Lupita opens her story by saying that Flavio Munguía isn’t pretty unless you’re in love with him. Still, she finds him attractive and knows that “once you tell a man he’s pretty, there’s no taking it back.” As for her own looks, she upholds that Flavio has worn all her prettiness away. This is perhaps because he’s such a charmer, a pest exterminator who writes ravishing poetry under the name Rogelio Velasco. One day, Lupita finds an ad for pest extermination and hires the company because she’s currently staying in her friends’ house, which is infested by cockroaches. She has recently moved from northern California to this house, which is in Texas. She notes that a feeling of trouble has followed her from California but that “not even the I Ching” could prepare her for what Flavio has in store for her.
Lupita’s statement that “not even the I Ching” could prepare her for Flavio quickly reveals her interest in eastern philosophy and spirituality, since the I Ching is an ancient Chinese text that incorporates elements of cosmology, philosophy, and divination. As such, Cisneros implies that Lupita is somebody who searches for meaning in the unknown. While other characters in Woman Hollering Creek look to religion to derive answers about their love lives, it seems Lupita ascribes to less conventional beliefs, marking her as both a unique woman and somebody hungry for answers when it comes to love and the future.
Lupita’s friend Beatriz Soliz was beside herself upon learning that Lupita was moving to Texas. “Lupe, are you crazy? They still lynch Meskins down there. Everybody’s got chain saws and gun racks and pickups and Confederate flags.” In response, Lupita says Beatriz watches too many John Wayne movies. Privately, though, she admits Texas does scare her, but she goes anyway because she’s been offered a job as an art director at a San Antonio community cultural center. Plus, she’s recently broken up with her boyfriend, so the change of pace is welcome. This is the general mindset she’s in when, a month later, Flavio appears to exterminate the house she’s living in. As he sprays the baseboards with poison, she realizes he might be the perfect model for one of her paintings, a recreation of an old piece depicting an ancient Aztecan prince and princess in front of a volcano.
Hailing from Northern California, Lupita’s connection to her Mexican heritage comes mostly from her bloodline, not from firsthand cultural experience. This is why her decision to recreate a traditional piece of Mexican art—which features ancient royalty—using Flavio as a subject bears a certain amount of cultural insensitivity; while it’s true that she’s Mexican-American, her desire to portray Flavio as an ancient Mexican prince simplifies him into a caricature of Mexican identity. Of course, this is a complicated issue, since it’s also the case that she herself has Mexican heritage and that she’s an artist who should conceivably be granted ample freedom of expression. Nonetheless, this slightly uncomfortable cultural dynamic is important to remember as Lupita and Flavio’s relationship progresses, since the issue of cultural and national identity takes center stage in their partnership.
After Lupita decides that Flavio absolutely must pose for her painting, she asks, “Would you like to work for me as a model?” When he doesn’t understand, she tries to clarify, saying, “I mean I’m an artist. I need models. Sometimes. To model, you know. For a painting. I thought. You would be good. Because you have such a wonderful. Face.” They both laugh at this, and Flavio good-naturedly packs up his equipment, closes the doors to his van, and drives away.
Disregarding the complex implications of Lupita’s desire to paint Flavio in the style of an ancient Aztecan priest, the way Lupita asks Flavio to model for her is—simply put—innocent and flirtatious. Any concerns readers might have about cultural appropriation or tokenism in this moment drops away, since Lupita’s sheepish attraction to Flavio is apparent when she says, “You would be good. Because you have such a wonderful. Face.” Cisneros’s use of periods in this passage beautifully evokes the lovable awkwardness of flirting, and the way they each laugh off this statement suggests that this could be a fun and good-natured relationship (if it progresses).
Every Sunday morning, Lupita visits the Laundromat. While her clothes tumble through the machines, she eats lunch across the street at Torres Taco Haven. One day she finds Flavio at this restaurant and sits down at his table, telling him that she was serious about wanting him to model. “I really am a painter,” she says. “And in reality I am a poet,” he replies. “Unfortunately,” he continues, “poetry only nourishes the heart and not the belly, so I work with my uncle as a bug assassin.” After some flirtatious conversation, he agrees to pose for her painting.
When Flavio says, “And in reality I am a poet” and then follows this statement by adding that he works as a “bug assassin” because poetry isn’t a viable way to earn a living, he subtly insinuates that Lupita’s career as an artist is something only a rich person can indulge. In other words, he senses that she comes from a privileged background. This, of course, is a cynical interpretation of their interaction, and it’s worth noting that Flavio’s statement about poetry also serves to bring him closer to Lupita, since it now becomes clear that they’re both artists, something they can use to relate to one another. In this way, their relationship begins with a mixed dynamic that recognizes their differences on the one hand and champions their similarities on the other.
