Car Sickness or Papi’s Affair?

Junot Diaz‘s “Fiesta 1980” is a short story about an immigrant family from Santo Domingo who attends a family party in the Bronx. The story is told from the perspective of Yunior, a young boy, who seems to be very observant of the immediate world that surrounds him. The middle child of three, he is prone to car sickness and, as a result of this unfortunate habit, we learn the nature of his parents. On one side is his nurturing, caring mother, who gives him mentas before each car ride in an attempt to settle his stomach. Contrasting this character is her husband, known to Yunior as Papi, who does not ever seem to show much concern or compassion for Yunior or anyone else besides his Puerto Rican mistress whom he actually takes his sons to meet and eat dinner with on several occasions. 

Is this story meant to be a glimpse into the lives of a Latino immigrant family? If so, is it thought to be an accurate portrayal: loving mother, brash father, older brother whose main concern is getting with girls, younger sister who does little more than look cute as she sleeps through practically the entire story? Mami and Tia, who are sisters, whisper secretly in the corner as the party becomes more wild through the night. Yunior guards the bedroom door while brother Rafa is inside with Leti, a girl he just met. Papi’s voice is so loud and boisterous, it can be heard from the street below. Tio, Yunior and Rafa’s uncle, tells them that if they were still in Santo Domingo, where he grew up, they would be drinking cervezas and getting with girls all the time, an idea that seems a fantasy to the two young boys.

That’s what they left behind for America? Yunior does not mention life before moving to New York City, except when he thinks of how his father must have begun his affair with the Puerto Rican woman while his family was waiting for him to send for them in the Dominican Republic. The affair clearly bothers Yunior and the story concludes on the family’s ride home from the party. While his parents appear possibly to be sharing a special moment as Papi’s hand rests on Mami’s leg, Yunior calls their attention, but the reason is unclear. Is he telling them that his carsickness is once again rearing its ugly head? Or is he going to bring up his father’s secret love life?  Whether or not Junot Diaz has intended his work to become an example of an average Latino immigrant family in America or not, he has certainly presented a compelling story of human experience.

One thought on “Car Sickness or Papi’s Affair?

  1. Erin, I agree that Diaz has the ability to present a touching story of human experience through his writing. I found Yunior’s confined car rides and inevitable sickness to be a metaphor for the tense and anxious world in which he lived. I am anxious to read Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” this summer!

    To learn more about Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Brief and Wondrous LIfe of Oscar Wao” click here:

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