Oye What I'm Going to Tell You
“Enough of Anything”
“Enough of Anything” is from Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés’s new collection, OYE WHAT I’M GONNA TELL YOU (IG Publishing, 2015). Milanés is the author of two earlier books, the story collection, Marielitos, Balseros and Other Exiles and Everyday Chica, 2010 winner of the Longleaf Press Poetry Chapbook award. She lives in Orlando, Florida.
Milanés said of her story: The story behind “Enough of Anything” begins, not surprisingly, with something my mother said. Her stories inspire many of my own, and mami often begins them with the very Cuban phrase, Oye lo que te voy a decir. Roughly translated it means, “Listen up,” or more literally, “Listen to what I’m going to tell you.” She was reminiscing about her recently passed on comadre, Elsa, whose daughter is mami’s godchild.
Elsa and mami were girls together in East Havana, life-long friends. Mami often tells me how challenging—physically and emotionally—life was for her growing up in pre-revolutionary Cuba, but one day she commented that her dear friend Elsa had been even poorer and had endured an even more difficult life. A little sheepishly, she said, “Elsa se crió entre putas y maricones”—such a line ended up, only slightly revised, as the opening for “Enough of Anything”, a story I imagined for Alma, an Elsa-like protagonist. Some of the details in Alma’s story are based on my research about the period, while some comes from conversations with Elsa’s still bereft daughter.
However, I imagined a lot from what my mother didn’t say. I understood the bravery and determination Elsa/Alma needed in order to leave Cuba as a single woman with little-to-no-English, resources or skills. Her ability to make it, i.e. not starve, prostitute herself or die, served as a lifeline to her friend who left the island not long after. Alma imagines a vastly different life for herself than the one Lala has planned for her, and the only way for Alma to have it required a giant step into the romantic unknown, a world glamorized by films and American-influenced culture.
The New York Times Book Review praised the collection: “These stories have an appealing colloquial voice, peppered with Spanglish. Milanés’s depictions of Cuban-American culture are vibrant.”