Bodega Dreams – Themes

Ernesto Quinonez

Bodega Dreams

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Bodega Dreams – Themes

The Importance of Names 

Names are incredibly important in this book, as the narrator establishes in the opening chapter when he is determined to earn himself a street name. There is a status implied in names, and each of the book’s major characters has acquired a new name. Julio is Chino, a name earned by his high cheekbones and his propensity to fight. Due to his large lips, Enrique becomes Sapo. Nancy is Blanca due to her purity; her sister Deborah is known as Negra for being the exact opposite. Veronica becomes Vera to hide her Puerto Rican roots. William Irizarry becomes Willie Bodega, a name that connects him more to the people of el barrio, but he operates his business as the Harry Goldstein Real Estate Agency to gain legitimacy in the wider world of Manhattan. Even the school Chino attends has two names—Junior High School 99 and Julia de Burgos, a name that is ridiculed by a white teacher as a means of capitulating to the changing ethnicity of the neighborhood.

Although each character acquires a new name in a different way and for a different purpose, the result always comes down to a form of status and respect. Chino says, “Bodega has made a name for himself. You know about names, Sapo. When you get one it’s only a matter of time before you have to prove who you are” (41). Bodega will have to keep proving himself to hang on to what he has amassed, and that struggle will mean potential danger down the road.

Reinvention is Everything

The characters’ struggles to reinvent and rename themselves reflect the larger reinvention of Spanish Harlem itself. At various points in the story, the history of Spanish Harlem is discussed, particularly the former Italian influence that is giving way to Latin influence. But no matter who is unofficially in charge, the NYC government is portrayed as distant and uncaring, concerned instead with the livelihoods of people in better neighborhoods. Because of this, Bodega’s message has that much more resonance with Chino and others. The people of el barrio will look not to…

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