From Round 7 of Book II until the end, the plot of “Bodega Dreams” by Ernesto Quinonez continues to progress but of equal importance is the fact that characters are more fully developed as are some of the prominent themes in Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonezsuch as race, language, and the idea of personal progress and the American dream. In many ways, these aspects that will be addressed in this summary ofBodega Dreams are all intertwined, especially in terms of race and language. All of the main characters inBodega Dreams embody at least one of these themes or ideas and many of them suffer some kind of confusion as a result. If there can be one general statement about the second part of Bodega Dreams it is that there is the sense of living between cultures. Race, language, and finding one’s place in America—a place of all sorts of possibilities (both criminal and mainstream) are all matters that are dealt with and these issues warrant some discussion.
Throughout Bodega Dreams race is a constant source of tension, even when it is a factor in interactions among members of the same race. One of the best characters to highlight this tension is Blanca. Even her name is associated with whiteness and her entire personality throughout the novel is essentially “white." Her religion, moral outlook, and even her aspirations are all associated with conformity to mainstream white culture and while Chico himself shares in some of these aspirations, he also recognizes these aspects of his wife’s character. Chico is not the only one who notices Blanca’s “white" outlook on life. At one point he taunts Chico, saying in one of the important quotes from “Bodega Dreams” by Ernesto Quinonez, “cuz even though she might be Spanish, she’s a white Spanish" (153). He then goes on to insinuate that Chico has a complex about women of his race and that if Blanca wasn’t so white he would not have ever married her. Although this conversation is eventually dropped without progressing beyond Chico’s denial of this, it sets the tone for their relationship throughout the rest of the novel after this point. For instance, when the young couple wishes to elope, Chico feels that they should follow their hearts whereas Blanca is worried about what the church people and their families will think. By being more “white" she is more concerned about societal and moral standards than her husband and the reader cannot help but recall the comments about her whiteness at this point. In many ways, Blanca is something of a static character since she does not ever really make a turnaround in terms of her personality or overall outlook on life. She is meant to represent something deeper in Bodega Dreams about Chico’s position as a man living on the verge of two cultures with her being the standard or “white" way of being and his criminal friends being the other side.
The American dream is associated with mainstream white America and this is another source of tension throughout Bodega Dreams. Chico has a strong desire to live the American Dream yet he still cannot separate himself from that other world which is more familiar to him. As already discussed, he is married to a woman that embodies some elements of the American dream and with the prospect of having a child on the way he sees that the way to succeed is to follow the prescribed steps to achieve success. The problem is, he is surrounded by elements that make him think it is all a waste of time. At one point, he thinks to himself how tiresome it all seems when he think about how he’ll, “Graduate, get a good job, save, buy a house—[but] those ways were all slow" (160). Even though by the end of the book he has resolved his desires to some extent, he can never really exist in one world entirely, especially if he is living the same area. In this way the end of the book is somewhat unresolved since the reader does not know how he will eventually balance these two ways of living. Having two different ways of living, thinking, and even speaking is certainly a theme in .Bodega Dreams by Ernesto QuinonezOne way this is manifested is through language.
Throughout the book there is always a combination of Spanish and English or Spanglish and by the end, especially in Chico’s dream about Willie Bodega, it is clear what a major issue language is. In the dream Bodega tells him,“A new language means a new race. Spanglish is the future. It’s a new language being born out of the ashes of two cultures clashing with each other" (212). It is not until this point that Chico sees that through this combining of languages he can live simultaneously in both worlds; that of the white mainstream world and that of his relatives and those in Spanish Harlem. Even more interesting is the idea that language itself can create or signify race. Even though race in its technical sense (skin color) is a major issue in the book, it has a lot to do with the way one expresses ideas. For instance, Blanca is not just associated with whiteness because of her skin tone, but because she speaks and thinks like an Anglo woman. In other words, her speech and language are a race of their own. In sum, this book does not treat race as simply an issue of skin color, but as a matter that is embodied by all aspects of the way a person presents him or herself. Accordingly, when Bodega says that a new race can be created by language, he is addressing the idea that race is no longer something so cut and dry but that it is changeable and can shift even during the course of one’s lifetime. He recognizes race as a cultural construct and thus can say that a new race (through language) can be born from an old one, even if the skin colors remain the same. In fact, there is always some kind of tension about how race can mean different things. For example, when the police come to see Chico he notices they are Latino but says, “cops are a race unto themselves. It’s blue first and brown second" (173). Here it becomes clear that one can possess many different races and they do not all have to do with color. This distinction is even further intensified when another “layer" of race is added on when the one cop makes the division saying to Chico “I’m Cuban and you’re Puerto Rican" (177). This example shows that race has many variables and that one person, especially in this setting, can have several different races based on not only color but language, culture, or even employment and class.
When Chico says that Spanish Harlem is “a slum that has been handed down from immigrant to immigrant, like used clothing worn and reworn, stitched and restitched by different ethnic groups who continue to pass it on" (161) he is talking about the issues presented here. He is suggesting that just like Spanglish, culture and identity can be formed again and again anew. He is not saying that Spanish Harlem means one particular thing but rather it changes based on the people who inhabit it. In this sense, it is, metaphorically speaking, like a language in that it is open to change. In addition, the very setting, one that is based on so many culture’s input, is like the main character. It is inhabiting a space that is both within and on the borders of mainstream white society. Immediately following the lines above the narrator calls it a “paradox" and this is absolutely true, both of the character of Chico, of the conceptions of race and language, and of the whole idea of ethnicity.