Summer of My Father’s Gun: A Neighborhood Story

New story! Summer of My Father’s Gun is now on Kindle!

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About the Story

 The narrator, Margarita, moves into a mixed Cuban/Anglo neighborhood that boils not only under the merciless South Florida sun, but also with the raw emotions of ethnic tension, adolescent restlessness, family breakup, paramilitary maneuvers, child beatings and wife stabbings.

While the move is a new beginning for her troubled parents, the twelve year old – deathly afraid of burglars but harboring a heart made for freedom — revels in the open spaces of her back yard and in the privacy of a room of her own. Curious about the neighbors, anxious to make friends, and feeling a tug of womanhood in her loins, she discovers the true meaning of courage when called upon to use her father’s old gun.


The story takes place in the mid-1960s, a time of radical transformation in South Florida. As more Cuban immigrants surged into the area, Miami went from a sleepy town to a perky metropolis filled with the clanging and scraping of construction: mega highways, waterside condominiums, and strip malls saturated the landscape.

Today, a forest of international banking institutions and skyscrapers line Brickell Avenue next to Biscayne Bay while thousands of tourists from around the world rove the streets of downtown and South Beach in search of the trendiest discos, restaurants and shops.

Outside of these glamorous areas, Dade County consists of solidly ethnic communities. This was not the case in the mid-1960s. The majority of the neighborhoods back then were divided between Anglos and Cubans; the two groups lived together, clashed and made peace. It was this historical moment that I wanted to capture.

Novels of Place

For inspiration, I read Sandra Cisnero’s novel The House on Mango Street about a young Mexican girl, Esperanza, coming of age in a poor ethnic community. I strove to shape my story similarly. While my neighborhood was modestly blue-collar—and mixed in ethnic origin — the residents were as troubled and downtrodden as those in Cisnero’s Chicago.

I also consulted Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird, a fascinating novel about race and class in a southern American community, and studied the ways the author shaped her six-year-old protagonist. Scout Finch, despite her young age, is an active, dynamic participant in the plot and causes a lot to happen. I filled my main character with energy and ideas.

Both authors make setting central in their narratives, painting vivid pictures of the communities that are inseparable from the action.

The Familiar and the Exotic

Neighborhood stories are particularly impactful because they revolve around two painful life events: the search for identity and the coming of age. These narratives rely heavily on exotic settings to create texture and layers. Most Americans have no idea what it’s like to live in an ethnic community, usually a microcosm of a nation left behind that houses and protects a group of people marginalized from the rest because of language, income level, politics, religion or all four at once.

The writer Stuart Dybeck, a second generation Polish-American, gives voice to the residents of what he calls “the urban ghetto.” He focuses on the community where he grew up surrounded by Poles, Czechs and Hispanics and chronicles his adventures in two story collections: Childhood and Other Neighborhoods and The Coast of ChicagoThe setting drove me to these books.

There are so many ethnic enclaves whose stories still need to be told.


I wrote Summer of My Father’s Gun for a creative writing class at Florida International University, and it was a disaster. I spent months reworking it, trying to create tension in the plot and feeling as if I were applying just one tiny brushstroke of paint on a vast canvas. I added, deleted and rearranged scenes to increase suspense. I built and tore down the characters. I looked up facts in history books.  Then I stopped. I realized I could go on revising and editing forever.

Publishing to Kindle posed its own problems. I am my own editor and must be particularly careful to make sure formatting, spelling, and grammar are flawless.  Many writers hire editors to perform these tasks, but, at the moment, I am a one-woman shop.

To help with the editing process, I used a program called “autocrit.” You can download it for free on helped me identify redundancies, repetitious words, passive verbs and many other style issues. This exercise sent me back to the writing table for more revisions.

For me, the real learning takes place in the rewriting process.

I hope you like my neighborhood story!

“Summer of My Father’s Gun” is part of a story collection entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree showcasing the lives of Cuban exiles.

Other stories from the collection:

“The Button Box”