The next morning, Lizet takes a shower—she is preparing to leave for the rally with her mother, and she feels “wrecked” despite having felt sober when Omar dropped her off last night. She steps out of the shower and goes into Leidy’s room to get dressed—Leidy, who is bummed about having had to stay home with Dante on New Year’s Eve, wants to know all about how the club was last night so that she can live vicariously through Lizet. Lizet, though, explains that she needs to get ready so she can leave for the rally; Leidy tells Lizet she shouldn’t go, as it’s for sure going to get out of hand.
Lizet seems to be dreading the rally as much as Leidy is dreading Lizet’s going. Lizet knows, though, that she won’t be able to feel calm again until she sees for herself what really goes on at Ariel’s and what Lourdes is really like when she’s a member of the frenzied crowd.
Lizet ignores Leidy’s warning, although she remembers how their mother was already exaggerating for the cameras at Thanksgiving, telling news people that she had two little girls “just like Ariel” back at home. Leidy knows that Lizet is not really going in support of Ariel—she’s just going to see how Lourdes acts. Leidy admits that she did the same thing not that long ago and watched as Lourdes cried and approached anyone who would listen to tell them stories what would make “those people” like her. Leidy also tells Lizet that Lourdes told Caridaylis she was a single mom—she “straight up stole” Leidy’s life story and pretended it happened in Cuba twenty years ago. Lourdes has been telling people that on the raft over to Miami, Lizet was a baby, breastfeeding “until [Lourdes’s] milk turned to dust.” Leidy has privately nicknamed Lourdes “Miss Dusty Tits.”
When Leidy reveals to Lizet the extent of how badly Lourdes is warping the truth about her past—and Lizet and Leidy’s lives, as well—it becomes clear that whatever Lourdes is doing at the rallies, it is beyond the bounds of normal passion and activism. This is clearly a personal matter for Lourdes, who feels for some reason that she must establish legitimacy to the other protestors and news organizations alike by lying about her past and making her experience align with Ariel’s.
Lizet is shocked to hear things are so out of hand. She sits down on the bed and asks Leidy why no one has called Lourdes out on her lies—Leidy thinks, though, that because they are new to the neighborhood, none of their neighbors know any better. Lizet wonders if Lourdes has, in the last few weeks, convinced herself of her own lies. She continues getting dressed, and chastises Leidy for not having told her all of this earlier. Leidy begs Lizet to stay home, but Lizet privately feels that Lourdes’s version of events makes Lizet a “more authentic Cuban”—and she wants to hear how her mother “pull[s] it off.”
Outside, the air is chilly for Miami. As Lourdes and Lizet walk the two blocks over to Ariel’s family’s home, Lizet notices more and more posters, flowers, and flags hanging along fences and put out on the sidewalk. Lizet becomes entranced by the posters and banners, almost all of which are homemade, and is only snapped out of her focus when she hears a voice calling her mother’s name. Lizet looks up to see Lourdes embracing a strange woman clad in a homemade Ariel t-shirt. The woman wishes Lizet a happy new year and greets her warmly, but Lourdes does not introduce Lizet as her daughter. Lizet assumes her mother has told the woman about her—she is waiting for something to happen that will prove Leidy wrong.
Lizet is walking into the rally with an open mind, ready to give her mother the benefit of the doubt. Lizet is secretly hoping that she will find enjoyment in the rally; she wants to find out that her mother has been secretly bragging about her to all her friends there, and will perhaps even help Lizet to feel more “authentically Cuban” by making her a part of the story she’s been spinning.
As the rally gets underway, Lizet sees why Lourdes told her to come only if she was interested in really helping Ariel; here, Lourdes is not her mother. Lourdes is someone else—she is friends with everyone, and respected as an active community organizer. As more and more people arrive and greet Lourdes, she does not introduce any of them to Lizet. Despite the oddity of the situation, Lizet doesn’t find the rally itself off-putting—it is calm, communal, and joyful rather than hysterical, angry, or violent, as many news outlets have made these gatherings out to be.
Lizet’s hopes are sidelined, however, when she realizes that Lourdes is here only for Ariel. She has little time or patience for Lizet, and Lizet feels sidelined, isolated, and betrayed as her mother practically ignores her. Still, the rally is not as bad as Lizet thought it would be, and this at least allows her to feel some relief.
