The debate hall of Cambridge University is filled with graduates and undergraduates, with handfuls of people still left outside. James Baldwin, best known at the time for his eloquent essays and literature, such as Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son, is debating William F. Buckley, an American conservative who laid the groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The question up for debate: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”
James Baldwin left his quotable handbook of statistics at home this day and decided to turn the audience inside out. Baldwin spoke of the destruction of his identity, a collective experience among the black community in the United States. The destruction of his identity, caused by the American population’s refusal to accept the growing racism in the United States, adding decades more to the centuries of oppression.
Baldwin spoke of his experience as something that came from an utter shock, from the realization of his ancestor’s upbringing, to the realization of the color of his skin. He expressed that everything in his world was white, from the sticks and stones, to the faces on television, to the faces down the block — all white. He continues to express his shock, the realization that he himself was not white, since he never looked in the mirror before. He explains, “It comes as a great shock around the age of five, or six, or even seven to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you.” Baldwin’s analogy proved his offset. The country in which he was born left no place in society for him; nowhere to evolve, grow, or prosper.
We came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this? is a collection of six short stories that illustrate the lives of many Latinxs in the gay and lesbian community. Author Achy Obejas digs into the minds of marginalized people to give them their own voice. Their voices are comprised of personal memories, other people’s lives, and some fiction. Obejas provides an important narration for those who rarely get the chance to write, or even get the chance to speak, due to society’s harsh labels.
For instance, “Wrecks,” Obejas’s first short story, falls into the theme of self-destruction and the destructive course we take after a falling out. The first paragraph introduces us to a young woman who is ensuring she purchases the right insurance — that is, it should include Collison, not just liability. It’s humorous, really, she admits to driving recklessly after every breakup, yet she refuses to accept her demise. She gives us a list of her exes and the car crash that went along with each breakup.
First, Loretta, whom she says caused her to drive her car into a tree, making it inoperable. But before that, Doris, who caused her, as she says, to drive into a pole on an icy day in Michigan. All of this is important because she foresees the accident that will be, now that she has broken up with her former-girlfriend, Sandra. The car accidents are not enough for this young woman, as she continues down the road, falling into deeper, more horrific escapades, which include others. This young woman illustrates for the reader a universal perspective of anger and heartbreak, which can lead to a swirling demise either down a lonely, dark, icy highway somewhere off in Michigan, or up Lake Shore Drive on a sunny, well-lit day.