Lizet writes that she didn’t realize at the time that her reluctance to call home about such important things had a flip side—her family back in Miami, as it turns out, was just as reluctant to talk to her, and the next afternoon, as Lizet walked home from her Spanish class, she would understand the reason why.
Here, Crucet uses the retrospective voice to point out Lizet’s ignorance and foreshadow a series of unfortunate events.
As Lizet heads into her dormitory and passes the TV lounge on the way to her room, she is shocked to see her mother’s face on the television screen. She runs into the room and, out loud, asks “What are you doing here!” to the TV screen. Four other girls—white girls, two of whom are Caroline and Tracy, Jillian’s friends—turn around and look quizzically at Lizet. As Lizet gets closer to the TV, blocking the girls’ view, she sees that there is a title on the screen beneath her mother’s face: “Lourdes Ramirez,” it says, “Madres Para Justicia (Mothers for Justice.)”
Lizet’s total shock at seeing her mother on TV trumps her desire to fit in with the other girls in her dorm. Whereas before she has downplayed her involvement in the Ariel Hernandez case—and her ties to Miami—she doesn’t hold back now, putting the truth of her and her mother’s association with Ariel on display at last.
Lizet is shocked to see her mother on the screen, as neither Leidy nor Omar have indicated in their phone calls that Lourdes was still involved with the Ariel protests. Lizet barely recognizes her mother’s heavily made-up face and professional demeanor as she speaks on a national news program about her involvement in Ariel’s case. One of the girls in the room asks Lizet to move out of the way, but Lizet shushes her. Lizet hears Tracy whisper to one of the other girls that Lizet is Jillian’s Cuban roommate. As Liz wonders what Madres Para Justicia is—and again, why no one told her Lourdes was involved with it—Caroline sweetly asks if “Liz” is okay.
In this passage, Lizet is privately reckoning with an implosion of all she thought she knew. Her mother has, for an indeterminate amount of time, been involved with—or even founding—a radical protest group, and everyone in Lizet’s inner circle back home has been keeping this fact from her. While she is attempting to process this traumatic news, she also has to deal with the sounds of her gossipy peers at Rawlings talking about her literally behind her back.
Lizet asks what is happening on the news—one of the girls answers that Ariel Hernandez’s father is on his way to Miami to retrieve Ariel. Lizet is shocked, and turns up the volume on the television, hoping to hear more. She hears her mother talking about a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil their group is organizing. The vigil, which started two nights ago, will continue through Easter. Lizet is shocked even further—her mother never prays. As Lizet tries to listen to what’s happening on TV, she hears the girls on the lounge chairs behind her whispering to one another about who the woman on TV could be.
Lizet is shocked to realize that Lourdes’s hypocrisy is reaching new heights—Lourdes, who never prays, is organizing an intense prayer circle. Lizet barely recognizes her mother anymore, and is overwhelmed by the betrayal of everyone back home who kept the changes in Lourdes from her.
Lizet whips around and tells the other girls that the woman on television is her mother, and asks aggressively if any of them have anything to say about it. One girl leaves the room, and Caroline tells Lizet to calm down. This sets Lizet off—she is confused by her mother’s appearance, shocked by the new developments in the case, and sick of her white classmates treating her alternately like a spectacle and like a nobody.
Everything that’s happening is too much for Lizet. Her problems from Miami and her problems at Rawlings have finally converged in a terrible intersection, and Lizet must confront everything she has been avoiding all year at once.
Lizet tells Caroline and Tracy that Ariel’s father’s attempt to get his son back is just Cuban government propaganda, and dares them to challenge her, advancing on them as if to start a fight. Caroline tries to act conciliatory and agrees with Lizet, but the third girl Lizet has never met alleges that Ariel needs to get back to a normal life in Cuba. Lizet points out that after being exposed to life in America, Ariel will be a liability in the oppressive Cuba. Tracy counters that Ariel doesn’t “belong” in America, and Caroline quickly silences her. As the girls argue back and forth, Lizet is frustrated that none of them will listen to the points she’s making about Cuba; as her anger reaches a fever pitch, Lizet blurts out that she is from Cuba, and thus knows more than any of the other girls.
When Lizet is confronted with racism, ignorance, and unfairness even greater than Jillian’s, she finds herself in an infuriating situation. In response, she reacts just the same as Lourdes does, by spinning lies to make herself seem more credible. She is following in her mother’s footsteps and repeating Lourdes’s own shady tactics, and perhaps finally understands her mother’s actions in doing so.
When the girls question Lizet, she embellishes her ties to Cuba, describing coming over to America as a baby and frequently talking to her family members who are still there. As she spits vitriol at her classmates, Lizet realizes that she is “the True Daughter of Dusty Tits.”
Lizet realizes she has become just like her mother. She hates spinning these lies, but knows it is the only way she can get her white peers to listen to her, unfortunate as that fact may be.
Tracy tries to tell the others that Lizet is not really from Cuba—just at that moment, though, on the television, Lourdes’s voice can be heard saying that she came to America with her daughters in tow. Lizet calls Tracy a “fucking idiot,” and asks if Tracy understands that Ariel’s mother died getting him to America. Tracy asks, in response, what Lizet’s mother sacrificed for them to get here. Just as Lizet is about to strike Tracy, Caroline comes up behind her and grabs her arms. Tracy continues talking smack, saying that “none of this would be happening” if “she’d” just stayed put. Though Lizet knows that Tracy is talking about Ariel’s mother, the implication about Lizet’s mother is too much for her to bear, and she begins shrieking threats as Tracy and the third girl leave the room.
The tense and passive-aggressive debate the girls have been having turns cruel and violent in this passage as Lizet faces outright cruelty and racism—not just uninformed nonsense—from girls she’d thought were at least tangentially her friends.
Once they are gone, Caroline lets go of Lizet and apologizes for having touched her. Lizet is suddenly embarrassed for having acted out, worried that her behavior will affect how Caroline thinks “of any Cuban she’d ever meet from here on out.” Lizet leaves the lounge hurriedly, ignoring Caroline’s calls for her to wait up, and goes back to her room.
Lizet recognizes the unfairness of her situation; in speaking up and defending herself, she has done something that reflects badly on her entire culture. This is too heavy a burden to bear, but the unfortunate truth in places like Rawlings where uninformed white students might see one student of one race or culture as emblematic of that entire group.
Lizet picks up the phone and calls her mother’s home phone, but no one answers. She miserably realizes that it is too late to ask about the internship now—she never should have left home, and she must undo the “mistake” of leaving as best she can. She chides herself for being so selfish and focusing only on her own problems—she tells herself that she is only Professor Kaufmann’s “pity case” anyway. With shaking hands, Lizet goes to her computer and books a flight home for Easter.
In a move that is deeply unfair to herself and all she has accomplished, Lizet berates herself for having “abandoned” her family to pursue her own dreams. She feels she never should have left, and in an attempt to justify a trip back home to mend what she believes she has broken, she tells herself that her life and career at Rawlings is not worth anything in the first place.