Literary Essay: Before We Were Free

Mar 4, 2013
by: Laila A

Literary Essay

Title: “Before We Were Free” By: Julia Alvarez

When an immigrant comes to the U.S, they always have a backstory as to why they chose America and why they wanted to leave their country. In the story “Before We Were Free”, Anita talks about how Dominican Republic is a dictatorship and how Papi and Tio Toni don’t like the way the country is running, so they plan to get rid of the dictator. No one can say what they really think of the country fearing that they might get locked up. Anita experiences many hardships along the way. I think that Anita achieves the “American Dream” because when she finally left her country, she got the freedom of say, she felt safe, and she got the be with her family they way she wanted to be.

Many people don’t like El Jefe (the dictator), because they can’t say or do anything about it. Anybody who does, gets locked up or killed. When Anita’s dad (Papi), plans to kill El Jefe with a few friends, they can’t speak out in the open about it. Someone working for him might overhear them and they might get in a lot of trouble. So instead, they have to speak in code. For example: “ “We’re waiting for Mr.Smith’s tennis shoes,” Papi says. It is such an odd reply that, though I had meant to hang up, I stay on. “They’ll be at Wimpy’s,” the voice says and then hangs up. Wimpy’s? Wimpy’s is a fancy grocery store where mostly Americans and other foreigners shop.” (Alvarez, 36) This shows that they are too afraid to speak what they want in case the SIM (secret police) overhears them. I think that this is invasion of privacy and close to no freedom. Also, Anita and her family have as little privacy as possible. Anyone can just barge into their house without permission or an explanation. For example: “They go from room to room, looking in every nook and cranny. In my room, one guy lifts the baby doll pajamas I left lying on the floor as if there is a secret weapon lying underneath. Another yanks the covers back from my bed. The men go into Lucinda’s room without knocking. My older sister sits up in her bed, startled. A horrible red rash has broken out on her neck.” (Alvarez, 14-15) The SIM look everywhere leaving their house a mess and scaring everyone. I don’t think Anita and her family have the privacy everyone deserves to have.
Anita and her family never felt safe when she was in Dominican Republic. She, her sister, or any other girl in the neighborhood couldn’t go out of their house unless they were with an older someone or if they were going to school. That’s because “Mr.Smith” likes young, pretty girls. For Example: “The morning after Susie’s party, a black limousine with palace plates rolls up our driveway and delivers a bouquet of roses tied with red, white and blue ribbons, the color of our flag. The little card read:
Para la linda Lucinda
flor de la patria
de un admirador
“For the beautiful Lucinda, flower of the nation, from an admirer.” Mami flings the card onto the floor as if it’s contaminated. Lucinda bursts out crying the minute she realizes the roses are from El Jefe. Her neck is more inflamed than I’ve ever seen it.” (Alvarez, 66-67) Whenever El Jefe likes a woman, he sends her flowers and sometimes takes her to stay with him. She is forced to leave her family and she has no say in anything. So when Lucinda left the house to go to Susie’s party the day before, without a shawl, he saw her. Anita’s family don’t feel safe because of that. Also, they can’t trust anyone. For Example: “Mami hired a recent graduate without checking her references because we desperately needed another maid to help chucha. She showed her the diploma from the Domestic Academy. “Don’t you know?” Mrs.Mancini whispers, looking over her shoulder. “That place is nothing but a front for the SIM. They train those poor girls to spies in households!” “ (Alvarez, 60) This shows that Anita’s family have to be careful of who they trust. They’re not safe anymore with the SIM sending people to spy on them the whole time.

Anita was never able to be with her family the way she wanted to be. There is not one time where she is with her whole family and they aren't worrying about anything. Either her uncle is hiding somewhere, or her dad is in jail. For example: (an excerpt from Anita’s Diary) “Believe it or not, we get mail here! Mundin (her brother) writes out notes that he gives to the ambassador, who gives them to Tio Pepe (her other uncle), then we answer back by reverse method. It seems so strange that we should be writing back and forth when we’re only a house away!” (Alvarez, 117) This is when Anita and her mother are hiding in a neighbor’s closet so they won’t get caught. Her dad is in jail, and her brother is held at the embassy for his safety. Nobody is together! At such a young age, Anita experiences the loss of her family. For example: “I stand by, as stunned as I was that November day when my cousins left. Even though it’s been less more than four months, it seems so long ago. The thought of losing Lucinda to the United States of America, hard as she sometimes is on m, is too sad to think about.” (Alvarez, 71) Here Anita talks about not wanting her older sister, Lucinda, to leave because of El Jefe. But there is no other option. If she doesn't leave, El Jefe will take her.

In conclusion, Anita did achieve the American Dream because when she reached New York, she got all the things she never had in Dominican Republic. When she was in Dominican Republic, she never had the freedom of say, she didn’t feel safe, and she didn’t get to be with her family without worrying about anything. Even though she lost her father and uncle along the way, she achieved those three things. I don’t think Anita realizes that she achieved it because she didn’t want to go to New York. It’s like she was forced to go. Maybe it’s because she’s mourning about her father and uncle. But once that stage passes, she’ll realize that she’s in a better place and she has left the land full of many problems.