Caramelo, p.1
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       Caramelo, p.1

           Sandra Cisneros
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  Acclaim for Sandra Cisneros’s


  “A wonderful book … evoking life’s absurdity and possibility, tragedy and transcendence.… Combines the thematic richness of the most ambitious literature with the delight in character and plot of the most engrossing page-turner.”

  —Chicago Sun-Times

  “Cisneros is a writer for all people. This is a novel of families, home life and finding yourself in the world’s greater landscape.”

  —USA Today

  “A sprawling, exuberant hopscotch through a century of family history.… Cisneros seduces us with her knitted tales, great and small, and her message is all the more powerful for its shimmering clarity.”

  —Time Out New York

  “Cisneros has a great eye for detail, a good ear for dialogue and a marvelous sense of humor.… Caramelo is a tour de force—rich in its use of language, breathtaking in scope.”

  —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  “Lovingly, passionately woven from dust and glory.… A sweeping family history that somehow manages to interlace not just the Reyeses—those conjurers, enticers and troublemakers—but also all the rest of us, the good and bad together, the bitter and, of course, the sweet.”

  —The Miami Herald

  “Sprawling, spirited.… Vibrant and big-hearted.”


  “Cisneros’s exuberant prose tickles the senses.… A warm and generous story to wrap yourself up in.”

  —St. Petersburg Times

  “A sweet gift from the universe, a reminder of the ancient, deep, noble, and sad sources of the human heart … sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes transcendent.”

  —San Antonio Express

  “Cisneros is a virtuoso.… [Caramelo] is rich in character and action, people and passions.”

  —Houston Chronicle

  “Remarkable.… Caramelo is a book to read slowly and savor and if you can find a listener, to read out loud.”

  —Santa Fe New Mexican

  “Cisneros is such an imaginative storyteller.… Caramelo engages in a kind of playfulness that is utterly bewitching.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  “Spellbinding.… A richly satisfying novel.”


  “Caramelo is superb. There should be a brand-new language to describe the ways in which [Cisneros] has imbued the ancient art of story-telling with her trademark organization, characterization, evocation of time and place, portrayal of a particular culture, and visionary wisdom.… You must read this book for yourself, two or three times.”

  —The Women’s Review of Books

  “Cisneros is a wonderful cultural translator, writing English dialogue so saturated with Mexican-Spanish idioms and constructions that you feel like you’ve been magically empowered to eavesdrop in another language.”

  —The Oregonian


  Copyright © 2002 by Sandra Cisneros

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2002.

  Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Some of the chapters have been previously published in the following: “The Detour That Turns Out to Be One’s Destiny” in El Andar. “Dirt” in Grand Street. “Esa Tal Por Cual” in Poet’s & Writers. “A Man, Ugly, Strong & Proper” in Bomb. “Mexico Next Right” in Conjunctions. “Que Elegante” in Latina. “Spic Spanish” in Si Magazine. Excerpts from the chapters “When an Elephant Sits on Your Roof,” “A Godless Woman, My Mother,” and “Everything a Niña Could Want” in San Antonio Express News.

  Permissions acknowledgments can be found at the end of the book.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

  Cisneros, Sandra.

  Caramelo / Sandra Cisneros. —1st ed.

  p. cm.

  1. Mexican American families—Fiction. 2. Grandparent and child—Fiction. 3. Women—Mexico—Fiction. 4. Chicago (Ill.)—Fiction. 5. Grandmothers—Fiction. 6. Mexico—Fiction. 7. Girls—Fiction.