Lupita explains that Flavio comes from a poor family in Mexico, a family whose only hope was that he might one day find a job that “would keep his hands clean.” After working as a dishwasher, a shrimper, and a field worker, he took a job at his uncle’s extermination company in Texas, and though the post requires him to face all kinds of disgusting creatures, his hands never get dirty. He explains this to Lupita, saying that working as an exterminator is “better than scraping chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes from plates, better than having to keep your hands all day in soapy water like a woman,” but Lupita notes that he doesn’t say the word “woman,” but rather the word “vieja”; “he used the word vieja,” Lupita writes, “which is worse.”
Though the word “vieja” technically means “old woman” or “old lady,” it is usually used as slang for “girlfriend” or “wife.” There is, however, another interpretation of the word, which bears much more negative connotations: “whore.” Given that Lupita says, “He used the word vieja, which is worse [than the word ‘woman’],” Flavio is most likely using the word in this negative form. In turn, this is perhaps the first hint that he—like almost all of the men in Woman Hollering Creek—lacks a certain amount of respect for women. And even if he doesn’t mean to use “vieja” in a pejorative sense, the sentiment of his phrase still implies the sexist mindset that some jobs are for women only.
Flavio and Lupita meet at her house every other Sunday so she can paint him. During these sessions, they tell stories and bond. One day, Lupita describes the concept of yin and yang. “Ah,” Flavio says, “like the mexicano word ‘sky-earth’ for the world.” Impressed, Lupita asks if he learned this from a book about mythology. “No,” he says. “My grandma Oralia.” Later, Lupita talks about the I Ching, insisting that people must “let go” of their “present way of life” in order to “search” for their past. Flavio remains quiet for a moment before saying, “You Americans have a strange way of thinking about time.” Although Lupita is hurt that he categorizes her as “American,” he continues, saying, “You think old ages end, but that’s not so. It’s ridiculous to think one age has overcome another.” He then adds, “But what do I know, right? I’m just an exterminator.”
Lupita’s surprise at Flavio’s intuitive understanding of yin and yang and the fact that she thinks he learned this from a book of mythology says a lot about what she thinks are legitimate or trustworthy sources of information. Obsessed with discovering concepts from other cultures, she doesn’t even consider that Flavio might understand this idea simply based on his own upbringing. This arrogance is perhaps why he later delivers the passive aggressive line, “But what do I know, right? I’m just the exterminator.” This conversation is the first time Flavio and Lupita sense their differences.
Flavio comes to Lupita’s for dinner one night, and the two talk about music. Flavio reveals that he likes “pure tango,” and he pulls Lupita to her feet to teach her la habanera, el fandango, and la milonga, explaining all the while how each style has “contributed” to el tango. He shows her the dances his grandmother taught him, but the lesson abruptly ends when she annoys him by asking, “Don’t you know any indigenous dances?” He merely rolls his eyes. In a later conversation, in which she asks him why he dresses in such an American style, Lupita tells Flavio that he’s a “product of American imperialism.” In response, Flavio says he doesn’t have to “dress in a sarape and sombrero to be Mexican.” Lupita reflects, “I wanted to be Mexican at that moment, but it was true. I was not Mexican.”
Flavio and Lupita’s conversation leaves Lupita feeling out of touch with her Mexican heritage. This is because Flavio has pointed out her tendency to over-accentuate the trappings of a cultural or ethnic identity. By telling her that he doesn’t need to dress in traditionally Mexican clothes to feel in touch with his identity as a Mexican, he emphasizes the fact that she seems to want to go out of her way to define who she is. For her, being Mexican means knowing “indigenous dances” and dressing in a non-American fashion. For him, being Mexican is a simple trait to which he doesn’t need to pay very much attention.
When Lupita finally makes love to Flavio, she learns that, in addition to the tattoo on his arm—which says Romelia—he has a tattoo on his chest. Elsa, it reads. Nonetheless, she enjoys having passionate sex with him, noting that she’s never “made love in Spanish before.” As she does so now, she can feel the language “whirr[ing] like silk,” and she holds Flavio tightly, pushing him into “the mouth of [her] heart” and “inside [her] wrists.”
The beauty of Lupita’s lust and love for Flavio blossoms in this moment, but it is tinged slightly by the discomfiting sense that she has once again exalted his Mexican identity—his otherness—in her mind. Once more, Cisneros presents a complex portrait of a relationship marked both by good intentions and Lupita’s tendency to fetishize Flavio as a Mexican man who can connect her to her Latina roots.
