Book One: Chapters 7–13

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. consequence
    the outcome of an event
    As the oldest, it was clearer to Mago, more than to Carlos and me, that the distance between us and our parents was destroying our relationship more than any of us could have imagined. And the consequences would be great.
  2. buffer
    a cushion-like device that reduces shock due to an impact
    But back then, as our little mother, Mago’s job was to take care of us and to shelter us from the reality that only she could fully grasp. I had her as a buffer, but she had no one but herself.
  3. emigrate
    leave one's country of residence for a new one
    Back then, I didn’t know that Guerrero was the Mexican state with the most people emigrating due to the scarcity of jobs.
  4. interpret
    make sense of; assign a meaning to
    Four years after my father left for the United States, and two years after my mother left, the construction of our house finally began. Back then, I interpreted this to mean one thing—Papi and Mami would soon be back!
  5. option
    one of a number of things from which only one can be chosen
    But because it would cut down on the final costs, it was the only option my parents had.
  6. mortar
    a substance used as a bond in masonry or for covering a wall
    At night we couldn’t sleep from being so sore, but every day we put all of our energy into building our house, and when our fingers hurt too much, or our knees wanted to buckle under the weight of the buckets of wet mortar we carried to the bricklayers, we would tell ourselves that the faster we worked, the faster we would have a family again.
  7. sorrow
    an emotion of great sadness associated with loss
    Then we headed to school, where all we did was look out the window and sigh the hours away, leaning our sorrow on our elbows.
  8. excuse
    a defense of some offensive behavior
    Look at Maria Felix. It’s been nine years, and every time Elida asks her when she’s finally coming back, she gives her excuses as to why she can’t yet. But that’s all they are. Excuses.
  9. conviction
    an unshakable belief in something without need for proof
    While my aunt and I waited by the dirt road for a taxi, I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandmother’s conviction that my parents were not coming back.
  10. debris
    the remains of something that has been destroyed
    I know now what she had wanted me to see back then: the banks of the canal lined with trash and debris floating in the water, the crumbling adobe houses, the shacks made of sticks, the children with worm-pregnant bellies running around with bare feet, the piles of drying horse dung littering the dirt road, the flea-bitten stray dogs lying under the shade of trees, flies hovering above them.
  11. innocent
    lacking in sophistication or worldliness
    But what I saw back then I saw through the eyes of a child—a child who had never been anywhere, a child who was still innocent enough to see past the things later in life she could not.
  12. fragile
    easily broken or damaged or destroyed
    The house looked as fragile as the skeleton of the dead sparrow Mago and I once found in the vacant lot, which Mago said had been spit out by a snake.
  13. foundation
    lowest support of a structure
    “It’s taken Papi four years to build a foundation and half a wall. How long do you think it will take him to build the rest?”
  14. hover
    hang, as of something threatening, dark, or menacing
    As much as I loved her, there were two possibilities hovering in the horizon that would separate me from her. Either my parents would return soon or she would marry and leave to have children of her own. Either way, I would lose her.
  15. attach
    create social or emotional ties
    After having already lost both my parents, how could I bear to get attached to someone I would lose as well?
  16. deny
    refuse to recognize or acknowledge
    When she took off her sunglasses and I saw those eyes that were also Abuelita Chinta’s eyes, I could no longer deny that she was my mother.
  17. hesitant
    unable to act or decide quickly or firmly
    I hesitantly wrapped my arms around her waist, feeling as if this were a dream and she would disappear any minute.
  18. crisis
    an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty
    In August 1982, two months after my mother had returned from El Otro Lado, the peso was devalued for the second time that year due to the national debt crisis.
  19. hardship
    a state of misfortune or affliction
    After two years of earning dollars, it was difficult for her to readjust to the hardships brought on by Mexico's unstable economy.
  20. forsake
    leave someone who needs or counts on you; leave in the lurch
    Out of all of us, Mago was the only one who harbored any hope that Papi would not forsake us.
