Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #1, Winter 1997-98]


Esperando a Loló
By Ana Lydia Vega
San Juan: Ed. Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1994

Reviewed by Nancy Bird


Contemporary Puerto Rican author Ana Lydia Vega has dedicated most of her literary production to the complexities and cultural debates of writing in "Puerto Rican." Some of her most renowned works are short story collections, such as Encancaranublado (1983), Vírgenes y Mártires (1983; co-authored by Carmen Lugo Filippi), and Falsas Crónicas del Sur (1991). In Esperando a Loló, Vega not only combines a wide variety of Puerto Rican cultural themes and points of view, but also takes on a new approach to genre selection and combination. Thus, Esperando a Loló becomes more of a mosaic of autobiographical essays, socio-political critique, and animated cartoons of daily life in modern (or postmodern) Puerto Rico.

Paying special attention to the language issue and the ambiguities set forth by a bilingual education that fails as it promotes the assimilation of the English language (while looking down on the Spanish language in terms of prestige), Vega directs her discussion onto the subject of defensive nationalism as a mechanism of reaffirmation. However, as a continuation of the themes presented in her previous collections, Vega underscores the contradictions that nationalism represents as to what the role of the engaged writer should be in the mission of cultural reaffirmation. In the essays-chronicles in this collection, themes such as machismo, emigration, higher education, and politics are presented in relation to how they have been portrayed in twentieth century Puerto Rican literature. Once again, Vega succeeds in denouncing the ambivalent attitudes of modern Puerto Rican society regarding its political and cultural dilemmas. She directly prompts the reader to evaluate the situation: "¿No será porque la ambigüedad ha sido siempre lo nuestro?" ("Is it that ambiguity has always been what is ours?" [Translation by Nancy Bird]).

This collection, so critical of society and politics, does not lose momentum in terms of stylistic variety and creativity, since it does not follow a strict order from the most humorous pieces to the most serious ones. Vega oscillates between the celebration of the popular and the critique of the socio-cultural dilemmas of Puerto Rican society. Through this approach, she is able to attack the manipulation of certain concepts, like what is "national" and what is "Puerto Rican," and the resulting identity crisis.

It can be said that Esperando a Loló is a step further in the discussion of the themes previously put in the spotlight by Vega, especially because of the way in which they are exposed, allowing for a broader diversity of perspectives. The theme of Puerto Rican literature and the role of the woman writer in this process, continue to be main concerns for Vega, since this is all directly related to the problem of machismo and the "national" models created for women in Puerto Rican society. We shall see in Vega's future publications how she chooses to present her critique and how she will direct her creativity in terms of new possibilities for combinations of literary genres, language styles, and narrative perspectives.


[The only book by Ana Lydia Vega to be translated into English thus far is True and False Romances: Stories and a Novella (Masks). Translated by Andrew Hurley, it was published by Serpents Tail in 1994.]

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From Esperando a Loló
(Translation by Nancy Bird)
"Se restauran la hospitalidad y la confianza, virtudes puertorriqueñas por excelencia que promueve Turismo junto a las playas y el ron. Tregua de hostilidades, licencia a la alegría, las Navidades rescatan brevemente el precario equilibrio mental de un pueblo asustado por su propia violencia." [p.76]

"Hospitality and trustworthiness are restored, downright Puerto Rican virtues advertised by Tourism along with the beaches and the rum. Cease-fire of hostilities, license to happiness, the Christmas season briefly rescues the precarious mental equilibrium of a society afraid of its own violence." [Vega is commenting here about traditional Puerto Rican festivities during the Christmas season.]

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Nancy Bird is an instructor of Spanish at UW-Madison, where she is pursuing an M.A. in Hispanic Literature. She studied abroad in Toledo, Spain in the summer of 1993.


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