One Sunday morning at Taco Haven, Flavio calmly announces to Lupita, “My life, I have to go.” He explains that his mother has written to him asking him to return to Mexico, and he tells her that he has “family obligations” to attend to. He offhandedly mentions something about his sons, and Lupita interrupts, surprised to hear he has children. “How many?” she asks. “Four. From my first,” he says. “Three from my second.” Startled, she asks what he’s referring to—“First. Second. What? Marriages?” He casually shrugs this off, saying, “No, only one marriage. The other doesn’t count since we weren’t married in a church.” Suddenly feeling like she’s going to vomit, Lupita tells Flavio to leave, and he stands from the booth, saying, “Es cool. Ay te wacho, I guess.”
Flavio’s casual attitude in this moment—which for Lupita is deeply emotional and upsetting—exhibits an extreme lack of respect for her feelings; though for him this relationship may not mean very much, it’s clear she was beginning to truly fall for him, so his aloofness in this moment is all the more aggravating. Furthermore, he seems to have a history of treating women poorly, given the fact that in this moment he completely denounces a former wife simply because they “weren’t married in a church.” Even the way he says goodbye is so casual that it belies a deep disrespect for Lupita’s feelings, as he stands and merely says “see you later” in Spanish.
After breaking up with Flavio, Lupita desperately searches out her healing crystals at home and puts on tapes of “Amazon flutes, Tibetan gongs, and Aztec ocarinas” while trying to “center” her “seven chakras.” Unable to calm herself even after 45 minutes, she still feels like bashing Flavio’s head in. In the coming weeks, she burns his letters and poems and stops painting. Instead, she watches TV, tuning into telenovelas and becoming obsessed with their storylines. Each night she rushes home from work, picking up tacos instead of making dinner so that she can catch the latest episode.
In the wake of Flavio’s absence, Lupita turns her attention to telenovelas as an attempt not only to tune out her own reality—which she doesn’t care to participate in at the moment—but also as a way of fulfilling her interest in Mexican culture. Though her affinity for Flavio may have originally borne complicated implications regarding cultural tokenization, it’s also the case that she genuinely liked him and was interested in entwining herself in his life in a way that naturally allowed her to better understand his Mexican heritage. No longer able to do this, she finds herself turning to telenovelas.
In Centenao’s Mexican Supermarket one day, a cashier says to Lupita, “Bien pretty, your shawl. You didn’t buy it in San Antonio?” Lupita tells her it’s Peruvian but that she bought it in the US. The cashier sees a magazine Lupita’s holding, which has a picture of a telenovela star on the front cover, and the two women discuss the show, talking about how they never miss an episode. Lupita notes that the cashier is her age but looks much older and more tired, despite the large amounts of makeup on her face.
Having holed up in her house to watch hours of telenovelas as a way of distracting herself while also maintaining a connection to Mexican culture (a connection Flavio previously supplied), suddenly Lupita finds herself interacting with a fellow Latina, talking about their favorite Mexican show and treating one another as equals. This isn’t a dynamic Lupita could ever have had with Flavio, who viewed her as an American, not a Mexican-American. As such, this is a pivotal moment in Lupita’s recovery from her breakup with Flavio, a moment that helps her understand that she doesn’t need to go out of her way to be who she is—she can simply go to the supermarket, be herself, and interact with people who are like her and who accept her cultural identity for what it is.
In the coming days, Lupita returns to her painting of Flavio, in which he is an Aztecan prince crouching over a sleeping princess in the foreground of two volcanoes. Setting herself to the task, she reverses the positions of the subjects so that now the princess is the one watching over the prince. Meanwhile, life goes on—she drifts through the grey weeks of January, observing sunsets and birds flying through the sky. “And every bird in the universe chittering, jabbering, clucking, chirruping, squaking, gurgling, going crazy because God-bless-it another day has ended, as if it never had yesterday and never will again tomorrow,” she writes. “Just because it’s today, today. With no thought of the future or past. Today. Hurray. Hurray!”
Lupita’s reversal of the prince and princess reflects a newfound sense of power and agency, which she now possesses after having realized that she doesn’t need to be Flavio’s girlfriend in order to define herself as Mexican-American. This is perhaps also why she admires the birds who have “no thought of the future or past,” since she herself no longer feels as if she needs to obsess about the history of her bloodline nor what kind of cultural identity she’ll assume in the future. Free of these hang-ups, she can focus on the present, celebrating life just because “another day has ended.”