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In Dominicana, Angie Cruz weaves a story from Dominican Republic to New York. It’s a story of family, immigration, ambition, identity.
Ana is a pretty girl, with green eyes that stand out. Juan Ruiz sets his eyes on her and playfully asks him to marry her at the age of 11. It’s 4 years later when she’s married off to him. He lives in New York along with two of his brothers, Cesar and Hector, and Ana’s mom has the ambition for the whole family to move to America. Ana is their ticket, one that Ana’s mother cultivates by having Ana write letters to Juan so he doesn’t forget her. In effect, the marriage is a trade. The Ruiz brothers wants Ana’s father’s land to build a restaurant.
Ana’s family is poor. Her mother is black and hoped to better her station through marriage but instead, her in-laws disowned them. Her oldest child, Teresa, lives at home with her baby, fathered by a man she disapproves of. Yonny is the child between Teresa and Ana, and Lenny is the youngest. There are also two other girls, Juanita and Betty, who have lived with their family since their parents passed away. All the children share one room, boys and girls separated by a sheet.
This story is one of perception. To Ana’s family, being in America automatically affords higher status and greater opportunity, and signifies wealth. Ana’s mother doesn’t see how the Ruiz brothers have to line up for work, how they live in fear of being deported. She has no awareness of the racism they face, how hard they work for the money they earn. She dreams that Ana will go to school, and that she will be able to exert influence on Juan to help the family back home, so that they all end up in America.
Ana’s life in New York
Ana has very little control over anything. She’s 15 years old, pretending to be 19 to match her fake passport. She has no money of her own, no friends. When she thinks that she has made a friend, a woman who borrowed money from Juan, she ends up betrayed. The woman preys on Ana and convinces her to return the wedding ring that Juan has been keeping as collateral. Ana hides this from Juan and uses all the money she’s managed to skim and secure away and “borrows” some money Juan’s emergency fund to pretend that Marisela is paying her debt. She doesn’t think that he’ll notice but he does, and almost gets into a fight about it with Cesar.
Juan lives life according to his whim, spending time with Caridad, the woman he loves. He met Caridad before he married Ana, while waiting on a line for work at a hotel. He used his charm to woo Caridad, whose husband is away at war.
After Juan marries Ana, he continues seeing Caridad. Ana finds evidence of a woman in the apartment, and starts looking for signs. She learns Caridad’s name by reading a letter she finds in his pocket. She knows that the breath who calls the phone, saying nothing, is Caridad.
Even though he loves another woman, Juan insists that Ana submits to him. He has sex with her at will, while she does he best to close body and mind from the experience. When her body starts to enjoy the experience despite her mind’s disinterest, she feels betrayed. She remembers Gabriel, the boy that she shared an innocent love with back home, in a different reality, someone her own age. Ana does not love Juan, even though he insists that she speak the words to him. He has no qualms about hitting Ana. Once, he chokes her to the point of her passing out. This is when she starts to fear that Juan will kill her one day.
She decides to leave him and go back home. She takes the $15 she’s save and $75 from Juan’s safe and leaves the apartment. She has no key to get back in but she doesn’t expect to need to. At the bus terminal, she unexpectedly runs into his brother Cesar. He calms her down and she realizes that home is not a safe place either. Thinking about going back to Juan, she is physically sick and faints. Cesar takes her to the hospital.
At the hospital, Ana finds out that she’s pregnant. She’s both afraid and filled with love. She realizes that she’s getting even more tied to Juan.
Life in Dominicana Republic
Ana’s mother tries to control everything. When she realizes that Juanita and Yonny are fooling around with each other, she does her best to separate them, sending Juanita to work with a family far away. By then, it’s too late because Juanita is already pregnant and she and Yonny are in love. He has plans for them to be together. When Yonny starts working with the American troops in their city, his mom worries for his safety, she sends him to visit Juanita in the capital, where he is killed, caught in the fighting of the revolution.
Juan is in the capital while Yonny is killed. He has gone back home to solve issues with their building plans. There, he discovers that his brother, Ramon, has made a bad investment with the money they’ve saved to build apartments for each brother, and the money is all gone. He’s gone for months, waiting for an affordable flight back to New York and for the fighting in the city to calm down.
