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LIT 4930: Florida Lit and Culture


Class 7: Jose Yglesias, The Truth About Them

    Jose Yglesias, The Truth About Them finish (chapter 5-7)
    DUE: Post Post 4 – group A, Response group B

Class Objectives:

    Conclude our discussion of The Truth About Them


Notes and Discussion Questions:

    Chapter 5 - Chucha and Leandro

    At the beginning of the chapter, Pini describes Chucha and Leandro as “an object lesson for everyone in the family . . . .There was no moral about living right that they didn’t illustrate negatively . . . . They had no secrets and no discretion” (111). He comments on Papa Leondro’s behavior, his uncles’ responses to that behavior, and Mama Chucha’s shrieking and concludes that Cubans “are not to be taken seriously” (112-13). What evidence in the novel suggests that Pini’s opinion might have changed over time? What similarities, differences, and prejudices between Spanish/Matanzas, Cuban, and American/”Cracker” do you find in the novel?

    Compare/contrast Grandfather’s work ethic to Papa Leandro’s philosophy of work: “‘They pay you because they need you, they do not own you, remember that’” (127). How do Leandro’s relationships with the cigar factory and the WPA contribute to this philosophy? (photo collage of cigar factories in Ybor City: http://www.tampachanging.com/cigar/).

    To avoid being seen by the WPA members, Leandro has Pini drive through the black neighborhood, “where all the men were unemployed” (127), which prompts a reflection on the proximity of black and Latino communities in Tampa. Why are the borders so permeable? What role do “the tall ranks of men wearing sheets and hoods and carrying rifles” play in the organization of society? He then remembers his family’s responses to the Sacco and Vanzetti trial and execution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacco_and_Vanzetti). Why is Pini confused about “Them” and “They” (127-28).

    In this chapter (and others), women bring other women chamomile tea in the midst of a crisis. How are responses to crisis or trauma gendered in The Truth about Them? What do these differences tell us about familial and societal roles?

    Pini points to the end of “great secular funerals” as the beginning of cultural changes in Ybor City, but he also indicts the “freeway cutting a swath through the community and to urban renewal bulldozers leveling block after block of wooden houses?” (138). Thinking about the video we watched in class, comment on the relationship between the spatial (geography) and the social (culture).

    What do we learn about Papa Leandro’s experiences and perspectives by reading his poetry, or decimas? (149-53)

    Chapter 6 -Aunt Tita and Pini's mother

    Pini thinks that Aunt Titi “held the secret . . . of what made us a family” (160). To what extent do you agree with this statement? What is the secret?

    Chapter six mentions the cigar factory, Ballast Point, and the founding of Ybor City. Thinking back to Cresswell (descriptive, social, phenomenological), how does the history of place intertwine with the history of a family? Is it possible to separate them—place and family?

    When Pini thinks about his visits to Ybor City with his son, he feels a “pang” and worries “that in another generation this ambience might at best only linger like a scent after a beautiful woman has left the room” (167). Family members are passing away but what else seems to be passing away? Pini points to the Depression as the first experience with loss. What connection might be made to the economic condition of depression and the general sense of loss in the novel? How might depression and nostalgia (a favorite word for Pini) be related?

    Thinking about Grandmother, Grandfather, and Perla, how do issues of class and/or labor affect the home?

    Nicanor’s story directly addresses social issues, such as gambling and mental illness. Using Titi and Nicanor’s relationship as an example, how are social concerns both highlighted and obscured in the novel?

    Chapter 7 - Ralph

    Chapter seven opens by telling us that Ralph was in prison for his role in a student strike. Ralph admonishes his father for “[selling] them out.” If we think of “them” as both family and the Ybor community, do you agree that Pini has sold them out, as Ralph suggests (185)? As a writer, Pini has a momentary thought that his hope to pass on “some sort of inspirational tradition was literary nonsense” (186). What changes this opinion? How might literature have a function in place construction?

    What does Ralph learn about his family (and himself) during his visit to Ybor City?

    Why does Yglesias write Estefano’s story into the final pages of The Truth about Them? How do Estefano’s experiences comment on the story as a whole?

    We began with Grandfather’s advice on labor: “Do not put your trust in anything but the work of your hands” (53). A few chapters later, Papa Leandro advises Pini that “‘They pay you because they need you, they do not own you, remember that’” (127). Then, in the last sentences, Pini’s mother tells Ralph, “‘of course you should have gone out on strike . . . .But did you have to make yourself so noticeable . . . . why don’t you apologize to them the way they want you to? Tell them anything they want to hear—they do not have to know your thoughts. That is the way we have always survived’” (212-13). Why do you think that the novel ends with these words?

    Think about the organization of the novel into chapters that focus on the stories of individual characters. What is the significance of this structure? What does it imply about the nature of the story being told? Does the story finally convey "The Truth About Them"?


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