Geographies of Home: A Brutally Honest Portrait of a Dominican Immigrant Family

As a girl who comes from a family of Dominicans who immigrated to the United States, I have never seen myself and my family genuinely represented in mediums such as novels and films. When I think of books dealing with Latinx representation, the first that come to mind are Esperanza Rising and Prayers for the Stolen. However, these books, one which I encountered in middle school and one which I first encountered here at Williams, are about young Mexican women, and contrary to what some people may believe, the Mexican narrative is not the only Latinx narrative that exists.

Geographies of Home, a novel written by Loida Maritza Perez and originally published in 1999, made me think of the question, “When was the first time you saw yourself represented in media?” Because unfortunately the first time I ever saw myself represented was when I picked up Geographies of Home at the age of 18. After all, one of the novel’s main characters is also a low income, New York City girl who goes to college away from home. That being said, Perez’s novel is a tough pill to swallow, but it is also refreshingly real.

An issue I have had with past novels that talk about families of color or immigrant families is that instead of embracing their flaws, the novels go out of their way to make them look perfect: perfectly loving, perfectly tight-knit, perfectly hardworking. Loida Maritza Perez, though, embraces all parts of the Dominican immigrant family, whether they are good or bad. One of the major themes of the novel is how mental illness is misunderstood among Latinx families and how it is seen as a sign of weakness or laziness. The novel is graphic in describing the mental breakdowns of one of the characters, Marina, and the reader must read helplessly while her family members refuse to properly help her. It is heartbreaking, but this is a reality for many youth of color who cannot speak out about their mental health because their parents will accuse them of complaining or being ungrateful.

Moreover, Loida Maritza Perez also unapologetically confronts the anti-blackness that exists among Dominicans, which is not often talked about because discussing racial issues is taboo among Latin Americans in general. In one scene, Iliana, the daughter in the novel who returns from college, proudly declares her blackness, a moment which I believe to be one of the first Afro-Latinx pride moments in contemporary literature.

It is important for novels about people of color and immigrants to be real about the shortcomings and difficulties that come with existing in these communities, and that is why I commend Geographies of Home for doing so. After all, if we continue to pretend that things such as the stigma around mental illness do not exist, then how we will ever understand how to make things better? As people say, honesty is the best policy, and that is why I recommend people read Geographies of Home. It refuses to sugar coat issues that my family and my community have dealt with.