  I. Title

  PS3553.I78 C37 2002

  813′.54—dc21 2002025488

  eISBN: 978-0-8041-5086-6


  Para ti, Papá



  Title Page



  PART 1

  Recuerdo de Acapulco

  1 Verde, Blanco, y Colorado

  2 Chillante

  3 Qué Elegante

  4 Mexico Next Right

  5 Mexico, Our Nearest Neighbor to the South

  6 Querétaro

  7 La Capirucha

  8 Tarzan

  9 Aunty Light-Skin

  10 The Girl Candelaria

  11 A Silk Shawl, a Key, a Spiraling Coin

  12 The Little Mornings

  13 Niños y Borrachos

  14 Fotonovelas

  15 Cinderella

  16 El Destino Es el Destino

  17 Green Rice

  18 La Casita de Catita

  19 Un Recuerdo

  20 Echando Palabras

  PART 2

  When I Was Dirt

  21 So Here My History Begins for Your Good Understanding and My Poor Telling

  22 Sin Madre, Sin Padre, Sin Perro Que Me Ladre

  23 A Man Ugly, Strong, and Proper or Narciso Reyes,

  You Are My Destiny

  24 Leandro Valle Street, Corner of Misericordia,

  Over by Santo Domingo

  25 God Squeezes

  26 Some Order, Some Progress, But Not Enough of Either

  27 How Narciso Loses Three of His Ribs

  During the Ten Tragic Days

  28 Nothing But Story

  29 Trochemoche

  30 A Poco—You’re Kidding

  31 The Feet of Narciso Reyes

  32 The World Does Not Understand Eleuterio Reyes

  33 Cuídate

  34 How Narciso Falls into Disrepute Due to Sins of the Dangler

  35 The Detour That Turns Out to Be One’s Destiny

  36 We Are Not Dogs

  37 Esa Tal por Cual

  38 ¡Pobre de Mí!

  39 Tanta Miseria

  40 I Ask la Virgen to Guide Me Because

  I Don’t Know What to Do

  41 The Shameless Shamaness, the Wise Witch Woman

  María Sabina

  42 Born Under a Star

  43 El Sufrido

  44 Chuchuluco de Mis Amores

  45 ’Orita Vuelvo

  46 Spic Spanish?

  47 He Who Is Destined to Be a Tamale

  48 Cada Quien en Su Oficio Es Rey

  49 Piensa en Mí

  50 Neither with You Nor Without You

  51 All Parts from Mexico, Assembled in the U.S.A. or I Am Born

  PART 3

  The Eagle and the Serpent, or My Mother and My Father

  52 Cielito Lindo

  53 El Otro Lado

  54 Exquisite Tamales

  55 The Man Whose Name No One Is Allowed to Mention

  56 The Man from Mars

  57 Birds Without a Nest

  58 My Kind of Town

  59 Dirt

  60 When an Elephant Sits on Your Roof

  61 Very Nice and Kind, Just Like You

  62 A Godless Woman, My Mother

  63 God Gives Almonds

>   64 Sister Oh

  65 Body Like a Raisinette

  66 Nobody but Us Chickens

  67 The Vogue

  68 My Cross

  69 Zorro Strikes Again

  70 Becoming Invisible

  71 The Great Divide or This Side and That

  72 Mexican on Both Sides or Metiche, Mirona, Mitotera, Hocicona—en Otras Palabras, Cuentista—Busybody, Ogler, Liar/Gossip/Troublemaker, Big-Mouth—in Other Words, Storyteller

  73 Saint Anthony

  74 Everything a Niña Could Want

  75 The Rapture

  76 Parece Mentira

  77 On the Verge of Laughable

  78 Someday My Prince Popocatépetl Will Come

  79 Halfway Between Here and There,

  in the Middle of Nowhere

  80 Zócalo

  81 My Disgrace

  82 The King of Plastic Covers

  83 A Scene in a Hospital That Resembles a Telenovela

  When in Actuality It’s the Telenovelas That Resemble This Scene

  84 No Worth the Money, but They Help a Lot

  85 Mi Aniversario

  86 The Children and Grandchildren of Zoila and Inocencio Reyes

  Cordially Invite You to Celebrate Thirty Years of Marriage




  About the Author

  Other Books by This Author

  Cuéntame algo, aunque sea una mentira.

  Tell me a story, even if it’s a lie.


