» Book Review
Review: Home in Florida: Latinx Writers and the Literature of Uprootedness
Edited by Anjanette Delgado
University of Florida Press, 2021
Hardcover, $25.00, 270 pages
¿De dónde eres? Where are you from? It’s a simple question that’s difficult for some of us to answer. A new anthology, Home in Florida: Latinx Writers and the Literature of Uprootedness, considers the question and offers responses from Latinx authors who have made the Sunshine State home. Edited by Anjanette Delgado, the collection features original and previously published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by award-winning writers like Jennine Capó Crucet, Jaquira Díaz, and Richard Blanco; luminaries like Judith Ortiz Cofer and Reinaldo Arenas; and other emerging talents. In Home in Florida, these writers construct a literary identity—one that simultaneously inhabits and traverses cultural and geographic borders.
Home in Florida shares forty-two works from thirty-three writers across the Latin American diaspora who have been uprooted from their homes for personal and political reasons. The anthology is grounded in this concept of “uprootedness,” or the experience of living in an environment that isn’t your own. “As with so many things,” says Delgado, the term resonates differently in Spanish and English. In Spanish-language literary culture, “la literatura del desarraigo” is prolific; in English, it’s rarely addressed. “Even the word carries inside the tension of seeming to mean one thing in Spanish and something never quite the same in English, the word itself with its dual meaning the very essence of the world in which a Latinx immigrant lives,” she observes.
The works in the collection speak to this duality. Though Home in Florida is mostly an English-language anthology, it includes Spanish works in translation and texts that switch, sometimes self-consciously, between languages. In Richard Blanco’s poem “Translation for Mamá,” the speaker considers what it means to write about his Cuban mother’s experiences in English. When he translates her life into artistic expressions she can’t access, whom is he writing for? What gets lost in translation when an immigrant’s experience becomes art? Blanco embeds Spanish translations of his English verses below each stanza, until the last stanza, where Spanish becomes the primary language and English is the language in translation. “En inglés / has aprendido a adorar tus pérdidas igual que yo,” concludes the speaker. These pérdidas, or losses, have dual meanings: the mother’s loss of her homeland and the son’s loss of his mother’s tongue. The poem articulates the disconnect felt by two people living in between languages.
That disconnect isn’t just linguistic. It’s cultural, too. In Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s poem “Notes on My Present: A Contrapuntal,” two opposing voices are juxtaposed in parallel texts with offset lines that literally and metaphorically break. “I write my body, as border between / this rock & the absence of water,” says the speaker on the left. “We have some bad hombres here / & we’re going to get them out,” says the speaker on the right. The first speaker’s self-image contradicts the second speaker’s grotesque distortion of her community. Even the punctuation is wonky. Read in tandem, the two voices reveal more than the sum of their parts.
This is true, too, of how Delgado curates Home in Florida, grouping pieces in suggestive combinations. She contrasts Raúl Dopico’s essay “Miami Is Cuban,” for instance, with Mia Leonin’s essay “How to Name a City,” which begins with Barack Obama’s claim that “‘[Miami] is a profoundly American city.’” Here, Delgado presents two tales of a city—Dopico’s Miami that “beats with a decidedly Cuban soul,” and Leonin’s Miami, where “miniature flags from thirteen different islands wave at you from rearview mirrors.” In other places, Delgado’s arrangement illustrates likeness. She pairs Frances Negrón-Muntaner’s short story “The Ugly Dyckling” with Jaquira Díaz’s essay “Monster Story,” for example. Both are fairy tale retellings with a Latinx spin—Negrón-Muntaner reimagines a European classic as a queer, Caribbean fable, and Díaz tells an American coming-of-age story inspired by Latin American folklore.
Immigrant narratives intersect in revealing ways throughout Home in Florida. In Ana Menéndez’s short story “The Apartment,” the narrator returns to Miami after her apartment tenant dies by suicide. She meets the neighbors to learn his story and hears, instead, their own tales of uprootedness, trauma, and isolation. The haunting stories of these lonely Cuban, Argentinian, Afghan, and Lebanese refugees mirror each other, revealing how often immigrants’ experiences overlap, even when they build imaginary walls to keep each other out. This self-imposed distance is echoed in Caridad Moro-Gronlier’s poem “Wet Foot, Dry Foot, 2002,” where the speaker’s Cuban-American family silently watches Haitian refugees arrive in Miami on TV, ignoring how they, too, once sought asylum here. “We do not speak of travesties,” says the speaker. “Only human when it comes to our own.” Their stories of uprootedness chart a similar course but end in different destinations thanks to America’s asymmetrical immigration policy, which privileges certain people above others.
