Book One: Chapters 14–20

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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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. faith
    complete confidence in a person or plan, etc.
    We needed to believe in something, for what would happen once we lost our faith in both our parents and had nothing left to hope for?
  2. impulsive
    characterized by undue haste and lack of thought
    “Your mother was a tough girl,” Abuelita Chinta said. “Tough but also very impulsive. I guess that's the way she still is.”
  3. havoc
    violent and needless disturbance
    Abuelita Chinta opened the door and we stood behind her, wondering what other havoc the floods had caused.
  4. churn
    be agitated
    I was gripped with a fear so great, it made my stomach churn. What if something happened to me, Mago, Carlos, or Betty? What if, by the time Papi finishes his dream house, there’s no one left for him to keep safe?
  5. crestfallen
    brought low in spirit
    "We have a few weeks yet,” Abuelita Chinta quickly said at seeing Mago’s crestfallen face. “We’ll come up with the money, somehow.”
  6. reproachful
    expressing disapproval, blame, or disappointment
    “I thought you were leaving me,” I told her reproachfully.
  7. inquire
    ask about
    The phone calls were rare, but nevertheless, every day we would stop by Dona Caro’s house to check if our mother had called. Abuelita warned us about annoying Dona Caro, but we couldn’t stop ourselves from inquiring about the phone call.
  8. soothing
    affording physical relief
    The cleansing was so soothing that she fell asleep, and Abuelita Chinta sent us all outside to let our mother rest.
  9. altar
    a raised structure on which sacrifices to a god are made
    I crossed myself at the altar on my way out the door and prayed for Mami to wake up without any more sadness weighing her down.
  10. glance
    take a brief look at
    While I ran and laughed and chased the kids around el monumento a la bandera, I would glance at the bench where my mother was sitting with my aunt, and I would wave at her because I wanted to make sure I was not just imagining her.
  11. stake
    mark with a pole
    There were people there already staking out their piece of the land the government was going to give away. Mami chose one of the few available spots, and she had Carlos gather some branches to use as posts.
  12. corrugated
    shaped into alternating parallel grooves and ridges
    All around us were families, who, like us, were there because they also had a dream. They were building tents out of torn sheets, cardboard, branches, and pieces of corrugated metal.
  13. responsible
    worthy of or requiring trust; held accountable
    Because he was the only male in our little family, Mami appointed Carlos the head squatter, which meant he was responsible for watching our land.
  14. patient
    enduring trying circumstances with even temper
    "Any time now, mijo, just be patient,” Mami would say.
    “I’ll be patient, Mami,” Carlos replied. Now that we had our mother back, we wanted to make sure that this time we would keep her with us.
  15. sacrifice
    a loss entailed by giving up something
    "For as long as necessary,” Mami said. “A thing like this requires sacrifices.
  16. transfer
    change from one vehicle or transportation line to another
    “You should see, Nena,” Mago said, "how many people at the train station are heading to El Otro Lado. I’ve asked them about the journey, and it doesn’t seem so bad. They ride the train to Mexico City, transfer to another train, and ride it all the way to the border. We could save up some money, buy the train tickets, and go.”
  17. venom
    toxin secreted by animals
    Sometimes I would forget that I had a father, and whenever I remembered him, the memory of him did not hurt. It did not take the breath out of my body or sting me and fill me with pain like the venom of a scorpion.
  18. tremble
    move quickly and involuntarily up and down or sideways
    But the thought of my mother living apart from me made my body tremble, my teeth clench in my mouth, my eyes burn as they did whenever we had no money to buy gas and I would have to fan the hot coals in the brazier as our meal slowly cooked.
  19. constant
    uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing
    If she hadn’t returned from El Otro Lado, Mago said I would have already forgotten her, the way I’d forgotten Papi. Little children are blessed with short memories. But my mother’s constant comings and goings wouldn’t let me forget her. Instead, they increased my longing for her even more.
  20. subside
    wear off or die down
    We were left behind to comfort our little sister, to hold her while her tears subsided, to make funny faces and stick out our tongues, do cartwheels and handstands, sneak into the neighbor’s yard and steal juicy guavas and mangoes to sweeten the bitter memory of the one who came and went.
