With “Hola and Goodbye,” Donna Miscolta traces the arc of one family’s assimilation into the United States through a series of stories. The book opens with Lupita, an immigrant from Mexico who works in a fish cannery in San Diego’s Kimball Park. She feels betrayed when her best friend and the only other Spanish-speaking co-worker, Rosa, tries to improve her lot by speaking English. But when Rosa is treated cruelly by their lecherous boss, Lupita is quick to forgive and comfort.
In subsequent stories we learn about Lupita’s children, who grow up watching “The Lone Ranger” and fully embrace the American way of life. Consuela becomes Connie, a faithful reader of Better Homes and Gardens who buys anything “with the word better in it.” Milagros, now Millie, thirsts for the avocado appliances in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal. Alicia Carmen takes a new name altogether, Lyla, and transfers her dreams of stardom to her daughters.
By the 1970s, the whole country is experiencing a generational upheaval, and the tensions are magnified for Lupita’s grandchildren. Lyla’s oversized girls are better suited to wrestling mats than tutus. Millie’s daughter carefully applies her makeup before being admitted to a sanitarium. And Connie’s Julia goes to Mexico for a summerlong immersion in Spanish. She wants to “do the Alex Haley thing,” but hates the way people pronounce her name (“Who-lia. … It was the call of an owl, a jeer, a question about identity”) and is flummoxed when her halting speech reveals her as an outsider.
Each story here is complete, but a couple are told in first person, and I felt at sea until I could place the characters in Lupita’s world. One connection eluded me completely, although the chapter held another touching tale of returning to and rising above one’s roots — about a trans woman attending her 25-year high school reunion. And while there are fathers, sons and brothers, we’re told that they’re “treated like royalty” or “fussed over,” but only a couple are fleshed out.
These are quibbles, though. Miscolta is an effortless storyteller who lovingly depicts the comforts and constraints, jealousies and judgments, protection and pride that all families experience. Doing so from the standpoint of an immigrant family allows her to point out the limitations of a monolithic culture and make a case for accepting, inviting and celebrating our roots, wherever they may be.
Kathe Connair is a former Star Tribune copy editor.
Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories
By: Donna Miscolta.
Publisher: Carolina Wren Press, 285 pages, $17.95.