Thursday April 6: Soledad conclusion


For Thursday 4/6 finish Soledad (end–page 230) in the new paperback edition. Continue tracking the themes we’ve identified and how characters develop in the book.

  • We’ve discussed the settings in class: the split between the East Village and Washington Heights and what each represents. Watch for locations as you read, how Cruz presents them, and what different urban spaces mean to key characters.
  • Point of view. Soledad comes from a female author and the P.O.V. the reader gets is primarily from women. What differences (if any) do you notice?
  • Following on the last point, one key subtext of the book are the various forms of violence against women. Think about this as you read and what it feels like for the various characters to move through urban spaces.
  • Culture. Another point of tension in the plot is the difference between the younger and older generations of characters and between more traditional Dominican culture and the different outlook that the younger, Americanized characters have. What are the differences between how characters see the world and their place in it?
  • What’s Soledad’s view of the American Dream and class mobility? Does it change over the course of the book? How?In addition to the general themes listed above, consider the following specific points:
  • What changes do we see in Soledad’s attitudes toward her mother, Richie, and Flaca?
  • How do her feelings towards the Dominican Republic and Washington Heights evolve?
  • What is the role of the supernatural or spirituality in the book’s conclusion?
  • How do memory and trauma affect the characters?
    Presentation by John, Julio, Dauris, and Fanny.
    Reminder: [Edit: the paper due date has been extended until 4/10–during spring break] The paper on The Warriors is due on 4/6. This weekend is the time to put some work into it if you haven’t yet. Review the assignment sheet and re-watch the film, taking good notes. Note: the video’s now available to stream on the video page. Strongly consider a trip to the ACE Center for help crafting your paper, especially if you want a good grade. Schedule an appointment for early next week to make sure you have time before the due date. Of course, you can run ideas past me via email and/or meet with me in office hours next week to discuss, no matter where you are in the process.

Thursday March 30: Angie Cruz’s Soledad, Part 1

On Thursday, 3/30, we turn to Angie Cruz’s novel of Dominican immigrants in Washington Heights, Soledad.

Angie Cruz, author of "Soledad"
Angie Cruz, author of “Soledad”

Read the first 5 chapters: up to page 111 in the new paperback edition. Note: it starts slow and Cruz’s narrative is non-linear and slightly more challenging than what we’ve read so far, but the effort is worth it. It is also the first from a female POV and female author. Here are a few things to think about as you read:

  • What do the different urban spaces in the book (the East Village) and (Washington Heights) represent to Soledad?
  • What are Soledad’s feelings toward her family and the neighborhood and how do they change? (Spoiler: they do)
  • The narrative is “non linear” (i.e. it doesn’t proceed in chronological order, time-wise) and the narrator (person telling the story) changes. Try to track the characters and who is speaking.
  • What tensions are there between old school Dominican culture and the different strands of US culture?

Presentation by Ron, Angelica, Ritu, and Mamta.

Announcements: I gave out the assignment sheet for the the first paper today and it’s due April 6. Details on the assignments page. You can view The Warriors or Do the Right Thing (which we’re not officially watching this semester) on the Video page: same password as everything else.

For March 23: The Warriors (Film)

For Thursday, March 23, we’re going to take a detour and watch and discuss the film The Warriors (Walter Hill director, Paramount Pictures, 1979) .

To prepare, read this Village Voice feature on the film and its legacy.

Also skim the storyline from the official film website.

The film is set largely at night, in 17970s New York, and mostly on trains, so mobility and movement is a major theme, as is the noir feel, coming from the gritty, underground nature of the city at that time and the emphasis on (fictional) streetgangs.

This is a contrast to some of what we’ve read so far, as it offers a dystopian (and somewhat anarchic) view of New York as a crumbling city in crisis, which is not far off the reality of the period, as NYC was emerging from a crippling fiscal crisis.

Optional: Surf around the film website, especially list of shooting locations. Also, the plot loosely mirrors actual events, as a early 1970s gang truce in the South Bronx was precipitated by the killing of a member of the Ghetto Brothers–who then decided not to retaliate. This is also a crucial moment in the formation of hip hop, as the gangs began to channel their energy into creative output. (See Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop for a fuller account)

For more background on actual 1970s New York street gangs, Henry Chalfant’s Flyin’ Cut Sleeves is essential viewing, and includes a lot of footage used in later films. It’s on YouTube as of this writing.

The documentary From Mambo to Hip Hop focuses specifically on the early period of hip hop and evolution of Bronx street gangs. It’s also on YouTube (as of now) and embedded below.

Thursday March 16: Bodega Dreams conclusion

For Thursday March 16: Read pages 107-213 (end of book) in Bodega Dreams.

Tentative: Visit from former Young Lords member Carlito Rovira to talk about his experience as an organizer in the party. We’ll connect his real experience with the fictional one of the character Willie Bodega, who is described by Quiñonez as a former Young Lord.

To guide your reading, think about the following things:


  • What are the key themes of the book? Mare a brief list as you find them. Mark specific examples in the text and in your notes.
  • How do characters develop? What changes do you see? Are there any surprising changes? Again, note specific examples in the text.
  • What seem to be key turns of the plot? Note specific examples in the text.
  • How does Quiñonez present urban space and the urban experience? How do different characters see the neighborhood that they live in?
  • What is the role of culture?

    Announcements: [To be added]

For March 9: Bodega Dreams, Part 1


Announcement: Groups for the presentations have already been set up and I’ve emailed the groups for Angie Cruz’s Soledad and Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman. I’ll email the remaining three groups for Assata next week, but until then see the assignments page for the presentation handout. Also, email me immediately if you haven’t signed up for any group!

For Thursday, March 9:, we move to the first novel of the semester. Read the first half — pages 1-107 — in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams.

A few things to pay attention to in the book are:

  • What makes the novel “urban”?
  • The characters Quiñonez creates and what slice of city life they show
  • How urban space is shown in the book and what different characters think about their surroundings
  • More specifically, track how different characters see their neighborhood
  • The role of culture and what it means
  • Quiñonez’s relationship as a writer to Pietri and Piñero (there are numerous references to both and their poetry throughout the book)
  • The “American Dream” and what it means to the characters in the book
  • How different generations of immigrants/migrants relate to the city and city life
  • Race and gender relations
  • This isn’t a complete list, but these are a few key things that jump out at me. Begin to look for connections/ similarities / differences in things we’ve read (and other things you’ve read/ watched /studied in other classes, etc).