Dreaming in Cuban, 1992
The Agüero Sisters, 1997
Monkey Hunting, 2003
Cars of Cuba, 1995
Cubanisimo! The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literature, 2003
Cristina García is a highly regarded Cuban American writer. Born in Havana, Cuba, she was brought to the United States at the age of two, when her family emigrated after Fidel Castro came to power. She grew up in New York City, studied in Catholic schools, and attended Barnard College, from where she went to the School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University. In 1993, after working for Time magazine as a journalist in Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, García was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. She then moved to Los Angeles.
As a young adult García read American, Russian, and French novelists. Later she discovered her Latin American literary heritage. She cites Wallace Stevens, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison as particular literary inspirations for her when writing her novels. Perhaps her greatest inspiration, however, was a trip back to Cuba in 1984, where she learned about her family and, as for so many bicultural writers, regained a sense of her own culture of origin and her part in it from the experience of “going home.”
As a bicultural Cuban American writer, García is part of a vibrant group of individuals of various ethnicities who draw on the contradictions of being simultaneously both and neither. Other American writers sharing this multiethnic common ground are Julia Alvarez, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Diana Abu-Jaber, Oscar Hijuelos, Pablo Medina, and Omar Torres. They too write of the delicate balance, double consciousness, and multiple resonances of living “on the borderlands,” as Anzaldúa phrased it. They share an ability to “pass,” as well as the knowledge, sometimes painful yet often a source of great pride, of their difference from mainstream American culture. They chronicle intergenerational immigrant experience and displacement, exile and double exile, for even the culture of origin feels like a strange place to the hybrid child who, unlike its parents, has become at least partially identified with the adopted American culture. The formation of identity, in all its complex manifestations, is the overarching theme in this kind of work.
The relativity of perception is another powerful theme in the works of these writers, and García is particularly skillful in the way her narrative structure and chronology reflect this relativity. Given the element of the autobiographical in novels that explore identity formation, it is no surprise that García has experienced this relativity personally, not only culturally but also politically. When interviewed by Allan Vorda in 1993 García mentioned that her parents were extremely anti-Communist, but that her other relatives, whom she had met on her 1984 trip, were pro-Communist if not Party members.
Dreaming in Cuban is set alternately in Brooklyn and Havana, with multiple narrators tracing their memories, their family lines, and their complex interconnections. Granddaughter Pilar and grandmother Celia communicate wordlessly over the years, and only when the grandchild comes to visit do both feel complete again. In her novel García plays with Magical Realism, politics, the diary and epistolary forms, and the accretion of layers of culture. The locations shift, just as do the barriers of time and space, life and death, and García draws on the puzzle that is memory to show how identity is formed. The novel was nominated for the National Book Award in 1992, and in 1994 García received a Guggenheim Fellowship.
The Agüero Sisters draws upon the pro-and anti-Communist allegiances found in García’s own family. The novel contrasts two sisters, Constancia, who fled Cuba when Castro came to power, and Reina, who remained. Each has achieved a different kind of success in her chosen environment. Like Dreaming in Cuban, The Agüero Sisters is strongly marked by Magical Realism. Monkey Hunting is also about Cuban Americans, but this time Chinese Cuban Americans, tracing the Chen family from 1857 to the present as they emigrate from country to country.