Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

A Promise Kept: A Conversation with Julia ÁLvarez

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

A Promise Kept: A Conversation with Julia ÁLvarez

Article excerpt

Julia Álvarez, called the "one-woman cultural collision" by theLos Angeles Times Book Review, weaves together memory, history, and identity in her most recent book, A Wedding in Haiti (2012).1 The same elements are present in her internationally renowned novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), both also concentrating on identity and selfrepresentation. This time around, however, Álvarez does not approach these same general themes through fictional narrative, turning instead to memoir form. Álvarez's personal relationship with a young Haitian boy she met years ago in the Dominican Republic forms the book's core, but there are numerous other "love stories" and relationships that appear in the text. Examples include Álvarez's relationship with her husband, Bill, as well as the unbroken connection between her parents that remains, even as they both battle Alzheimer's Disease. Perhaps the most important underlying relationship is that of two conflicted and troubled countries who share one island, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Though these countries are geographically "close," they rarely exhibit any "closeness" regarding political or cultural ties. They are two nations with anything but a sisterly relationship, leading Álvarez to label Haiti "the sister I never got to know." Yet, it is a "sister" she got to know better during the process of writing A Wedding in Haiti, a story recounting her two recent trips to the country bordering her native Dominican Republic, one before and one after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. A Wedding in Haiti provides a snapshot of Haiti we do not see in the news, a Haiti filled with hope, resilience, and determination.

Megan Myers: Could you begin by giving some background information on the promise you made to Piti many years ago, a promise that serves as the backbone of A Wedding in Haiti.

Julia Álvarez: Well, in the beginning of the book I tell the story of how we met and how Piti came to work at Alta Gracia. So, one night we were up at the farm, and we had all eaten dinner together and Piti, who is usually so friendly and exuberant, looked kind of forlorn and quiet and, I thought, homesick. And so I tried to cheer him up. I told him, "Piti, I see your future. You are going to meet this wonderful love of your life, a beautiful Haitian girl, and you are going to get married and start a family." He just looked at me like I was crazy. Where was he going to meet a nice Haitian girl in the mountains of the Dominican Republic in an all-male work crew? But I insisted: "No, Piti, I see it in your future. You are going to meet her, and you know what? I am going to be the godmother of the wedding, and I am going to be there." He just laughed, and I really thought that was that: one of those promises you make at a party and you never think you are going to be called on to keep. We still knew him over the years, but fast-forward eight years later we get a call in Vermont one summer from Piti: "I'm getting married in Haiti in a week. Are you coming madrina?" As I explain in the book, my first reaction was, "Piti, I am a busy person. I've got commitments. I just can't drop everything. You have got to give me advance warning." He wasn't pushy about it, but I got offthe phone and it was like the pebble in my shoe . . . so many people had let down this kid over the years. And not just people, the whole situation he had been born into-an impoverished family, poverty that had forced him to leave home as a teenager and enter another country without documents to work. It's a promise that we, as human beings, should be making-and keeping!-to all the kids in the world: that they can all have certain opportunities, that they can all be able to develop their talents. I thought: I am not going to be one more person on the list of people who have failed this kid. I couldn't live with myself. But this is a perfect example of how storytelling gets me in trouble! …

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