being able to cultivate her literary inclinations. In New York, she leads a life of drudgery and poverty. Considering herself something of a medium, she finds consolation in a fantasy world of spirits. Even though her life with Alejo is full of discord, after he dies, she loses touch with reality and retreats further into her fantasies.
(The entire section is 631 words.)