Whose humanity do we acknowledge? Whose stories get told? In many ways, Home in Florida represents a diverse spectrum of Latinx experience. The book is a rich sancocho of culture—a blend of writers from different national, generational, socioeconomic, and language backgrounds, as well as those who identify as BIPOC and LGTBQ+. The collection’s diversity is deliberate. Delgado includes the work of recent immigrants whose “stories are the ones not often found in English-language anthologies” because too often these “writers are surviving and not writing.” She takes care to prioritize writers’ lived experiences, choosing to organize the collection “in the same experiential way in which rerootedness might occur, the emotional weight of each piece guiding the way,” instead of chronologically. And she mixes new voices with established writers, creating refreshing and unexpected flavor combinations.
For all Home in Florida includes, there are some things left behind. This may be inevitable in an anthology that is the first and only one of its kind. A single vessel can’t possibly hold everyone. While the collection features writers from across the Latin American diaspora, the majority of its contributors are Cuban or Cuban American. The anthology elucidates their lived experiences and history in luminous detail. Stories like Guillermo Rosales’ “The Halfway House” show what life in Florida was like for Cuban exiles who fled Castro’s regime in the 1970s, while essays like Chantel Acevedo’s “Piercing My Daughter’s Ears in Alabama” reveal how those families have evolved a generation or two later. The space the book gives these stories isn’t equally distributed, though, creating an imbalance that can sometimes feel like an exclusion. In Home in Florida, we witness the aftermath of the Mariel boatlift but not Hurricane Maria, for instance.
Curiously, for a book titled Home in Florida, not every piece is rooted in Florida. Occasionally the state disappears entirely before re-emerging in the next story. When Florida shows up, it’s drawn sharply and brightly, though, realistically rendered even if it’s magically imagined. Mercifully, the collection is careful to avoid the Disney caricatures of this place and its people that too often sap the popular imagination.
Instead, we get a view of Florida—where more than a quarter of the population is Latinx—that is usually obscured. We savor Liz Balmaseda’s Hialeah, where the distinctive flavors of Cuba refuse “to melt into any damn pot.” We experience the suburban wilderness of Yaddyra Peralta’s Carol City, “the verdancy of weeds, the bougainvillea overtaking the wobbly chain link fence.” And we see Patricia Engel’s “La Ciudad Mágica” sparkle brilliantly—from the manicured avenues of Coral Gables where bejeweled ladies lunch and bemoan their Latinx nannies, to the unnamed streets a few miles south, where you can “find people selling fruit out of tin shacks” and have “a spell cast by a brujo so you’ll be lucky in money and in love.”
The anthology doesn’t illuminate all parts of the Sunshine State with the same clarity, however. Miami shines brightest. So bright its light casts a shadow on the rest of the state. Home in Florida rarely ventures outside of Miami-Dade County, and when it does, it’s from a distance. Cities with large Latinx populations like Tampa and Orlando are mentioned only briefly, as the writers speed past on their way to somewhere else. The rest of the state is invisible. In an anthology that is otherwise so clear-eyed and attentive, this silence is loud. Where are the writers who have planted roots in majority-minority, Central Florida suburbs like Kissimmee or Latinx-populous, agricultural towns like Haines City and Belle Glade? What about their experiences?
Representation matters, and yet within the intimate space this anthology imagines, place and culture are less important than the writers’ lived experience of place and culture. Florida is a useful terrain to map out these experiences, but—as the collection repeatedly reminds us—its borders are fluid. In Home in Florida, Florida is more a state of mind than an actual state. It is the yearning for home, the hunger of hardship, and, eventually, the hard-earned hope of Nilsa Ada Rivera, who reflects in “I Write to Mami about Florida”: “Slowly, I’m realizing Florida is my home too. Despite all the years of trying to leave, I’m still here, adapting, evolving, and surviving. The fight to survive and the constant evolution are common themes for almost everyone in Florida, a constant reinvention of who we are.”
Impermeable identities don’t last long in a place where the tides are always changing. What endures instead are the experiential bonds connecting the people who call, and have called, this place home. This anthology’s writers—and potential readers—may be homesick and heartbroken, but they aren’t alone. From this literary landscape sown with tales of loss, grief, and loneliness, a community blossoms. After all, that’s what a collection is: a place where individual stories can converse, where the odd piece suddenly seems to fit, and where two different idioms understand each other. The book becomes a kind of communal plot, where these writers’ experiences of uprootedness vine together and grow toward the light. In Home in Florida, Delgado and the writers of this inventive anthology have cultivated a home of their own making—one that can go anywhere and never lose its roots.