Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Evenings at the Argentine Club

Halfway through Julia Amante’s  Evenings at the Argentine Club I knew I would write about it on this blog. I identified with the protagonist and her relationship with her father. Big dreams they had, Victoria and Victor Torres. Big dreams to beat the odds. I loved that this 5 STAR story made me think about family relationships but it also made me think about immigration and assimilation and just how difficult that has been throughout world history.

All immigrants to America have dreams but when Victor and Jaqueline Torres move to America from Argentina, Victor has wild ideas of making millions and returning home a big shot. But, like most first generation American families they soon find that dreams aren’t handed to you. Every member of the Torres family and the Orteli family, their best friends, has their own dreams and expectations of living and working in America. Their story is one of miscommunication and dysfunction between husband and wife, parents and children, and other Argentine families who settle alongside them in Burbank, California . Julia Amante weaves a glorious story of letting go of expectations and reconciliation; something all of us need to do.

Victoria Torres, daughter of Victor and Jaqueline, is the protagonist. She's twenty-eight, single, and still living at home when the story begins. Her goal in life, which so far hasn't brought happiness, is twofold: she wants to be "Somebody" and she wants to make her father proud. So far, she has put her desires aside to please her father. Victoria's transformation is both turbulent and glorious.

After reading Evenings at the Argentine Club I realized that there are similar clubs across America for Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans, Polish-Americans, and etc. I lived in Miami when the influx of Cubans began after the Cuban Revolution. The Cubans I met through my work and church believed, like Victor Torres, that they would soon return to their homeland but for a different reason. Victor wanted to become rich and return home a wealthy man while the Cubans believed they were in exile until the turmoil in Cuba receded and Castro was overthrown. But that didn’t happen. Unlike many immigrants to America who blended into American society, the Cuban’s did not. They remained loyal to their cultural norms, mores, customs, language, and religious affiliations.  Little Havana, a small community near downtown, quickly became Cuban Miami. I sympathize with these people. They are proud to be Cuban. They did not want to leave Cuba. Their homeland has been devastated. And I understand their need to be separate or maybe better said their need to stay together.

Almost every American city is divided into “separate” neighborhoods. Who hasn’t heard of China Town, Spanish Harlem, or Little Havana? In New York City, high concentrations of ethnicities make up the population: Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Italians, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Mexicans, Middle Easterners, Russians, East Indians, on and on. And most live in their separate little neighborhoods. As much as people want to cling to their roots, Evenings at the Argentine Club reminded me that all of us are the same. We all want the American Dream even if our ancestors have been in America for so many generations we can only guess what our roots might be.

Victoria Torres reminded me of a piece of American history I discovered while researching my novel Auspicious Dreams in The Annals of San Francisco. What follows is from Auspicious Dreams, chapter 20 (1850):

“Nick (a Native American trying to assimilate into the “white man’s world”) had already discovered the unspoken class system that separated people into little groups. The place of a person’s birth seemed to separate them as strongly as their place of work or the type of clothing they wore. The people who spoke English and worked in banks and offices seemed to demand respect from the others.

“Most seemed comfortable in their little groups. Some longed for their homelands. Some constantly spoke of how wonderful their life had been before coming to America. To Nick, one group stood out from the rest—the Germans. Unlike other nationalities, they eagerly learned English, took interest in the local affairs of the city, and entered into the spirit of the community with enthusiasm. Although they had strong feelings for their homeland, they didn’t want to return to it. There was a common brotherhood of Germans who were ready to celebrate their nationality and praise the old country ways, yet they wanted to be part of this new country too.”

While I advocate the words of the song, Get Together by The Youngbloods (1967), I more rationally realize the need to be with those most like ourselves—but not exclusively. While the Torres and Orteli parents cling to old world traditions, their children gradually become more American than Argentine. This is bound to happen in any ethnic group.

“Come on, people now, Smile on your brother, Everybody get together, Try to love one another right now.”

From Evenings at the Argentine Club, chapter one. “Victoria Torres couldn’t say she understood what it felt like to leave behind everything one had ever known for something new. Leave parents, siblings, friends, an entire way of life, to live among strangers who spoke differently than you did and believed in values that were foreign compared to those you grew up with. To do something of that magnitude took a sort of internal strength that she lacked. When she thought of immigrants and their decisions to leave their homes, she figured either life had to be so bleak in their own countries or their dreams had to be so immense that they were willing to risk everything just for the hope of a little magic— a chance to change destiny.”

Eveningsat the Argentine Club by Julia Amante. 
Available on Amazom.