Winner of The TRP Southern Poetry Breakthrough Series: Florida
The word tortillera means lesbian in Español. The moniker is familiar to most Spanish speaking cultures, but especially particular to the Cuban experience. In most Cuban-American households to be called a tortillera (whether one is one or not) is the gravest of insults, the basest of adjectives, a cat call that whips through the air like a lash whose only intention is to wound, to scar. Many a first-generation, Cubanita (the ones who are into other girls, anyway) has suffered, denied, wailed over the loaded term, but in Caridad Moro-Gronlier’s debut collection, Tortillera, she not only applies the term to herself, she owns it, drapes it over her shoulders and heralds her truth through candid, unflinching poems that address the queer experience of coming out while Cuban.
The first half of the book immediately plunges the reader into the speaker’s Cuban-American life on-the-hyphen through vivid, first person narratives that draw one in, making the reader privy to the moments that mold the speaker’s experience: marginalization at a teacher-parent conference; the socioeconomic distinctions at assorted Quinceañera celebrations; a walk down the aisle toward divorce amid a back drop of wedding registries and Phen-Phen fueled weight-loss; post-partum depression; a peek into a No-Tell motel that does tell of the affair she embarks upon with her first female lover; the agony of divorce vs. the headiness of sex and lust; the evolution of an identity in verse.
Part reckoning, part renewal, part redemption, part rebirth, the poems in Tortillera come clean, but more than that, they guide, reveal and examine larger considerations: the role of language on gender its subsequent roles, the heartrending consequences of compulsory heterosexuality, as well as the patriarchal stamp emblazoned on the Cuban diaspora. The work contained in Tortillera befits its audacious title—bold, original and utterly without shame.
from “Unpacking the Suitcase”
Once a year you watch West Side Story
on the screen of your parents’ 1974 Zenith
and catch a glimpse of yourself on television.
You are the first born gringa in the family.
Your English is perfect, but you’re not
like your friends. You don’t go to slumber parties
or play-dates, you don’t join the Brownies
or take ballet, but once a year you get to
live in Technicolor and root for the Sharks
because they speak Spanish, too.