  The truth, these stories are nothing but story, bits of string, odds and ends found here and there, embroidered together to make something new. I have invented what I do not know and exaggerated what I do to continue the family tradition of telling healthy lies. If, in the course of my inventing, I have inadvertently stumbled on the truth, perdónenme.

  To write is to ask questions. It doesn’t matter if the answers are true or puro cuento. After all and everything only the story is remembered, and the truth fades away like the pale blue ink on a cheap embroidery pattern: Eres Mi Vida, Sueño Contigo Mi Amor, Suspiro Por Ti, Sólo Tú.


  Recuerdo de Acapulco

  Acuérdate de Acapulco,

  de aquellas noches,

  María bonita, María del alma;

  acuérdate que en la playa,

  con tus manitas las estrellitas

  las enjuagabas.

  —“María bonita,” by Augustín Lara, version sung by the composer while playing the piano, accompanied by a sweet, but very, very sweet violin


  We’re all little in the photograph above Father’s bed. We were little in Acapulco. We will always be little. For him we are just as we were then.

  Here are the Acapulco waters lapping just behind us, and here we are sitting on the lip of land and water. The little kids, Lolo and Memo, making devil horns behind each other’s heads; the Awful Grandmother holding them even though she never held them in real life. Mother seated as far from her as politely possible; Toto slouched beside her. The big boys, Rafa, Ito, and Tikis, stand under the roof of Father’s skinny arms. Aunty Light-Skin hugging Antonieta Araceli to her belly. Aunty shutting her eyes when the shutter clicks, as if she chooses not to remember the future, the house on Destiny Street sold, the move north to Monterrey.

  Here is Father squinting that same squint I always make when I’m photographed. He isn’t acabado yet. He isn’t finished, worn from working, from worrying, from smoking too many packs of cigarettes. There isn’t anything on his face but his face, and a tidy, thin mustache, like Pedro Infante, like Clark Gable. Father’s skin pulpy and soft, pale as the belly side of a shark.

  The Awful Grandmother has the same light skin as Father, but in elephant folds, stuffed into a bathing suit the color of an old umbrella with an amber handle.

  I’m not here. They’ve forgotten about me when the photographer walking along the beach proposes a portrait, un recuerdo, a remembrance literally. No one notices I’m off by myself building sand houses. They won’t realize I’m missing until the photographer delivers the portrait to Catita’s house, and I look at it for the first time and ask, —When was this taken? Where?

  Then everyone realizes the portrait is incomplete. It’s as if I didn’t exist. It’s as if I’m the photographer walking along the beach with the tripod camera on my shoulder asking, —¿Un recuerdo? A souvenir? A memory?


  Verde, Blanco, y Colorado

  Uncle Fat-Face’s brand-new used white Cadillac, Uncle Baby’s green Impala, Father’s red Chevrolet station wagon bought that summer on credit are racing to the Little Grandfather’s and Awful Grandmother’s house in Mexico City. Chicago, Route 66—Ogden Avenue past the giant Turtle Wax turtle—all the way to Saint Louis, Missouri, which Father calls by its Spanish name, San Luis. San Luis to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Dallas. Dallas to San Antonio to Laredo on 81 till we are on the other side. Monterrey. Saltillo. Matehuala. San Luis Potosí. Querétaro. Mexico City.

  Every time Uncle Fat-Face’s white Cadillac passes our red station wagon, the cousins—Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron—stick their tongues out at us and wave.

  —Hurry, we tell Father. —Go faster!

  When we pass the green Impala, Amor and Paz tug Uncle Baby’s shoulder. —Daddy, please!

  My brothers and I send them raspberries, we wag our tongues and make faces, we spit and point and laugh. The three cars—green Impala, white Cadillac, red station wagon—racing, passing each other sometimes on the shoulder of the road. Wives yelling, —Slower! Children yelling, —Faster!

