Excerpt from the Introduction (pp. XIII–XV):
"My three chapters revolve around the attempts of Nuyorican women to tell their stories, which are in most cases the first instances of this in a family. There are few precursors, so the writing represents the first “chinks,” or breaks in a wall of tradition-bound male literature. Nuyorican women’s literature often displays great originality as to form; Cofer includes poetry at the end of every chapter, for example.
My first chapter discusses silence, and whether it is a surrender to the culture or represents resistance to it. One kind of silence might be described as the element that precedes writing, the space from which writing is launched. Sometimes silence is a space for spiritual development, as with the prison epiphanies of Lolita Lebrun described by her granddaughter, which I discuss on pages 16–17. But often, silence for minority women represents surrender to the forces of one’s upbringing, such as some of the astonished moments Santiago describes. One silence that does qualify as resistance is that of Lidia’s uncle Sergio, in Happy Days, Uncle Sergio, a novel I discuss for comparison that takes place entirely in Puerto Rico; Uncle Sergio protects his sexuality, his politics and his aesthetics from his relatively conservative family, so he can live with them in harmony, and they in turn offer a tolerant silence to him.
Chapter two inquires into strategies of resistance in stories told by Nuyorican women. I differentiate between the subject of the books themselves—all of which represent, in general, resistance to the prevailing culture, because they interrupt the dominant discourse and reveal new truths about the lives of ordinary citizens—and to stories told within some of them. I find that, especially in Silent Dancing, which consists almost entirely of stories about stories, the examples given are only marginally relevant and sometimes even damaging to the young girls who hear them. For one thing, the stories were composed for girls living in Puerto Rican towns, and do not translate well into metropolitan New York-area life. But far more important, these stories obfuscate and obscure their real meaning and purpose as they relate to their young female listeners; and they actually favor the Church and the male culture they purport to resist. The older women—so dependent upon men for financial support, and on their male-run church for financial support, for comfort, and for approval—persist in corralling girls into early, dependent marriages, and they omit to inform them about the alternative lifestyles they might find more rewarding.
The older women do not support the younger ones, and have not managed to break through the stereotypes established by their macho culture; this impasse may even cause some of them to break down mentally.
In chapter three I discuss the instances of madness of Maria La Loca in Silent Dancing, Irene Vilar in Ladies Gallery, and Blanca in A Perfect Silence. I argue that Maria La Loca demonstrates a large degree of resistance in her behavior, trapped as she is in her small Puerto Rican town. Irene Vilar and Ambert’s protagonist Blanca, by dredging up vast reserves of strength within themselves to engage in a kind of self-psychoanalysis, and by using the hospital setting as their safe space, resist the unmothered and unsupported environments they knew (and that played a part in driving them to suicide attempts). They hoist themselves up, psychologically and emotionally, to a stage wherein they can safely venture out again, to face the world with renewed strength and hope."
"... Seen in this light, silence and madness may be imagined as the two sides of a treacherous height, with storytelling the narrow footing between them. It is all too easy to fall off to the side of silence, as Anzaldua and Moraga remind us, or to the side of madness, as Cofer, Vilar, and Ambert report. To gain, or regain, one’s footing and walk the middle road takes courage, heart, and strength."