In the back seat on car trips, my older brother and I sat looking out our respective windows, and our younger sister sat between us. Our parents sat in the front seat, my father driving with one hand, my mother blowing smoke out of a window rolled down a crack. On one car trip, for some reason, only my brother, me, and my father were in the car. The whole trip, as we traveled east along the 401, my father counseled my brother on how to play better hockey, how to shoot and pass like a star. For a long time, I followed the moon with my eyes. Then I said I was going to be sick, and my father pulled over. On the gravel shoulder, I bent over and waited to see the contents of my stomach land on the ground, but nothing came up. I can remember seeing my brother’s worried face as he sat looking at me through the window, and sensing my father’s irritation at having pulled over for no good reason. When we arrived at our destination, my father’s friends’ house, I was made to sit on the end of the couch with a green, plastic bowl in my lap, a bowl to catch the vomit that never came.
Yunior, the narrator of “Fiesta, 1980”- so tough and yet so helpless— reminded me of how it can feel to be a child.
The story is set in New York where Yunior’s parents have immigrated to from Santo Domingo. The father’s recent purchase of a “lime-green” (92) Volkswagen van suggests struggles for status within their new community. According to Yunior, the van is “bought to impress” (92 ).
Yunior, though, cannot ride in the van without vomiting, perhaps because of the smell of the upholstery, perhaps because he is so afraid to vomit he cannot help but vomit, or perhaps because he will take any attention he can get from his father. When the father takes Yunior on short trips in the van, so Yunior can practice not vomiting, Yunior enjoys the time alone with his dad.
Still, we cannot mistake the father’s cruelty, however unconsciously it is acted out. When he finds out Yunior has eaten before the trip to the mother’s sister’s house, the father pulls Yunior “up to [his] feet by [his] ear" (91) and reprimands him. The ultimate cruelty is the father’s very solution to the vomiting: preventing Yunior from eating before trips in the van, even if it means Yunior must go hungry.
The key moment in the story occurs at Tia Yrma’s party --“everything” (97) Yunior loves to eat is laid out, but the father is so worried about Yunior vomiting in the car on the ride home that he forbids Yunior to share in the fiesta; that is, as his cousins and aunts and uncles eat, he must not. If he does, his father will “beat” (97) him. As his mother is unable to stand up to the father at the party, Yunior’s Tia Yrma sneaks him “three pastelitos” (97). In the end, on the drive home, Yunior vomits again.
Diaz creates a picture of a boy being starved by his father, not only of food but also of sympathy. The mother’s inability to defy the father without suffering a consequence, his brother’s inability to protect him, and even his teacher’s dismissal of Yunior’s essay, “My Father the Torturer” as a joke, leave Yunior more alone.
I wonder if there is a connection between what happened to me that night in the car and what Yunior experiences. The moment before I said I was going to be sick, I remember wondering what it would be like to have everything stop because of me, if I could get my father to focus on me, the way he focused on my brother. The threat of being sick in a car accomplished it: I took a slight feeling of nausea and ran with it. For a while, visibility was mine. At one point in the story, Yunior says that even though his father is cruel, “I still wanted him to love me” (91). Perhaps during their rides, when Yunior is to practice not vomiting, he feels loved; if he were to stop being sick, what would be left for him?
Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Ned Stuckey-French. “Fiesta, 1980.”
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Boston: Longman, 2011. 90-100