Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577
In “We Blacks All Drink Coffee,” as in the other stories in the collection, collaborating with the revolution makes for praiseworthy citizens. Although endorsement of communist ideals is not overtly political, nothing less than a sympathetic perspective would be publishable in the highly censured society in which Mirta Yáñez writes.
The narrators in this collection are often young brigadiers who, while on volunteer detail, witness life in the coffee-growing town of Florida Blanca, and as a result of this experience develop a personal understanding of people and communities different from those back home. The story “We Blacks All Drink Coffee” differs in that the narrator/protagonist is a would-be brigadier whose sympathies for people and behavior considered unworthy by her mother spark a family crisis. Unlike Yáñez’s predilection for external settings, this story remains contained within the household in which the quarrel erupts.
Typically, in Yáñez’s stories, a lack of clear dialogue leaves the reader to surmise who is doing the talking. This is further complicated in “We Blacks All Drink Coffee” because the narration is filtered through the direct interior monologue of a teenage girl. The unsuspecting reader must figure out from bits and pieces of conversation that an argument is underway.
In Yañez’s clever rendering of the daughter’s stream of consciousness, the voices of both teenager and mother mingle, are cut in mid-sentence, and stop and continue as characteristic of a dispute. The teenager’s constant shifting of pronouns—“she” and “my”—when referring to the mother suggests the ambivalence of the narrator’s feelings. For example, by using the third-person pronoun “she,” the daughter distances herself from the antagonizing mother. When the teenager then identifies her as “my” mother, she restores the personal relationship between them. At times the teenager also abandons the first-person pronoun “I” and refers to herself in the third person as “her,” “this child,” “a girl,” “a daughter,” thus conveying her lack of control and self-ownership in the face of the mother’s manipulation.
Yáñez circumvents the volatility of sensitive themes such as sexuality, politics, and racism via the use of symbols and metaphors. The wild bush, menstruation, brigadiers, the mother-daughter conflict, the protective home, all hold meaning beyond their apparent definitions. The Cuban Revolution is never mentioned or contextualized, for instance. Yet without this information, the reader would be at a great loss to interpret deeper meanings in this story. Although it may seem ironic that the powerless teenager is the one who controls the narration as both narrator and protagonist, her role is symbolic. Like the revolutionary underdogs who fought in the mountains of the region where she wants to go pick coffee, the daughter ultimately wins against great odds. The story’s characters are anonymous because beyond representing a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, their disagreement represents tensions within the country.
By contrast, Yáñez skillfully attributes the characters with traits that anchor them to reality and thus keeps them from becoming purely symbolic. The author infuses the teenager’s remarks with sarcasm and those of the mother with exaggeration to capture each character’s stance. Reasonably in keeping with their ages, and as filtered through the teenager’s perspective, the daughter comes across as a smart aleck and the mother as terribly old-fashioned. After all, it is their run-of-the-mill bickering, although rich in symbolism, that mounts in ever-increasing tension until the story’s denouement leads to the surprising resolution.