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LIT 4930: Florida Lit and Culture

Class 5: Jose Yglesias, The Truth About Them

    Jose Yglesias, The Truth About Them
    Read at least as far as chapters 1 & 2 (1-55)
    Recommended: Jose Iglesias, "The Radical Latino Island in the South," Tampa Bay History Spring 1996. (USF library journals online and Canvas)
    DUE: Post 3 group A, Response group B

Class Objectives:

    Discuss logistics for visiting Ybor City
    Analyze first two chapters of The Truth About Them
    Apply theories of place literary representations of Florida

Notes and Discussion Questions:

    We begin our study of local literature with the novelist and essayist Jose Yglesias, who grew up in Ybor City and often wrote about the early Latin community there. To find out more about Yglesias, visit the wikipedia article on him, the Encyclopedia Britannica article, and the Jose Yglesias website constructed by members of a previous class for the Ybor City History Museum. I've also included an essay by Jose Iglesias, The Radical Latino Island in the South," which is about Ybor City and reveals Yglesias' intentions.

    Yglesias traces the rise and dispersal of the Latin community in Ybor and Tampa. Yglesias says at the start of the essay that the truth of the community should not die out with the place. As you read the novel, consider to what extent has the truth died or remained living?


The Truth About Them by Jose Yglesias

    General observations and questions

    This novel first published in 1971 is a sprawling family chronicle and a distinctive immigrant narrative. It compasses the lives and stories of four generations of a Cuban-American family told from the perspective of second generation immigrant son. The action moves between Matanzas, Havana, Key West, Tampa and New York City. Would you call this an American novel? A Florida novel?

    As in his essay, Yglesias is keenly aware of class differences in the novel. The "them" of the novel is the colonial Spanish families of Cuba; what is the truth the novel tells about them? How might this relate to Yglesias' claim in his essay that "we Latins are not necessarily of a piece"?

    The Truth About Them offers a rich example of a literary text that provides enormous amounts of information about place, written as it is by a talented writer, keen observer and a person who is both inside and outside the community. Let's analyze the novel on a variety of levels related to place.

    Returning to Cresswell, what information does the novel provide on a descriptive level? What do you learn about Ybor (or other "real" places) that you might not know today?

    What information does the novel provide about the social construction of place? In this particular place (Ybor from 1880s to 1950s), what attributes of place does the book highlight that inform the social, political, racial, gendered, sexual, and economic structures? It is for this question, I believe, that the book provides most information.

    How does the narrative suggest a phenomenology of place? Each chapter highlights the experience of one member of his family, though it is told from the perspective of Pini. How do characters experience places differently?

    The book is not told in chronological sequence. Why might that be? What is the relation between linear time and immigrant experience? Does place have anything to do with this?

    Chapter 1

    This chapter focuses on the experience Pini's Grandmother, and it tells her story based on what Pini has learned. Why does he begin with his grandmother? In what sense might her experience be foundational?

    How does Pini's grandmother feel about Key West when she arrives? Why? How does this differ from Pini's grandfather and why?

    "In our family we all suffer happily from an intense nostalgia" (5). What does Pini mean by this? What clues does this provide about the relationship between his extended family and their place?

    What does Pini learn about his Grandmother's people and how does he respond?

    "I have dwelt so long on this little incident that happened a century ago in a town very few people have heard about because the dehiscence of a young girl, as of every bloom, is a singular event. One must have all the facts and yet they are not entirely assuring; a mystery remains" (15). Why is this event so important?

    What is the significance of Pini's reading his Great-grandfather's journal while aboard ship in the U.S. Navy?

    Comment: "To this day I speak more softly and sit more carefully in the homes of the well-to-do" (20).

    How is the revolution in Cuba a factor in the family story of Pini's grandmother? (Perhaps do a quick review of Cuban history.)

    Chapter two

    "They put on manliness the day they walked into the cigar factories as apprentices. Not, as with my generation, when they lost their virginity" (30). How do these threshold moments differ and what does that say about "manhood"?

    What role does Jose Marti play in grandfather's story?

    Why does the family go to New York? How is grandfather different in different places (Key West, Tampa, New York)?

    Evaluate the importance of Grandfather's advice to Pini: "Do not put your trust in anything but the work of your hands" (53).

    At the end of the chapter, Grandfather reacts poorly to the "progress" made in New York and his son-in-law's participation in it. What are the implications of such changes to place and specifically how does it affect the Latin family?


    Remember to identify place names for your mapping project. For this novel, select a way to organize the places mentioned in the novel and represent that through your mapping strategy. For example, you could map the travels of individual characters in the novel and assign each of the characters you choose a color. Add a quotation from the novel for the places marked.

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