  What a disgrace when one of us gets carsick and we have to stop the car. The green Impala, the white Caddy whooshing past noisy and happy as a thousand flags. Uncle Fat-Face toot-tooting that horn like crazy.



  —If we make it to Toluca, I’m walking to church on my knees.

  Aunty Licha, Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron are hauling things out to the curb. Blenders. Transistor radios. Barbie dolls. Swiss Army Knives. Plastic crystal chandeliers. Model airplanes. Men’s button-down dress shirts. Lace push-up bras. Socks. Cut-glass necklaces with matching earrings. Hair clippers. Mirror sunglasses. Panty girdles. Ballpoint pens. Eye shadow kits. Scissors. Toasters. Acrylic pullovers. Satin quilted bedspreads. Towel sets. All this besides the boxes of used clothing.

  Outside, roaring like the ocean, Chicago traffic from the Northwest and Congress Expressways. Inside, another roar; in Spanish from the kitchen radio, in English from TV cartoons, and in a mix of the two from her boys begging for, —Un nikle for Italian lemonade. But Aunty Licha doesn’t hear anything. Under her breath Aunty is bargaining, —Virgen Purísima, if we even make it to Laredo, even that, I’ll say three rosaries …

  —Cállate, vieja, you make me nervous. Uncle Fat-Face is fiddling with the luggage rack on top of the roof. It has taken him two days to get everything to fit inside the car. The white Cadillac’s trunk is filled to capacity. The tires sag. The back half of the car dips down low. There isn’t room for anything else except the passengers, and even so, the cousins have to sit on top of suitcases.

  —Daddy, my legs hurt already.

  —You. Shut your snout or you ride in the trunk.

  —But there isn’t any room in the trunk.

  —I said shut your snout!

  To pay for the vacation, Uncle Fat-Face and Aunty Licha always bring along items to sell. After visiting the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother in the city, they take a side trip to Aunty Licha’s hometown of Toluca. All year their apartment looks like a store. A year’s worth of weekends spent at Maxwell Street flea market* collecting merchandise for the trip south. Uncle says what sells is lo chillante, literally the screaming. —The gaudier the better, says the Awful Grandmother. —No use taking anything of value to that town of Indians.

  Each summe
r it’s something unbelievable that sells like hot queques. Topo Gigio key rings. Eyelash curlers. Wind Song perfume sets. Plastic rain bonnets. This year Uncle is betting on glow-in-the-dark yo-yos.

  Boxes. On top of the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator, along the hallway walls, behind the three-piece sectional couch, from floor to ceiling, on top or under things. Even the bathroom has a special storage shelf high above so no one can touch.

  In the boys’ room, floating near the ceiling just out of reach, toys nailed to the walls with upholstery tacks. Tonka trucks, model airplanes, Erector sets still in their original cardboard boxes with the cellophane window. They’re not to play with, they’re to look at. —This one I got last Christmas, and that one was a present for my seventh birthday … Like displays at a museum.

  We’ve been waiting all morning for Uncle Fat-Face to telephone and say, —Quihubo, brother, vámonos, so that Father can call Uncle Baby and say the same thing. Every year the three Reyes sons and their families drive south to the Awful Grandmother’s house on Destiny Street, Mexico City, one family at the beginning of the summer, one in the middle, and one at the summer’s end.

  —But what if something happens? the Awful Grandmother asks her husband.

  —Why ask me, I’m already dead, the Little Grandfather says, retreating to his bedroom with his newspaper and his cigar. —You’ll do what you want to do, same as always.

  —What if someone falls asleep at the wheel like the time Concha Chacón became a widow and lost half her family near Dallas. What a barbarity! And did you hear that sad story about Blanca’s cousins, eight people killed just as they were returning from Michoacán, right outside the Chicago city limits, a patch of ice and a light pole in some place called Aurora, pobrecitos. Or what about that station wagon full of gringa nuns that fell off the mountainside near Saltillo. But that was the old highway through the Sierra Madre before they built the new interstate.


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