There’s a lesson to be learned in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams (New York: A Vintage Contemporaries Original, 2000). Namely, that nicknames, other than forming an annoying part of growing up, are also a testimony of a person’s life and actions. In the first pages of the book, one of the main characters classifies real names as trivial and nicknames as achievements:
To have a name other than the one your parents had given you meant you had status in school, had status on your block. You were somebody. If anyone called you by your real name you were un mamao, a useless, meaningless thing. It meant that you hadn’t proved yourself, it was open season for anybody who wanted to kick your ass. It was Sapo who taught me that it didn’t matter If you lost the fight, only that you never backed down…Getting a name meant I had to fight….This gave me hope, and getting a name seemed possible. So I decided that I no longer wanted to be called by the name my parents had given me, Julio. I wanted a name like Sapo had and so I looked for fights.
I have yet to discover Julio’s earned name, but I am sure it will be an interesting one. Julio knows that a nickname can earn him a place in the world.
Bodega Dreams is Quiñonez’s first novel. It was declared a “Best Book” by The New York Times and adopted as part of the curriculum in some high schools across the United States.