"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Cafecito Story by Julia Alvarez



A Cafecito Story is the story of Joe, a farmer’s son from Nebraska who finds himself in the Dominican Republic on holiday. Joe meets a family who are growing coffee in the traditional way, organically.

The book is charming in its simplicity and folkish look. Belkis Ramirez, one of the Dominican Republic’s most accomplished artists, does the woodcuts that so beautifully illustrate the pages. It is a bilingual book with the Spanish story in red and the English in black. Zapatista colors, I think to myself. A good sign.

This isn’t your typical Xicano book, not by any means. The author is Dominican, living in Vermont and married to an American. It is something we should read because it is about positive change, about going back to what we had, about Mother Nature. It is about the symbiosis between plants and animals. It is about songbirds singing happiness into the coffee beans. It is about giving back what we take. It is an attempt by the author to save her land from being raped by the huge coffee companies.

In the afterword by Bill Eichner, Ms. Alvarez’ husband, he talks about the “green deserts” of modern coffee farms eating up the land. He speaks of the future and of the choices we make. A Cafecito Story is a story about taking back the indigenous ways, of saving land, of working in a cooperative. Think about it while you’re drinking your Starbucks instead of Zapatista or Alta Gracia coffee.

There is a beautiful passage in the book as Joe is practicing his high school Spanish before leaving on his trip, three simple words that mean everything. Saber, sonar, surgir. To know, to dream, to rise.

Note: Julia Alvarez is the co-owner of a small, organic coffee farm called Alta Gracia. She is also author of In the Time of Butterflies, Before We Were Free and How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents.

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