Ana Blossoms while Juan is Away
While Juan is gone, Ana blossoms into herself. She’s pregnant, and left to the care of Juan’s brother, Cesar. She gets to start going to English class across the street. Cesar is kind and solicitous with her, and they enjoy spending time together. They explore the city, and she learns to take the subway on her own. He helps her make some money for herself by cooking food and selling it to his coworkers. They even sell food at an exposition, pretending to be representing the pavilion for Dominican Republic. They spend time at Coney Island, on the beach, and have fun together. She starts falling for him. With the money Ana makes, she’s able to replace the money she took from Juan.
The passion between Ana and Cesar escalates while dancing at the Audubon three days before Juan returns. They’d been flirting but that night, everything changes. Cesar doesn’t care that she’s his brother’s wife. They make plans to move to Boston together. Since he’s lost his job in NY, Cesar plans to move there to work. He leaves to Boston on the day of Juan’s arrival, avoiding him.
Juan Returns to New York
Juan comes back a different man, thinner, more tentative. He also brings good news that Lenny and Ana’s mom are getting visas to visit America. They will arrive before the baby is born. Ana realizes what this means for leaving Juan.
One day, Marisela and her husband come over with Juan to buy some of their fall-off-the-back-of-the-truck suits. Ana is responsible for that part of the business and entertains the guests. Marisela leaves $40 behind for Ana to find, with an apology. It’s not the $75 she owed, but Ana appreciates the gesture. She’d once followed Marisela and saw where she lived. She came face to face with Marisela but quickly left the building without confronting her. She left in a hurry because she realized that things aren’t always what they seem. She’d thought that Marisela was rich because she was always well-dressed, but she found her living in a roach-infested, dirty building.
Ana has mixed feelings about her mother’s arrival. She’s happy her mother will help her, but she is not looking forward to her mother’s control. She also has to come to terms with the fact that she can’t leave Juan now. When Cesar shows up to try to lure her to Boston, she realizes that it’s actually time to say goodbye.
Altagracia is born
Ana goes through hours of labor. When Caridad calls during her labor, she picks up the phone and breathes in response, letting her mother know who is on the phone. Caridad never says a word, but she stays on the phone while Ana talks.
Ana gives birth to a baby girl. After 2 days in the hospital, she arrives home to a house full of people celebrating. She has stitches from the birth, but she’s expected to socialize and serve the visitors. Her only respite is a few minutes to feed her daughter, where her sister in law helps her get the child to latch to her breast. Once the baby is fed and put to sleep, Ana returns to the living room with everyone.
Juan comments that “stronger than a bull” when someone notices that Ana may need some rest after just having a baby. She’s asked to refill the water, get ice, serve the guests. When Caridad calls, saying she’s downstairs, Ana grabs the phone and talks to her. When Juan grabs the phone from her, he hits her and bursts her upper lip with it. Everyone looks on as he says “look what she makes me do”. Hector calls his name but says nothing more.
Juan is fighting with Ana and is shaking her when she starts to hemorrhage. The issue is Caridad who is downstairs and has called the house phone to talk to Juan, trying to lure him back. Ana’s mother won’t let Juan touch her. She carries her daughter downstairs while Anthony and Hector run to the hospital across the street for help. For the first time, she braves the elevator to bring her daughter downstairs, where they meet the stretcher and a medic from the hospital across the street. Before bringing her daughter downstairs, she instructs Juan to “tend to that crazy downstairs”.
At the hospital, Ana’s mother weaves a new story, one of “us and only us”.
The Rest of the Story
Betty meets a man from Tennessee and will likely end up there. Juanita has managed to convince a man from Japan that she’s pregnant with his child and will likely move with him. This leave Teresa and papa to help move to the US. Although Ana, Juan, mama and Lenny all leave in the same apartment, it’s for financial reasons. Juan has been relegated to the sofa bed, with Ana’s mother taking his spot in her bed. Ana’s going to stay in New York, but on different terms.