Hola and Goodbye

Una Familia in Stories


By Donna Miscolta


Carolina Wren.


285 pp. $17.95


nolead ends nolead begins


Reviewed by

Kathe Connair


nolead ends With Hola and Goodbye, Donna Miscolta traces, through a series of stories, the arc of one family's assimilation into the United States.

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 coworker), Rosa, tries to improve her lot by speaking English. 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-hued 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 undergoing a generational upheaval, and the tensions are magnified for Lupita's grandchildren. Lyla's oversize 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 transwoman attending her 25-year high school reunion. And though there are fathers, sons, and brothers, we're told they're "treated like royalty" or "fussed over," but only a couple of them 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 vantage 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.

This review originally appeared in the

Minneapolis Star Tribune.