Short Story Review – Nadia Villafuerte – Cosmo Girl (trans. Julie Ann Ward)

So much is made, these days (these days being mid-2018), about illegal immigrants making their way to America that it is easy to forget, perhaps, that for other people ‘undesirable’ countries are, in fact, a comparative paradise.  Nadia Villafuerte’s story Cosmo Girl is the story of Elena, once an erotic dancer, once an alcoholic, once on the cusp of falling into hedonism and a life of being a paid woman.  But no longer – she’s escaped, or rather escaping, and her destination is Mexico.

She was born in El Salvador.  She doesn’t touch on it much, other than to remember it with distaste.  It’s clear enough that she didn’t have a future there, and that she sees on in Mexico, particularly in Juarez.  The story opens with Elena boarding a bus, about to leave for Mexico City from Tapachula, where she has spent some time earning money, trying to become legitimate.

More than a year in the nightclub with a stifling routine of undressing, fucking, and drinking without knowing why. More than a year clenching her teeth to avoid the dazzling offers that would have her buy clothes or furniture for a tiny monthly payment, whose real catch was anchoring her even more firmly in the city where she remained, inexplicably; Tapachula was only supposed to be a stop along the way.

Elena is contemptuous of many things, but she has a clear fondness for Mexican culture, women, and their people.  She wants a relationship with an officer because they are tall and powerful.  She likes the deep beauty of Salmita Hayek over pasty American girls.  And she wants to work hard, just no longer as a dancer or a whore.

Her destination was Juárez. But clearly it would have been enough to settle in Tapachula and never return to her hometown where, despite its touristic attractiveness, she wouldn’t amount to anything more than just another little whore, without aspirations or glory.

Elena boards the bus.  The story is written mostly in present tense, though much of it is also spent on remembering her immediate past and how she came to this important time.  And it is an important time – it’s clear from the way Elena thinks about her upcoming bus trip that this is a pivotal moment in her life, one that will either begin the path to happiness, or force her down into the much she is so desperately attempting to escape from.

She doubts that she’ll ever be able to live in a Yankee city; she prefers to be realistic; she is ambitious, but her dreams have guardrails.

Much of the second half of the story centres around Elena on the bus to Mexico City.  She knows she is an illegal immigrant, and, worse, she knows also that officials check buses with the intention of deporting the unwanted.  The tension rises, and time seems to slow down, focusing intently on what is happening moment by moment.  The writing becomes quite physical, spending time on sounds, on smells, on the feel of material and the atmosphere in the air.

They can’t take me. I’m practically Mexican.

But she’s not, and when an officer boards the bus, she thinks her time is done.  The story drips with anticipation.  Will Elena be taken?  Is it okay to breathe a sigh of relief with another woman is dragged from the bus instead of her?  What of that woman’s dreams?  What of that woman’s destroyed future?

I have read, now, two stories by Villafuerte, and each deal with a woman who dreams of a better life.  They come at their dreams from different angles, but the overall thrust is the same.  These are stories of women who have lived lives harder than they might have liked, and hope to be on the cusp of something easier.  They aren’t work shy, but they want to get away from grasping male hands and capitalist exploitation.  They want simple things, and are frustrated that they aren’t able to have them.  They dream and want to be dreamed about; they see themselves as sexual beings and want to give themselves to another, but not always the people they have, so far, met.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow, she thinks, yawning.

Cosmo Girl is a short story by Mexican writer Nadia Villafuerte, and was translated by Julie Ann Ward.  You can read the story online at Latin American Literature Today.

Author Nadia Villafuerte
Title Cosmo Girl
Translator Julie Ann Ward
Nationality Mexican
Publisher Latin American Literature Today

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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