Ernesto Quinonez’s novel Bodega Dreams was first published in 2000, and was warmly received by critics. Maud Casey (2000), from The New York Times, noted that the story of Willie Bodega has “energy and nerve” (n page). Willie Bodega is a man of “strange and grandiose dreams” (Corbett n page), and the story of his life, told by Julio Mercado, is a story of the conflict between social activism and personal aggrandizement in the era of commodity culture.
In order to understand the conflict, one should realize that Quinonez is a master of antonomasia. Willie Bodega, the main character of the novel, has a speaking name. If one looks in the dictionary, it can be seen that the word bodega stands for “a storehouse for maturing wine” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary n page). This word is of Spanish origin, and it perfectly reflects the formation of Bodega’s worldview.Bodega comes from a very poor family, where an opportunity to earn several odd dollars is considered to be an incredible success. However, despite his low origin, Willie Bodega has a very ambitious dream that is to finance welfare-state in East-Harlem, Manhattan, New York. In order to achieve this aim, Bodega becomes involved in drug trade; and when he finally manages to make a fortune, he hires a lawyer Edwin Nazario who helps him to run the empire of more or less legal enterprises.
For some time, Bodega feels happy, as he is able to help less fortunate. He, for example, manages to repair abandoned buildings in East Harlem, and rents them out to poor Puerto Ricans at a reasonable price. Bodega also subsidizes the college tuition for a class from El Barrio, and many young people gain knowledge and experience that they will soon invest in Bodega’s empire. Despite these achievements, they are only the beginning of Bodega’s maturing, and the meeting with Julio Mercado makes him think whether the process has been right.In the novel, Julio Mercado is better known by the nickname of Chino. This nickname is not random: Chino was a cool name, que chevere. There were many guys named Chino in East Harlem but it wasn’t a name that was just given to you. First, you had to look a bit Chinese, and second, you had to fight. It was an honor to be called Chino (Quinonez 8).
Chino is a fighter, and it is evident in the manner of his participation in Bodega’s empire. At first, Chino views Bodega’s philosophy as an absolutely crazy venture. However, as soon as he becomes involved in it, he is not afraid to point to inconsistencies in Bodega’s ideology. These inconsistencies become more apparent when Bodega meets Veronica Salivia, aunt of Chino’s wife Nancy. This is not their first meeting, but Chino uses it as a context for a thorough examination of Bodega’s philosophy. When Willie Bodega was young and poor, he fell in love with Veronica. However, the woman used cute appearance, her only valuable asset, to attract the attention of a …