After a while, someone in front of the crowd shouts that the door to Ariel’s house is opening, and the crowd falls quiet. Lizet waits excitedly and indeed a bit nervously to see Ariel for the first time. When he finally emerges from the house, sitting on one of his uncles’ shoulders and wearing a Santa hat, smiling and waving to the crowd, Lizet sees at last how this boy has captured the attention of so many people. For many people Lizet thinks, Ariel is a “mirror, some version or idea of [themselves,] fresh off a boat or a plane and alone but still hopeful.”
Lizet at last understands Ariel’s mass appeal, and why he has become such a beacon of hope for the community. She is shocked by how deeply just the sight of him affects her, but grateful for the chance to at last understand her mother’s behavior.
Lizet feels as if she has fallen into a trance. She realizes now that she would have stayed wrapped up in it if someone hadn’t knocked into her and pushed her forward, causing one of her mother’s friends to step on her toe. She realizes that people all around her are shouting questions at Ariel’s uncle, asking if there has been any news from the government, and how Caridaylis is holding up. The uncle answers quickly that he will have more answers on Tuesday, and then asks Ariel if there’s anything he wants to say. Ariel shyly wishes the crowd a happy new year.
The mood in the crowd is blithe and happy, but the way Lizet is bumped and pushed foreshadows the potential for danger, mob mentality, and true chaos.
Lizet looks towards the front of the crowd and sees that Caridaylis has joined Ariel at the door of the house. Lizet thinks Cari looks “painfully generic”—she could be any Miami girl. Cari takes Ariel in her arms and waves to the crowd, who shout messages of love and support. Lizet notices that Cari waves directly at Lourdes and even mouths “Hi, Lourdes” to her. Lizet wonders why Cari knows her mother’s name.
Lizet is surprised to see that her mother is popular not just with the other activists, but is indeed on a first-name basis with actual members of Ariel’s family. This is Lizet’s first feeling the whole time she’s been at the rally that maybe there actually is something deeper and more dangerous going on.
As Lourdes begins gushing about how special Caridaylis is, Lizet feels an intense anger take over. She has worked so hard to get into Rawlings and thrive there, and her mother has never once told her she is special. Lizet speaks up and says there’s nothing special about Cari—she is a “glorified babysitter.” Lourdes demands Lizet take back what she said—she grabs Lizet’s face and tells her she doesn’t recognize her anymore. She lets go of Lizet and tells her she is a bad person.
Lizet is fiercely jealous of her mother’s feelings about Caridaylis, and attempts to bash the girl whom her mother clearly loves and on some level idolizes. This elicits cruelty and anger from Lourdes, shocking Lizet back into sadness, fear, and isolation.
Lizet is so upset that she can barely speak. She wants her mother to give her the same attention she gives to Caridaylis—someone she hardly knows. Lizet realizes in this instant that this means she wants Ariel gone. Lizet apologizes and begins crying; Lourdes begins crying too, and comforts her daughter. “None of this should be happening,” she says. They hold each other and cry as, out on the lawn in front of the building, Ariel drives one of his new Christmas presents—a miniature beach buggy—around the lawn.
Lourdes is willing to overlook Lizet’s cruel words, however, admitting that the situation is emotionally fraught for everyone. Lizet has many conflicting feelings, and does seem genuinely moved by Ariel’s predicament and the way the community has rallied around him.
Lizet is surprised to find that she actually empathizes with her mother. She is disappointed in Omar and Leidy for writing Lourdes off as crazy when it seems as if Lourdes is just trying to become her own person through a newfound passion. Lizet is even willing to excuse the crazy stories her mother has made up about their family—she, of all people, cannot fault her mother “for having the wherewithal to adapt her behavior” and doing what it takes to survive in a new environment. Lizet writes, though, that she would later be forced to admit that this assessment of the situation was wrong.
Lizet leaves the rally feeling reassured and relieved. She is on her mother’s side, though she was not expecting to be—she sees the parallels between how her mother is adapting to her new neighborhood (and to life without both Lizet and Ricky) and her own experience of trying to fit in at Rawlings.