explains, “at least somebody who might take offense, [b]ut to him, I was just an Evita or a María: merely a character in his cartoon-populated universe” (152).
This story’s incisive, humane humor makes Cofer’s point about prejudice, and I always hope my students are taking indelible notes. Also worth noting is what Cofer omits in her description of the discomfort she experienced at the hands of this stereotyping white male—she does not once use that worn-out word, prejudice. Instead, sophisticated diction creates her trademark details. Cofer never tells her reader, “That guy was stupid and obnoxious”; she brings out the corporate executive and lets him bellow rudely, to paraphrase Mark Twain. In the last section of The Latin Deli, “The Medium’s Burden,” Cofer begins with Emily Dickinson’s reminder of the power of indirection: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—” (117). Even the title of that same essay, “The Myth of the Latin Woman,” contains a precise use of a small but telling word, myth. Cofer could just as easily have titled her piece, “The Stereotyping of the Latin Woman,” or “Examples of Prejudice Against the Latin Woman,” but myth has no negative connotations. It sneaks up on the unsuspecting reader. It causes no bristling of the brain, no immediate, “Oh, right, another whining minority writer.” But it does allow a fresh view of old problems. This fine word choice enables Judith Ortiz Cofer, an individual Latin-American woman, to show her audience how she differs from that Latina myth, and why.
The etymology of detail is revealing in this context—from an Old French word denoting, “a piece cut off,” from detaillir, meaning “to cut up,” detail is ultimately related to tailor.
The irony is that, in presenting her reader with countless nuanced, starkly honest fragments from her life, and then piecing them together into compelling stories and poems, Judith Ortiz Cofer transcends her own meaning and, in effect, successfully mythologizes her own life, without meaning to do so. The reader is reminded of the detailed, true-to-life poems of Lucille Clifton,