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Life on the Hyphen

The Cuban-American Way

By Gustavo Pérez Firmat

Publication Year: 2012

With fascinating insights into how both ordinary and famous Cuban-Americans, including Desi Arnaz, Oscar Hijuelos, Gloria Estefan, and José Kozer, have lived “life on the hyphen,” this is an expanded, updated edition of the classic, award-winning study of Cuban-American culture.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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Preface to the Second Edition: The Facts of Life on the Hyphen

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pp. ix-xiv

I knew I was on To something When, shorty after this book’s original publication, Newsweek used the title of one of the chapters, “The Desi Chain,” for an article on the increasing impact of Latinos on Anglo- American culture...

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Introduction. The Desi Chain

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pp. 1-18

Some years ago The cover story of an issue of People magazine was devoted to Gloria Estefan, who began her career as one of the moving parts of the Miami Sound Machine. At the time, Estefan was recovering from a serious...

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Mambo No. 1: Lost in Translation

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p. 19-19

Take the Phrase literally. turn the commonplace into a place. Try to imagine where one ends up if one gets lost in translation. When I try to visualize such a place, I see myself, on a given Saturday afternoon,...

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1. I Love Ricky

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pp. 20-42

A few months before his death in 1986, Desi Arnaz remarked that he wanted to be remembered as the “I” in I Love Lucy, a wish that was both self- assertive and self- effacing, since that “I” is fraught with ambiguity...

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Mambo No. 2: Spic ’n’ Spanish

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p. 43-43

Miami spanish includes a term that, so far as I know, is unique to the city of sun and solecisms: nilingüe. Just as a bilingüe is someone who speaks two languages (say, Spanish and English), a nilingüe is someone who doesn’t...

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2. The Man Who Loved Lucy

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pp. 44-69

When the nine- year run of i love lucy ended in April of 1961, one of its stars went on to other successful Tv series, remaining in the public (and the cbs) eye for the rest of her life. Her costar, by contrast, retired to Palm Springs...

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Mambo No. 3: Desi Does it

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p. 70-70

Going through her father’s house after his death, Lucie Arnaz found a box of papers and memorabilia that she donated to the Love Library at San Diego State University, where Desi had lectured several times...

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3. A Brief History of Mambo Time

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pp. 71-93

Some months ago my 11- year- old son, knowing that I had been reading The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, came home with a Simpsons poster that bore the legend, “Let’s Mambo!” A few days later he showed me a booklet that revealed that dancing the mambo was one of Homer Simpson’s favorite pastimes...

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Mambo No. 4: The Barber of Little Havana

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p. 94-94

When i first became interested in the mambo, I was puzzled to find that a well- respected British reference work, The Faber Companion to 20th- Century Popular Music, gave Pérez Prado’s first name as...

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4. Salsa for All Seasons

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pp. 95-125

When I was growing up in Miami in the early 1960s, we heard resistance music. What we were resisting was the reality of exile. At once reticent and self- indulgent, this music had a dual purpose, for it allowed one to vent...

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Mambo No. 5: Mirror, Mirror

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pp. 126-127

One of the landmarks of cuban Miami is a restaurant called Versailles, which has been located on Eighth Street and Thirty- fifth Avenue for many years. Just about the only thing Versailles shares with...

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5. Rum, Rump, and Rumba

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pp. 128-144

Although it may be something of a simplification to say that Oscar Hijuelos is the Gloria Estefan of Cuban- American literature, their work moves in the same direction. Like Estefan, Hijuelos is a cross- over artist. Although his novels are immeasurably richer than Estefan’s simple...

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Mambo No. 6: English is Broken Here

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pp. 145-146

Some years ago a cuban radio station in Miami aired an advertisement promoting an airline’s reduced fares: “Piedmont Airlines quiere limpiar el aire sobre sus bajas tarifas.” “Limpiar el aire”? “Clean the air”? As a translation...

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6. No Man’s Language

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pp. 147-170

If Oscar Hijuelos composes valedictories to Cuba, José Kozer writes so as not to say goodbye. If Hijuelos writes “from” Cuba but “toward” the United States, Kozer writes “from” the United States but “toward” Cuba...

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Mambo No. 7: El Mago de La ñ y El Acento

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p. 171-171

Back in the days when typewriters ruled the world, when the Cuban- American hyphen was no more than hesitant puntos suspensivos (in English, ellipsis), it was impossible to find a Remington or a Smith- Corona...

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7. The Spell of the Hyphen

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pp. 172-189

By adjoining “cuban” and “american” in the course of this book, perhaps I have done what Strunk and White warn against. I may have succumbed to the spell of the hyphen. For if the compound title of the Chattanooga...

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Epilogue: My Repeating Island

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pp. 190-196

What sort of an exile is someone who has spent four- fifths of his life in another country and who has no intention of returning to Cuba to live no matter what the political conditions on the island?...


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pp. 197-222


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pp. 223-238

Permissions Acknowledgments

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p. 239-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780292737068
E-ISBN-10: 0292737068
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292735989
Print-ISBN-10: 0292735987

Page Count: 254
Illustrations: 19 photos
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Revised Edition
Series Title: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

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Subject Headings

  • Cuban Americans.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
  • Cuban Americans -- Florida -- Miami.
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