Lourdes’s side of the family is “big and messy.” Though they don’t see each other often, they have a ton of fun at noisy family gatherings a couple of times a year. On the drive over to Zoila’s house, Lizet wonders how much her mother’s family knows about the split—or, for that matter, about Lizet herself going away to college.
Though Lizet’s family is large and boisterous, she worries that her mother has been hiding certain things from them and ignoring Lizet’s success.
When Lizet, Lourdes, Leidy, and Dante arrive at Zoila’s house, Zoila is already half-drunk and greets them all loudly and effusively. Though Zoila and Lourdes are technically cousins, they refer to one another as sisters; Lourdes lived with Zoila and Zoila’s mother when she first arrived from Cuba, and the two have been close ever since. They talk to one another in obscenity-laden speech and call one another insulting names, yet their love for one another is evident.
Zoila and Lourdes, though not technically sisters, have been bound since youth by the specific and overwhelming experience of being there for each other during a crucial moment in Lourdes’s life—her immigration to the United States.
The girls make their way out to the backyard, where a pig is roasting. They greet the rest of their family, and Leidy passes Dante off to a cousin so that she can have a drink and enjoy herself. As Leidy and Lizet begin gulping sangria together, Lizet feels “normal” for the first time since she’s been home. It almost feels like she and Leidy are “on the same team,” the way they were years ago before Leidy got pregnant and before Lizet had ever even heard of Rawlings.
Lizet is so desperate to revert back to the person she once was, that even a hint of normalcy and nostalgia makes her feel immense relief. She longs for things to be less complicated, and for her family to feel a sense of togetherness as they once did.
One of Lizet’s cousins asks her where Omar is, and Leidy interjects, revealing that Lizet has broken up with Omar. Lizet feels ill, and realizes she shouldn’t drink any more of her sangria. Against her will, she misses Omar; though she hasn’t called him since she’s been home, she’s upset that he hasn’t called her, either.
Though Lizet’s feelings about Omar are ambivalent at best, she still gets upset when he doesn’t pay enough attention to her—just like when he hung up on her at the airport over Thanksgiving, she feels miffed at the realization that he hasn’t been in touch with her since she’s been home.
Over the course of the night, Lizet fends off her increasingly drunk relatives, who comment on her changed appearance and ask her if she is engaged yet. When it’s time to sit down for dinner, Lizet notices that there is a place card at her table with Omar’s name on it. Lizet wonders whether her mother went behind her back and told Zoila to put Omar’s place card out despite knowing Lizet had expressed ambivalence about their relationship—or whether she didn’t say a word about Omar, and by proxy Lizet, to Zoila at all.
When Lizet sees Omar’s place card at the dinner table, she is struck by the terrible realization that her mother only cares about the aspects of her life that relate to Miami. Lourdes has no interest in Lizet’s activities at school—all she wants is for Lizet to come home and resume a “normal” life.
Lizet rushes outside to confront her mother—she walks out to see that Zoila is teasing Lourdes about her involvement with Ariel Hernandez. Most people in Miami believe that Ariel is sure to get the political asylum his family has recently requested, and Zoila now tells Lourdes that she looks foolish campaigning so hard on Ariel’s behalf when his asylum is already a done deal. Zoila then turns to her much-younger boyfriend, Tony, and tells him that Lourdes is obsessed with Ariel because she’s lonely and has nothing better to do.
Lizet picks a bad moment to confront her mother—Lourdes is in the process of fending off drunk relatives herself and defending her commitment to the Ariel case in the face of people who want to shame her and make her feel ridiculous and pathetic.
Lizet tries to get her mother’s attention, but Lourdes is riled up and distracted by her own confrontation with Zoila. Lizet firmly tells her mother that they need to talk immediately. Zoila urges Lourdes to pay attention to Lizet and see what “the profesora” has to say; Lizet knows that the nickname is meant as a dig, but also realizes that it at least knows that her family is aware of the fact that she’s in college somewhere special.
Lizet is so desperate for attention and recognition from her family that she’s willing to accept even their teasing about her intelligence and haughtiness as confirmation that they at least know she’s working hard.
Lourdes drags Lizet back into the house and reprimands her for talking to her so disrespectfully in front of the rest of the family. Lourdes pushes Lizet against a wall and tells her remember her place—“Maybe,” she says, “you forgot that up there.”
Lourdes makes it clear that she doesn’t think that Rawlings is making Lizet any smarter—in fact, it’s making her forget who she is and what her duties to her family are.
Lizet shows Lourdes the place card and asks what it was doing on the table—she wants to know if Zoila forgot to take Omar out, or if Lourdes told Zoila to leave it there. Lourdes suggests that Lizet needs the “reminder” of the place card to show her what’s “really important”—she thinks Lizet believes she is too good for Omar now.
Lourdes confirms that she wants Lizet to realize that Omar and her life in Miami are what is important—not academics or her adventures up at school.
Lizet and her mother continue to argue—about Omar, about Lourdes’s disinterest in Lizet’s experiences at school, about the sacrifices each is making. When Lizet pulls out her trump card and accuses Lourdes of only caring about Ariel because she has nothing else going on, Lourdes pushes Lizet hard, and Lizet falls to the ground. Lourdes tells Lizet that no matter what college she goes to, she will always be “fucking stupid” about some things. She turns her back and walks out of the room, still screaming about how selfish Lizet and Leidy are—they have invented their own problems, whereas Ariel and Caridaylis are going through something real.
Lizet and Lourdes’s horrible, physically intense fight reflects the deep-rooted frustrations both women have with one another. They see things completely differently, and have opposing ideas about what’s important. Lourdes doesn’t want Lizet to act superior to the rest of her family or forget her place or her duties, and attempts to couch her jealousy and feelings of abandonment in arguments about how good their family has it compared to Ariel—her obsession.
Lizet, sitting on the ground as the room spins around her, believes her mother is the selfish one for volunteering all her time on Ariel’s behalf when her own daughters need her. Eventually, Lizet stands up and heads back to the dinner table. Her mother takes a seat at the opposite end from Lizet and Leidy; Lizet spends the whole meal telling anyone who will listen that Omar is busy at work and will be present for the meal next year.
Lizet ultimately decides it’s easier to play her family’s games than to try and assert that she is different, destined for bigger and better things.