  21. rift
    a personal or social separation
    My mother’s broken promise—that she’d be gone only a year—had caused a rift between them, so Mago’s loyalty to my father remained strong.
  22. absence
    the time interval during which something or somebody is away
    He had been gone for so long that in his absence he had become bigger than life in Mago’s eyes.
  23. yearn
    have a desire for something or someone who is not present
    I didn’t have a single memory of him and Mami together—of all of us together—and I felt cheated out of the family I yearned to have.
  24. bitter
    marked by strong resentment or cynicism
    And now he had returned to us a different version of my mother, one who was bitter, heartbroken, and weighed down by the knowledge that she had four children to support and was on her own.
  25. poverty
    the state of having little or no money and possessions
    But La Quinta Castrejon sat there amidst the poverty, teasing us, reminding us of what we couldn’t have.
  26. pity
    a feeling of sympathy and sorrow for misfortunes of others
    She wanted all of us to come so the guests at La Quinta Castrejon could see she had four mouths to feed and take pity on her and buy from her.
  27. desperation
    hopeless recklessness
    I didn’t look at Mami because I knew she was angry, at me, at the man, at the mother with her five children, at Papi for putting her in that situation, at herself for leaving El Otro Lado in a moment of desperation.
  28. survive
    continue to live through hardship or adversity
    “He left me there on my own, and I knew no one, but I should have stayed. There were jobs. Maybe not great jobs, but at least we weren’t starving. And here in Mexico, with the cost of everything going higher and higher, how are we to survive?”
  29. flee
    run away quickly
    I know now that she wasn't fleeing the rain. She was running away from the glittering pool and its blue tiles, from the memory of my father and her wading in the water, arms intertwined, from the pain of knowing that even though he had held onto her in the pool of La Quinta Castrejon, he eventually had let go of her, in a place just as beautiful and frightening.
  30. irony
    incongruity between what might be expected and what occurs
    The irony was that in her worst nightmares she had pictured my father leaving her for a golden-haired, blue-eyed gringa.
  31. naturalize
    make into a citizen
    Or was it the fact that this woman was a naturalized U.S. citizen and could speak English, unlike my mother, who as hard as she tried, couldn't seem to make sense of the strange words that rolled off the tongues of Americans?
  32. privilege
    a special advantage or benefit not enjoyed by all
    Did my father see that woman and her American privileges as a way to a bigger future, a future that my mother, with her limitations, couldn’t give him?
  33. scorn
    look down on with disdain
    Everyone would scorn her for coming back worse off than when she left.
  34. refuge
    a shelter from danger or hardship
    An innocent bystander had tried to defend my mother when he saw my father bullying her on the sidewalk in front of Tia Maria Felix’s apartment, where my mother had sought refuge.
  35. exaggerate
    enlarge beyond bounds or the truth
    Whether Mami was exaggerating or not, we couldn’t be sure, but either way we became fiercely loyal to her.
  36. loyalty
    feelings of allegiance
    Yet it wasn’t long before we discovered that our loyalty and our love wouldn’t be enough.
  37. indifferent
    showing no care or concern in attitude or action
    Mami was distant with us, indifferent in many ways.
  38. feature
    a prominent attribute or aspect of something
    “You look just like him,” she said to me. I glanced at the Man Behind the Glass, and for the first time, I was not happy about having his features. I didn’t want Mami to look at me like that, a look full of pain, anger, hatred.
  39. wither
    lose freshness, vigor, or vitality
    While Mago and I sat around his cot, watching him wither away, all I could think of was the empty road where my mother had vanished.
  40. inseparable
    not capable of being split
    From then on, Carlos and Tio Crece became inseparable. As crazy as Tio Crece was, he was the only male role model Carlos had, and he figured a crazy uncle was better than nothing.
Created on May 31, 2017 (updated April 9, 2019)

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