The character of Prieto in Olga Dies Dreaming is very interesting. As a passionate politician who wants to uplift his neighborhood and connect with the people, he appears to be one of the oppressed folks who finds no voice in the greater narrative. Even though the book’s title refers to Olga, suggesting that she’s the protagonist, the novel also focuses on her elder brother, Congressman Pedro Prieto Acevedo, representing Brooklyn. He is quite a few years older than Olga and a popular name in New York City. Olga is very close to her brother, and they tell each other almost everything, but there are quite a few things that Prieto never told his sister, including the truth about his sexuality. It isn’t that Olga was completely unaware of it. She had always known the truth about Prieto, but it just hurt her that he would keep it hidden even from her.
Prieto and Olga have grown up in their grandmother’s house, with their grandmother and aunt looking after them. Their mother had left them to join the struggle for Puerto Rico’s freedom from the U.S. Their father, who had served in the Vietnam War and had also fought vigorously for the rights of Puerto Ricans, had given up all hope for the people gaining anything out of it. He wanted to start a family, but his wife leaving him and the children behind made things worse, and soon he started using drugs. Prieto understood very early that he would have to be the “man” of the family and take up responsibilities that are usually a father’s. He knew that he had to take care of his sister, and since they were both being raised by their grandmother and aunt, he ought to be grateful to them and show respect. He would bail out his father every time he got arrested for stealing things that would help him get money for the drugs. He bought his sister’s prom dress and always had her back.
From the beginning, everyone had a lot of expectations from him, be it their grandmother or mother (who kept sending them letters with no return address). Their grandmother felt that Prieto was the perfect gentleman, taking care of his family, working hard in school and college, and being very polite and handsome. According to her, Prieto could have any girl he wanted. Prieto had known for a long time that he didn’t like women, but he couldn’t let others know about it. It wasn’t that his family wouldn’t accept him. It’s just that while growing up, he always knew that it wasn’t bad to like people of your own sex, but getting attracted to people of the opposite sex was the “more right thing to do”. He didn’t want to disappoint his grandmother by coming out to her. Also, he had his aunt before him, who also happened to be attracted to people of her sex. He saw how she had never come out to the family, which in itself worked as a warning signal for him.
His mother always felt that he would grow up to be a revolutionary like her, and even though she knew that he wanted to be a politician and “fix” the mess that had been created, she had high hopes for him. She had always written to him, instructing him what to do and what not. When Prieto’s father was diagnosed with AIDS, instead of telling him to spend more time at the hospital looking after him, his mother told him to stay away, and he complied. He was afraid of disappointing his mother. There was also one more reason for him not to show up at the hospital. He had realized by then that he was gay, and going to the hospital meant meeting more gay men, which seemed traumatic for him at that point in time. He wanted to be in the closet, and he was somehow afraid that the hospital visit would blow up his true sexuality, which he tried so hard to hide. Prieto later got married to a woman for the same reason. He didn’t want to come out to people.
When Prieto’s father fell ill, AIDS was a gay disease, and people had this notion that only gay men could get it. The day Prieto got to know that his father had AIDS, he took the opportunity to drive over to a part of New York City where he would be able to have sex with men. That was his first sexual encounter.
Prieto had a very complicated relationship with Blanca, their mother. While Olga tried to be a rebel, rejecting every word of her mother’s advice, Prieto tried to obey all of them, trying to impress her as much as he could. In spite of the fact that their mother had abandoned them, Prieto had immense respect for her, and he would do anything to live up to her expectations. For him, his mother was a revolutionary who was fighting for the island and its people using her own principles, which were not wrong or unethical. He was proud of being her son. When the Selby brothers started blackmailing him, he was scared. He didn’t want to deal with this now that he was a congressman and a person representing the minority. He knew that several people might find it hard to accept, and he might end up losing his position. But his HIV test came out positive, and he knew that he had to share this with his family and with the media before the Selby brothers could blackmail him with it. He first revealed it to his daughter, who made him realize how society is now vastly different from the one in which he grew up.
After meeting his mother on the island, Prieto is devastated. He couldn’t accept the fact that his mother was no different than people like the Selby brothers, who exploited people to get what they wanted. He didn’t want to commit the same mistakes that his mother made as a parent. He was a responsible father and brother and cared for his family. When he saw the impact of Maria on Puerto Rico, he immediately left so that he could help the people of the island. He provided them with fresh water, food, and medicines and even gave out cash to people. He served the people there as much as he could. Later, he came out in front of the media and the public, knowing that it’s important to let people know what is happening instead of keeping them in the dark, and by doing so, he set a fine example of how a politician actually should be—responsible, caring, and answerable to the people who have chosen him. It also made a larger impact in the sense that now no other queer or colored politician would feel the need to hide their sexuality.
See more: ‘Olga Dies Dreaming’ Themes, Explained: Is It Only About Politics And The Racial Injustices Prevalent In America?