Seattle writer Donna Miscolta’s story collection “Hola and Goodbye” pays tribute to themes of heritage, immigration and identity in its portrait of a multigenerational Southern California family.
‘Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories’
by Donna Miscolta
Carolina Wren Press, 286 pp., $17.95
Seattle author Donna Miscolta sets a seat at the table of the large, loud Camacho clan in her lovely short-story collection “Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories.”
Heritage and identity are recurring themes as Miscolta (“When the de la Cruz Family Danced”) provides glimpses into the lives of matriarch Lupita, her friends, neighbors, children and grandchildren.
Lupita and husband, Sergio, leave Mexico for a better life in Southern California. She rises early for her cannery job, leaving a breakfast of fresh tortillas and a box of cornflakes for her seamlessly bicultural children, crazy about “The Lone Ranger” radio show. He leaves for night-shift janitorial work in a bowling alley when she returns in the afternoon. They raise five daughters and a son in a tidy two-bedroom stucco, “a home of permanence with the smell of onions and frijoles deep in the wallpaper.”
The bittersweet nature of immigration is embodied in Lupita’s struggle with English. Her new home in “el norte” is in “a town almost as dusty as her old one, but with no poetry to save it. There was only English.” She never makes peace with it, even in old age, lamenting in the collection’s closing story, “Sunday Dinner,” in which a surprise guest keeps her company in a multigenerational maelstrom: “Her grandchildren are all grown up into people she hardly knows, some even having given birth to children of their own who will know her only in a passing reference as the great-grandmother from Mexico who spoke no English …”
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Poignancy and pluck run through the best of the stories. In “Lovely Evelina,” Miscolta conveys in just 29 pages a lifetime of hurt and hope. The suspense in finding out how her classmates, who knew her as Chuck, will treat the gentle, dignified Evelina is almost too much to bear.
The funny title of “Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent” belies its protagonist’s bitter epiphany about her Hollywood dreams. “She should have been Maria. She — Lyla Castillo, nee Alicia Carmen Camacho, the youngest daughter of Sergio and Lupita … she could have played a Puerto Rican! … It tugs at her — who she used to be, who she might have been.”
The delightful “When Danny Got Married” is told from the point of view of a 13-year-old caught up in the frenzied preparations for a favorite uncle’s return from military duty in Europe — with a new bride from Spain. The niece wants to hate this lisping interloper whose “gracias” sound likes “grathias” and who bonds with her beloved abuelita over a telenovela. But empathy wins out and saves the day in a sweet and hilarious climax.
A quibble: “Hola and Goodbye” could really use a family tree to track its many characters. Then again, it’s not unlike being a guest in a family gathering where new names are hard to remember but the welcome is warm.