The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Remembering Pulitzer Prize Winner Oscar Hijuelos

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos passed away this week. In this New York Times essay, the Cuban American novelist reflects on his lost childhood.

"To this day it is hard for me to speak about possessing any real sense of a home, at least during my childhood and adolescence. Or, to put this idea more precisely: whatever sense of a secure home life, of belonging, that I once felt as a boy was whisked out from under my feet at a tender age.

I was born in the summer of 1951 in Manhattan, at Woman’s Hospital in Harlem, the first four years of my life passing serenely in our ground-floor walk-through on West 118th Street, where my parents, fresh up from Cuba, had settled in the mid-1940s. What few and primitive memories I have from those years are of a busy and boisterous household, with relatives and newly arrived boarders constantly filling the spare beds and cots we kept in a back room; and of crawling along the floors during the many weekend parties that my papi, a spendthrift Cubano to the core, often gave. On such occasions, our living room, facing the street, became a cozy, if smoke-filled, dance hall, replete with dim lights, music, food and booze — fetes that attracted Cubans and other Latinos to our home from every part of the city.

These were family affairs, with folks of every age, from old abuelitas, or grandmothers, to mothers with newborns. As songs like “The Peanut Vendor” by the Cugat orchestra gushed out of the record player, and people ate plates of arroz con pollo with tostones or some crispy lechón, others — mostly young couples in love, like Frankie the exterminator and his fiancée — took to the dance floor and mamboed away."

To read more of the essay, click here.