In Tomorrow They Will Kiss, Eduardo Santiago explores the inter-woven lives of six Cuban-American women by examining their relationships and their past in Cuba. Told from the perspectives of three of the six women, the narrative goes back and forth between different characters, blending the events of the past into present-day drama.
Caridad, Imperio, and Graciela all grew up together in a small Cuban town. Cardidad, who is proper and proud and always dresses impeccably, seems determined to present an impermeable outward appearance; yet the expensive face powder on her face masks a deep sense of loss. Her best friend, Imperio, is short and skinny with a sharp tongue that she uses to tell it like it is. Attractive, adventurous, and dreamy, Graciela is an acquaintance who went to school with both women. Although Imperio and Caridad consider Graciela one of them, they can’t get past Graciela’s scandalous past in Cuba and are quick to scrutinize her every move.
Every day, the six Cuban women pile into the van, carpooling together to work at a toy factory. Newly emigrated from Cuba, these women find life in 1960s New Jersey to be a far cry from the better life they envisioned in America. Poor, unable to speak English, and struggling to support themselves and their families, these women try to re-create the lives they left behind in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. All of the women struggle with the paradox of having had plenty of money in Cuba, but nothing to buy because of years of embargoes. Now in the U.S., goods are abundant, but the women lack the financial means to acquire them.
The women viciously gossip about one another and do not get along particularly well. Yet bonds of their common ancestry keep them together. As Imperio, puts it, “We stood up for our own no matter how misguided their decisions.” In the face of animosities and personal frustrations, what unites these women are the Spanish language telenovelas:
Many things divided the passengers of that van. Bickering was almost constant. It was the telenovas that united us. No matter how annoying we found each other, when the topic turned to the current telenovela, we all cheered up.
The telenovelas’ predictable narrative and reassuring regularity provide respite and entertainment for these women; they’re an escape to a dramatic other world away from the struggles of daily life. Unlike in the Cuban women’s own lives, in the telenovelas there is never the question of whether the dramatic conclusion will happen; it is only a matter of when: “There was only one thing none of us in the van could ever be sure of, and that was when the first kiss between our favorite new couple would take place.”
For Graciela, life in the U.S. is a chance to build start over and dream of new possibilities. Graciela believes that, like the plot of a telenovela, things will work out eventually; it is just a matter of waiting for that episode to come. She aspires to make something more for herself as she starts to study English and fashion design and begins a relationship with the factory foreman.
Caridad and Imperio tell quite different stories. They are continually shocked and outraged by Graciela’s indiscretions and reminded of her past infidelities. For Caridad and Imperio, Graciela is like a wild telenovela character. But although both women disagree with Graciela’s actions, they are continually tuning into the next episode, intrigued by what she might do next. Like the escape of a telenovela, Graciela gives the other women a distraction from their own longings for the Cuba of the past and the hardships they face at present.
Through the narrative frame of the telenovela, Santiago masterfully illustrates the complexities of experience for Cuban exiles in the U.S. The multiple points of view of the different characters tell stories of loss, disappointments, but also of dreams and hopes, “burning with expectation of tomorrow and that kiss.”
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