FIT gets a shoutout in this chapter of Angie Cruz's talked-about novel
Dominicana, the third novel by Angie Cruz, Fashion Design ’94, tells the story of Ana, a fifteen-year-old girl who leaves her family in the Dominican Republic to immigrate to New York City. She marries Juan but falls in love with his brother, César. In spare and evocative prose, Cruz unfurls a tale of romantic love pitted against family loyalty. The paperback went on sale August 25. Cruz is an associate professor of writing at the University of Pittsburgh.
In this excerpt, which takes place near FIT, Ana and César sell pastelitos to hungry garment factory workers.
The first day I travel downtown to sell food, the sun makes the sidewalk glisten. Sweat beads pearl on my chest and forehead. I carry a tote full of fried pastelitos stuffed with ground meat and raisins, wrapped in tin foil. César says I can sell them for ten cents each. I’ve made fifty pastelitos. I quickly calculate my profit, factoring in travel and ingredients: over a hundred dollars in two months.
The hot weather keeps the pastelitos warm. César told me to wait outside of his building at noon sharp, ready to grab the lunch crowd before they find something else to eat in the thirty-minute break.
I walk quickly toward the subway. I put the token in the turnstile and think ahead to the elevator I will take. To the downtown platform. To the stop on 28th and Seventh. Then the four blocks up to 32nd to César’s jobsite, a tall skinny building next to two wide ones—
The Oven, he calls the factory, with a smell of fabric and worker sweat that can easily kill a person.
I stand outside. People rush past me, pushing carts crammed with colorful dresses covered in plastic. Men yell out of trucks, load and unload boxes, some of which might eventually end up on sale at El Basement. Cars honk. I don’t know where to stand and stay out of the way.
César grabs me before I even see him. Behind him stands a pack of men, all with lint in their hair and beards, all taking in deep breaths of fresh air as if they’ve come out of a cave.
Hey, guys, this is my little sister.
She’s a looker, one says.
Keep it in your pants, César scolds.
Suddenly, a crowd surrounds me.
One at a time, fellas.
I hand over two pastelitos at a time, while César collects the money and manages the crowd.
Two for twenty-five, have your money ready!
I go with César’s price, though at ten cents each I was ready to haggle. But the food goes faster than I’m able to remember their faces. In minutes, my pastelitos sell out.
Sorry, fellas, another day, César says, holding the last two for himself.
He takes me to a small bench by a building and points, This is FIT, the university for fashion.
Efayti, I say. I want to go to the university.
Why? You’re a rich woman now.
Where’s my money, then?
César transfers all the coins from his different pockets to my bag.
Six whole dollars, I say, swishing the coins around.
What you going to do with all your fortune? He bites into a pastelito and licks his lips.
Send my sister a money order so she starts beauty school.
What you gonna make us tomorrow?
Will I get in trouble for this?
He seems to forget that until we have our papers we have to be extra careful. My tourist visa expired months ago. When the baby’s born I will apply for permanent residence; so will Juan. Then I can solicit my mother. And Juan can solicit César. And I Lenny and Yohnny.
It’s America. You supply, people buy. Next thing you know, we have a chain like McDonald’s.
You live in the clouds, César. It’s not so easy. Look how hard you have it with the restaurant in Dominican Republic. It’s loss and more loss.
Ah, my brothers eat with their eyes and not their stomach. You start slow by making us lunch. Then you get a cart. Then a store. Then a bunch of stores. Small steps lead to big steps.
A rush of people in suits run to lunch, carrying briefcases. I suck in my cheeks like the wiry models with big hats who point their noses in the air. Goddesses. Must be strange to see the top of people’s heads first, before eyes or even smiles. How cool, to hold a briefcase filled with important papers and speak English perfectly.
My name is Ana. . . . I like watch television. . . . I like learn Efayti. . . . I like sit in sun with César.
What time will you be home tonight? I ask, not caring if I sound possessive.
Why? Miss me already?
Should I make dinner or not?
If he only knew how I counted the minutes until he arrived so we can sit at the table, eat together and talk about our day, what I’d learned from Sister Lucía, what happened in the latest Corona de Lágrimas.
I gotta go. Time’s up. Add more raisins next time. Gonna call your pastelitos Mini Anas—sweet and salty all at the same time. When you look at them, you wonder what’s hiding under the golden crust and—bam!—there it is, the surprise. So much goodness.
I giggle with embarrassment.
See ju later, alligator, he says.
It’s what Americans say.
From Dominicana by Angie Cruz. Copyright (c) 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of Flatiron Books.