Cofer’s careful manipulation of Spanish diction follows a general pattern in “Corazón’s Café.” At the beginning of the story, she uses Spanish words which she then translates for the reader; next, she uses Spanish words that she does not translate, choosing instead to make their meanings apparent by the surrounding text. Finally, she moves to a freer use of the Spanish language as the story concludes. I spent every childhood summer in Miami, and this progression mimics the way Spanish (or any language) falls at first on the ears of a foreigner, a non-speaker. Initially, you translate everything into your native language all the time. Then, as you gradually become more acquainted with the language, you translate less in your head because familiarity and context facilitate your understanding. Finally comes the magical day when the invisible bridge in your mind separating your first-learned language and your second-learned one dissolves, and you are left with only clarity. With this bilingual progression from basics to fluency, the story line itself draws the reader in and makes him or her part of Corazón’s Hispanic culture.
The first example of this use of bilingualism comes early, in paragraph three. It begins with Corazón thinking, “Habichuelas rojas, the cans of red kidney beans they stacked in a little pyramid” (93). Immediately, the reader finds herself in a Hispanic café, and she is inside the mind of Corazón, who is surveying the order of the store’s wares and seeing her beloved, deceased Manuel’s hand even in the way he stocked the whole store “in possible meal combinations” (93). Take the “habichuelas rojas” out of that sentence, and the plot at once loses color. The second example comes on the next page. Here Corazón recalls that she has always been a good judge of “la belleza,” of “the beauty” in others (94). In these two initial examples, where the Spanish diction is clearly translated for the reader, who may be entering the barrio for the first time, Cofer also establishes the theme of her story—true love lost—and, though this is a