The Torregrosa family originates on the island of Puerto Rico, “where people are confined by water, surrounded by the infinite, with nothing but dreams.” Of all the races who pass through the island, the family’s bloodlines are to Spain. The most significant and beautifully described days of family life are those spent in Puerto Rico, where the houses, the foliage and the city are perfectly rendered, almost tactile. The dramatic island identity of a family grounded in culture and learning fades like old photographs as the years go by and time bleaches the color from the pages of their personal history.
Upon the sudden death of their mother, the six siblings gather in Texas for the funeral, coming together for the first time in fifteen years. As the oldest, Luisita Lopez Torregrosa recounts the family history and their divergent roads to this meeting, an occasion of both sadness and the joy of reconnecting family ties.
Luisita is struck by the contrast of her memories to those of the younger sisters, who have known their mother in a safer, more constricted frame of reference, absent the wild passion of her youth. It is difficult to imagine her socially conscious and activist mother in a shabby little Texas town, far from the carefree days of Puerto Rico. In Texas, the mother is more ordinary, easily blending into her surroundings, but through the author’s eyes, in Puerto Rico, the mother is a hothouse flower, exotic and passionate, a woman who draws the stares of men and the jealously of women. In the end, each child owns a separate vision of her mother, one replete with particular memories and light-filled, steaming summer afternoons, the colors and smells of childhood.
In a lyrical style, journalist Torregrosa describes the source of her family’s roots, an island divided into a rigid class structure, but tinged with memories of childhood stories and love of family. The Torregrosas spend their early years in a tropical paradise, protected by privilege, while the island’s economy deteriorates.
Watching her parents struggle within the constructs of their marriage, Luisita renounces the union of woman and man, the child troubled by the quiet suffering her mother endures in this marriage. Luisita craves only the illusion, not the painful experience. This is a seminal moment, as a maturing girl experiences sudden clarity and makes a decision that will alter her future. In finding her way back into the heart of the family after their mother’s death, Torregrosa must acknowledge her own life choices and the emotional distance she herself has imposed upon the family ties.
Most significantly, this memoir portrays a vibrant Puerto Rican family’s assimilation into the bland landscape of America. As the hub of the family identity, the mother personifies this loss of identity. Yet as a journalist, Torregrosa is living in the real world, one of political upheavals and social changes, island dictatorships “where the city, like my childhood, became a festival, one very long festival.”
This remarkable memoir derives its strength from the bonds between the mother and the siblings, based on their early history, one that survives the gradual loosening of connections: there is no disappointment, no sadness that does not have its genesis in love. Clearly, this mother’s profound influence on her children has made their lives fuller, more complete. For Torregrosa, her return to her island roots reawakens an intimate self-knowledge and appreciation for “Latin America, and the noise of people who explain their lives on the street…the noise of infinite longing.”