In looking at fiction, we read between the lines and stumble upon threads hinting at another story. If we investigate these hinted stories, we find they are filled with richness, depth, and a life all their own. In looking past the glimpses of working Latina women in fiction and finding the real stories of Latina women in the United States, we can better celebrate their successes and learn from their struggles.
A faint thread identifying the role of Cuban women in their families and in society can be found in “Visitors, 1965” by Oscar Hijuelos. Through the viewpoint of protagonist Hector, Hijuelos crafts a short story examining what it means to be Cuban, American, and part of the first wave of immigrants to the United States. Throughout “Visitors, 1965,” the reader once again catches glimpses of the lives and work of Latina women through the characters Mercedes, Maria, and Virginia. Mercedes, a Cuban immigrant already established in New York City, keeps house and cooks for her family. Next-generation women Maria and Virginia are expected to help with housecleaning and cooking, as well as keep up their studies. Near the end of “Visitors, 1965,” Virginia and Maria find work in a factory in Jersey City. Virginia and Maria are vital moneymakers for their immediate family: “Everyone but Luisa was bringing home money.” Their contributions to the family, although only acknowledged in a fleeting sentence, help the family to move out and establish their own home.
Mercedes, Maria, and Virginia are all bit players in a male-centered story. Hijuelos hints at but does not further expand on the Latina experience in his piece. In contrast, Virginia Sánchez Korrol elaborates on the significance of Puerto Rican women in society in her essay, “Puerto Ricans in ‘Olde’ Nueva York: Migrant Colonias of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” Korrol highlights female academics, factory workers, journal writers, labor organizers, homemakers, and entrepreneurs in her discussion of Puerto Rican immigrants and migrants in the first half of the twentieth century. By featuring the Latina women’s stories along with the men’s, Korrol rightly brings attention to the struggles and successes of Puerto Rican women who lived and worked in the United States.
Virginia Sánchez Korrol brings focus to many interesting and empowering female figures in “Puerto Ricans in ‘Olde’ Nueva York.” One such figure, feminist and international labor leader Luisa Capetillo, was born in Puerto Rico in 1879. Capetillo fought for laborer’s rights using her skills as an orator and passion for socialist and anarchist philosophy. Outspoken and unabashedly herself, Capetillo was once arrested in Havana for “walking down the street dressed in a suit, tie, and hat.”
While Korrol provides Luisa Capetillo as a radical example of how Puerto Rican women made a difference outside of the sphere of domesticity, she acknowledges the more traditional work Puerto Rican female migrants participated in. “The majority of female migrants were young working-class homemakers or single women who labored as seamstresses, unskilled workers, domestics, or home needle workers.” Puerto Ricans, male or female, often only had the opportunity to work in the lowest paying sectors of production in the American workforce. Through the acknowledgement of working-class, domestic women, Korrol emphasizes the importance of figures like Mercedes, Maria, and Virginia in the way that their creator does not.
In her work, Korrol highlights women of different social classes, professions, and beliefs. In doing so, she allows for a greater understanding of how Puerto Rican women shaped their families, neighborhoods, and even countries. Latina women are not just secondary characters in fictional stories, they are living, breathing women with real stories to tell. Even now, it is difficult to find information on Latina women in the workplace, but some information is available. The Center for American Progress is a resource that provides statistics regarding the successes and difficulties facing Latinas in today’s society. While Latina women have made gains in business ownership in this century, Latinas are still underrepresented as business owners (Latinas own about 1 out of every 10 women-owned businesses). Latina women are not as economically secure as their male and white counterparts (Latina women make 55 cents to the dollar when compared to white, non-Hispanic males. White women make 78.1 cents to the dollar compared to white males.)
Latina women have lived and worked in the United States for over a hundred years and their stories are a vital part of the American fabric. Through their work both inside and outside the home, they have contributed to life in the United States. How can we honor their service and recognize their struggles? How do we make them the protagonist of their own stories?
 Oscar Hijuelos, “Visitors, 1965,” Face to Face: Readings on Confrontation and Accommodation in America, ed. Joseph Zaitchik, et al. (Houghton Mifflin Company), 230.
 Hijuelos, “Visitors, 1965,” 235.
 “Luisa Capetillo,” American National Biography Online, accessed March 30, 2015, http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-01314.html.
 Virginia Sánchez Korrol, “Puerto Ricans in ‘Olde’ Nueva York: Migrant Colonias of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” in Nueva York, 1613-1945, edited by Edward J. Sullivan (New-York Historical Society, 2010), 119.
 Korrol, “Puerto Ricans in ‘Olde’ Nueva York,” 113.
 “Fact Sheet: The State of Latinas in the United States,” Center for American Progress, accessed March 30, 2015, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2013/11/07/79167/fact-sheet-the-state-of-latinas-in-the-united-states/.