In The Latin Deli, Professor Cofer presents several themes that speak intimately to my Cuban-American self, but I will address only one in detail here: biculturalism (including bilingualism as a way into biculturalism), and this paper will analyze their vibrancy in the poems, personal essays, and short stories of this book . Every fall semester I enjoy the days my 1010 class and I discuss Cofer’s “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named María,” or pages 416-23 in Subjects/Strategies. My students are predominantly natives of Georgia and first-generation college students, so they need to be exposed to biculturalism as a topic for analysis and contemplation, first, because they are mostly white, and, second, because they live in an area with a rapidly increasing Latin population. I feel we need to know our neighbors better.
In this fine essay, Cofer tells the story of a bad experience she had once when she was a student at Oxford University. On a bus trip she took into London, a slightly tipsy young man got down on his knees in the aisle and serenaded her Latin features with the song, “María,” from West Side Story. This episode startled me the first time I read it because a similar thing happened to me, except in a different country, in a little town on the Rhine River called Boppard, then in West Germany. I was twenty-two, it was my first time abroad, and I was walking down a cobblestone street, alone, when a young German man burst out of a tavern, thrust a dozen of the reddest roses in my hands, kneeled to belt out some song in German, then just as quickly dashed off, never to be seen again. I would have doubted the experience, except there were those thorny roses I was holding.
Until I read Cofer’s essay exploring what it means to be perceived (or, rather, “misperceived”) as “Latina,” I myself did not quite understand those old experiences lodged, itching, in my memory. Like Cofer, my Hispanic (Cuban) heritage has often had its Caucasian