  21. determined
    characterized by great firmness of purpose
    I would return to the U.S. more determined than ever, because even though I had drunk Bailey’s with them, dined and sang English songs with them, my cousin Lupita, Tia Giiera’s daughter, was working for them as a maid.
  22. fend
    try to manage without help
    No matter how many times we were abandoned and left to fend for ourselves, we would always follow the crumbs back to Mami.
  23. conflict
    a state of opposition between persons or ideas or interests
    I wasn’t old enough to understand that Mami was two people in one: a woman who wanted to be loved by a man, and a mother who wanted to do right by her children. But the look on her face was enough to alert me to the conflict inside her.
  24. insecurity
    the anxiety experienced when feeling vulnerable
    If she had still harbored any insecurities after having been abandoned by my father for another woman, Rey came and helped her get rid of them once and for all.
  25. version
    something a little different from others of the same type
    I wished his name wasn’t the male version of my name. I didn’t want to have anything in common with that man, and I especially didn’t want to share my mother with him.
  26. loneliness
    sadness resulting from being forsaken or abandoned
    Papa, every moment of my life I think of you. Look at my loneliness. Come. I miss you and cry still for you. Take pity on me. Tell me when you are going to return. Beloved. Come to me as I am suffering. Come to me as I am dying. In this loneliness. In this loneliness...
  27. tattered
    worn to shreds; or wearing torn or ragged clothing
    He couldn’t see past the tangled hair, the dirt on my face, my tattered clothes. He couldn’t see the girl who had longed so much for this moment, to finally meet her father.
  28. acquaintance
    a person with whom you are familiar
    He hugged me too briefly, too hesitantly, the way one would hug an acquaintance’s child, as if out of obligation.
  29. envy
    a desire to have something that is possessed by another
    “Yes, my papi is taking me to El Otro Lado with him. Goodbye, my friends. I will miss you." I could see the look of envy in their eyes.
  30. maternal
    characteristic of a mother
    But destiny had also made her become my little mother, and unlike my mother, Mago’s maternal instincts won over her need to save herself.
  31. opportunity
    a possibility from a favorable combination of circumstances
    Let them go, Juana. It’s for the best. Don’t deny them the opportunity to have a better life.
  32. custody
    guardianship over
    "She has robbed me of my youngest child. There are laws in the U.S. I could have gone to court, filed for custody. I would have had rights. Instead, your mother took off like a thief and came back here, stealing her from me. And now look, my own daughter doesn’t even know me.”
  33. fate
    your overall circumstances or condition in life
    “Well, as you’ve always said, Betty is my daughter, not yours, so I get to decide her fate,” Mami said.
  34. attempt
    earnest and conscientious activity intended to do something
    Our first two attempts across the border were failures. Even now I blame myself. I was not used to walking and running so much and so fast.
  35. grasp
    understand the meaning of something
    I am grateful now that back then I was too young to fully grasp the extent of the danger we were in.
  36. situation
    a complex or critical or unusual difficulty
    I thought about Mami, little Betty, my grandmother, and I couldn’t help feeling torn about our situation. I was so happy that my father had not left me behind, but I was also sad about leaving my little sister. I felt as if we had abandoned her.
  37. jeopardy
    a source of danger
    I had to leave my mother, my little sister, my grandmother—so that I could have a father. But even that was in jeopardy. If we didn’t cross that third time, I would lose him.
  38. pilgrimage
    a journey to a sacred place
    I thought about the church pilgrimages we had taken with Abuelita Chinta a couple of times. If I once made it through nine days of walking, surely I could make it now, couldn’t I? But hard as I tried, I couldn’t lie to myself. This journey was similar to the pilgrimages because we were walking through bushes and hills, but I hadn’t been afraid back then.
  39. labored
    requiring or showing effort
    Every noise, like the chirping of crickets, the wind rustling the branches of the bushes, the sound of our labored breathing, frightened me.
  40. pang
    a mental pain or distress
    I thought about Abuelita Chinta, her gap-toothed smile, and I felt a pang of sadness just thinking about the fact that with every step I took, I was getting farther and farther away from her, Mami, and little Betty.
Created on May 31, 2017 (updated April 9, 2019)

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