Book One: Prologue–Chapter 6

In this memoir, award-winning author Reyna Grande explores the immigrant experience as she reflects on how a childhood torn between parents and countries made her who she is.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. refer
    use a name to designate
    In 1980, when I was four years old, I didn’t know yet where the United States was or why everyone in my hometown of Iguala, Guerrero, referred to it as El Otro Lado, the Other Side.
  2. pry
    move or force in an effort to get something open
    "I won’t be gone for long,” she would promise as she pried my fingers from hers.
  3. recession
    a situation in which the state of the economy declines
    It was the beginning of the worst recession Mexico had seen in fifty years.
  4. economy
    the system of production and distribution and consumption
    Although he was a bricklayer and had built many houses, with Mexico’s unstable economy he would never earn the money he needed to make his dream a reality.
  5. expectation
    belief about the future
    Like most immigrants, my father had left his native country with high expectations of what life in El Otro Lado would be like.
  6. necessary
    unavoidably determined by prior circumstances
    "For as long as necessary,” Mami continued. “God only knows how long it’s going to take Natalio and me to earn the money for the house he wants.”
  7. afford
    have the financial means to do something or buy something
    “Your father couldn’t afford to send for us all. I’m only going there to help him earn money for the house,” Mami said again.
  8. unwavering
    marked by firm determination or resolution
    Had she known that without her strength and unwavering love, I would not have survived what was to come?
  9. reassure
    give or restore confidence in
    I wished he would be the one to look out the window and reassure us that everything was all right.
  10. role
    the actions and activities assigned to a person or group
    My mother had asked Mago to be our little mother, and she and my father would have been proud to see how bravely their older daughter had taken on that role.
  11. orphan
    a child who has lost both parents
    Elida wasn’t interested in being our friend, and, like the neighbors, called us the little orphans. Technically, she was a little orphan, too. But the fashionable clothes Abuela Evila made for her on her sewing machine and the many gifts her mother sent her from El Otro Lado helped Elida transform herself from the little orphan to a privileged granddaughter.
  12. disgrace
    a state of dishonor
    This time, I didn’t care if the whole colonia thought I was wild and a disgrace to my family.
  13. distance
    the property created by the space between two objects
    She said that my umbilical cord was like a ribbon that connected me to Mami. She said, "It doesn’t matter that there’s a distance between us now. That cord is there forever.”
  14. burden
    a serious or difficult concern
    If only Tio Carlos had lived and married, my mother would have had an ally, and we would have had cousins to share the burden of my grandmother’s mistrust.
  15. prefer
    select as an alternative over another
    I would have preferred a beating to what we got.
  16. abdomen
    the region of the body between the thorax and the pelvis
    She was always making fun of him because Carlos was really skinny, except for his bloated abdomen, and now with his head completely bald, he did look like a skeleton.
  17. longing
    prolonged unfulfilled desire or need
    That night, I had a dream about Mami. In my dream she was washing my hair with lemon water and scrubbing it so gently my body shuddered with pleasure. I awoke with such longing that I felt like weeping.
  18. resist
    withstand the force of something
    Whenever I can’t resist the pull of my birthplace, I visit Iguala, and I have seen it grow to more than 110,000 inhabitants.
  19. abandoned
    forsaken by owner or inhabitants
    There was an abandoned car there and we liked to play in it, but first we had to check for snakes.
  20. habit
    an automatic pattern of behavior in reaction to a situation
    Because I'd decided that my parents must be on the other side of the Mountain That Has a Headache, I got in the habit of looking at it each night and wishing my parents a buenas noches.
  21. whiff
    a short light gust of air
    Another time, as we were walking to the tortilla mill, a man passed by us on his bicycle and we caught a whiff of something spicy, like cinnamon, and Mago said, "That’s how Papi smelled!”
  22. precious
    characterized by feeling or showing fond affection for
    But always, those precious two minutes Abuela Evila allowed us on the phone went by too quickly.
  23. sustain
    supply with necessities and support
    What had sustained us through that time was the belief that our mother would be back within the year.
  24. inconsolable
    sad beyond comforting
    Carlos and I tried to make her feel better, yet no matter what we said, Mago was inconsolable.
  25. recall
    bring to mind
    I tried to recall what my mother’s kiss had felt like, but I could not.
  26. imprint
    an impression produced by pressure
    I stood there watching Dona Paula’s sons, thinking that there had once been a time when my own mother had kissed me, but now she would soon be leaving the imprint of her lips on another child.
  27. flaunt
    display proudly
    If our grandmother hadn’t kept the money my parents sent for us, perhaps we would have been like Elida, who was always flaunting all the pretty clothes and shoes she bought with the money her mother sent from El Otro Lado, and no one would have dared to call us orphans.
  28. reverence
    a feeling of profound respect for someone or something
    Every time someone mentioned El Otro Lado, there was a reverence in their voice, as if they were talking about something holy, like God.
  29. coveted
    greatly desired
    Anything that came from over there was coveted, whether it was a toy, or a pair of shoes, or a Walkman, like the one Elida had gotten the month before from her mother.
  30. wail
    emit long loud cries
    As the branch whipped my legs and butt, I wailed like La Llorona herself and called out for my missing mother.
  31. tactic
    a plan for attaining a particular goal
    She said that if she looked sad, then maybe our parents would see how much she truly missed them, and they would come back. From that point on, she continued to look sad in almost every picture we took. Her tactic didn’t work.
  32. neglect
    fail to do something; leave something undone
    The thought that our parents had neglected to send us gifts really hurt.
  33. jealousy
    a feeling of envy, especially of a rival
    Mago spent the whole time sitting in a corner of the hall, feeling sorry for herself, her jealousy consuming her to the point where she couldn’t even talk without saying a bad word in every sentence.
  34. native
    belonging to one by birth
    Back then, I could never have imagined that one day, I would speak English better than I spoke my native tongue.
  35. concrete
    a strong hard building material made with gravel and cement
    El Otro Lado is a beautiful place. Every street is paved with concrete. You don’t see any dirt roads there.
  36. fantasy
    imagination unrestricted by reality
    Carlos’s fantasy was that Papi and Mami would fly to us in their own private helicopter.
  37. anthem
    a song of devotion or loyalty
    As the flag passed by me, I stood straighter and maintained my hand firmly pressed again my chest in salutation as I sang the Mexican anthem as loud as I could.
  38. treaty
    a written agreement between two states or sovereigns
    Mago told me that we should be proud to have been born in Iguala because it was in our city that the treaty which ended the Mexican War of Independence was drafted.
  39. ashamed
    feeling guilt or embarrassment or remorse
    I looked at my name on the notebook. I had never hated it as much as I did at that moment. And I didn’t stop hating my name until many years later, when I realized that it wasn’t a name to be ashamed of, but one to live up to.
  40. jeer
    laugh at with contempt and derision
    I didn’t want him to hit me again and have my classmates jeer and laugh. But if I didn’t go back, I knew I wouldn’t learn to read and write. How could I ever write a letter to my parents and ask them to please, please, come back?
Created on May 31, 2017 (updated April 9, 2019)

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