Book Two: Chapters 9–16

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. alien
    anyone who does not belong in a given environment
    The movie was about an alien named E.T. who wanted to go home. I felt bad for the alien because life in the U.S. was very difficult for him. I could understand his wanting to go home. I was jealous because he seemed to learn English a lot faster than I had all those months.
  2. rebellion
    refusal to accept some authority or code or convention
    How I wished I could go home, too, back to Iguala where I could speak to my teacher in my own language. Where I could stand up for what I believed in, not caring if afterward I got hit with the ruler for my rebellion.
  3. reject
    dismiss from consideration or a contest
    One day, I promised myself, thinking about Mr. Lopez’s words, I will write a book that won’t be rejected, one that will make my father proud.
  4. pride
    a feeling of self-respect and personal worth
    “Don’t you kids have any pride? Your mother doesn’t care about you. If she did, she would have called you when she got here. She's been here for months. Months. Why would you want to go see her? Have some pride, pendejos!"
  5. disappoint
    fail to meet the hopes or expectations of
    Papi looked at me, and I could tell in his eyes that I had disappointed him with those words.
  6. withdraw
    keep away from others
    During the weeks following Papi’s discovery, we couldn’t convince him to allow us to go see Mami. The more we asked, the more he withdrew. He would simply say, “I’m the one who brought you here,” and then would lock himself up in his room.
  7. measly
    contemptibly small in amount
    Despite the measly salary Mami earned at the factory, she always had enough money to take us out, like to Exposition Park to see the roses, to the Alley to buy us underwear or socks, to Placita Olvera to see the folklorico dances and have a churro.
  8. rummage
    search haphazardly
    But whenever we went anywhere with Mami, she would bring along a plastic bag and would pick up cans from the street or rummage through trash bins.
  9. eventually
    after an unspecified period of time or a long delay
    Eventually, we got used to our double lives. Yet as the months went by, I still wished there were a way we could have our family together, in the same place.
  10. process
    a particular course of action intended to achieve a result
    Neither he nor my mother were ever willing to accept they had both used Betty as a way to hurt each other, and in the process, had hurt us and my little sister as well.
  11. overcome
    get on top of; deal with successfully
    The distance between us wasn’t two thousand miles anymore. But there was still a gap. I hoped one day we could overcome it.
  12. benefit
    something that aids or promotes well-being
    "Isn’t she ashamed to be on welfare? And what’s she doing at a factory? That’s a dead-end job. You get paid under the table, don’t get benefits. She’s not putting money into social security for retirement. That’s not the way to live, not here in this country.”
  13. impact
    a strong influence
    Betty was too little to have any interest in Papi’s visions for the future, and since she rarely came over, they would not have any impact on her later in life, as they would me.
  14. illegal
    prohibited by law or by official or accepted rules
    Papi said, “Just because we’re illegal doesn’t mean we can’t dream.
  15. amnesty
    a warrant granting release from punishment for an offense
    Also, ever since President Reagan approved an amnesty program eight months earlier, in November of 1986, Papi had been going through the process and was hoping to get his green card through that program.
  16. status
    the relative position or standing of things or persons
    Mami had applied for legal residency as well, but unlike my father, she wasn’t concerned about her children’s status.
  17. lack
    the state of needing something that is absent or unavailable
    “One way or another," Papi said, “we will stop living in the shadows.” Back then, I hadn’t known what exactly he’d meant by that, but when I thought about the way Mrs. Anderson had ignored me, about the fact that I couldn’t express myself in class and my lack of English kept me silent, I thought I understood what Papi meant.
  18. complicated
    difficult to analyze or understand
    In Spanish there is only one word for finger or toe, and that is “dedo,” so you don’t have to worry about whether your “dedo” is on your feet or hands. Why did English have to be so complicated?
  19. fluent
    expressing yourself readily, clearly, effectively
    I loved playing an instrument because I knew that it didn’t matter whether I spoke perfect English or not. It didn’t matter that I had a "wetback” accent. Reading music didn’t require me to be fluent in any spoken language.
  20. occurrence
    an instance of something happening
    The firing of gunshots was a regular occurrence in our neighborhood.
  21. resident
    someone who lives at a particular place for a long period
    “Once I’m a legal resident, and I speak better English, things are going to change,” he said. "I’m going to move us out of this neighborhood.”
  22. palpable
    capable of being perceived
    My father’s desire for a better life was palpable. It was contagious. It was one of the things I most respected about him.
  23. investment
    laying out money or capital in an enterprise
    We knew what that house meant to him. We knew it was his backup plan in case things didn’t work out for him here in the U.S. It was an investment that had cost us our relationship with our parents, that cost Mami her marriage with my father.
  24. effort
    use of physical or mental energy; hard work
    While he was in Mexico, it took a lot of effort for me to stay focused in school.
  25. shy
    move suddenly, as from fright
    I shied away from kids because there was always something for which they would make fun of me: my ridiculous name, my height, my Payless tennis shoes, my thick accent, the unfashionable clothes I would wear courtesy of the old ladies at Kingsley Manor.
  26. glimpse
    a brief or incomplete view
    Those books gave me a glimpse into a world I wished to belong to, where there were no alcoholic fathers, no mothers who left you over and over again, no fear of deportation.
  27. sibling
    a person's brother or sister
    Looking back on it now, I realize that first short story of mine would set the tone for all my other stories—stories of broken families, absent parents, and siblings that were separated—for that was the world I lived in, the world I knew.
  28. criticize
    point out real or perceived flaws
    All the students looked at me, and for the first time, they weren’t looking at me to criticize me, but to congratulate me.
  29. bond
    create social or emotional ties
    Maybe we could have a father-daughter moment when we could finally bond, when we could finally overcome the gap our separation had created.
  30. humiliate
    cause to feel shame
    Or was it that Papi had humiliated me in front of him? Did he think I was still a little girl because I got beaten by my father?
  31. instill
    teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions
    Through all his talks of the future, my father had instilled in me something I could not put a name to in English, but in Spanish it was called “ganas.”
  32. possibility
    a future prospect or potential
    And the three of us clutched our green cards in our hands, imagining the possibilities.
  33. eligible
    qualified for or allowed or worthy of being chosen
    It was just in time for her to be able to attend college and be eligible for financial aid.
  34. introvert
    a person who tends to shrink from social contacts
    After years of being laughed at because of my name and my "wetback” accent, which I still had no matter how good my writing skills had gotten, I was a full-blown introvert. I looked at Axel and his friends, and I wished I had the courage to go sit with them. Instead, I hid behind my eyeglasses and buried my nose in the Stephen King novel I had brought.
  35. defy
    resist or confront with resistance
    Mago and I glanced at each other and quickly looked away, shame choking us up inside, for neither of us was courageous enough to defy our father.
  36. eternal
    continuing forever or indefinitely
    I thought about the Man Behind the Glass, of how I wished I hadn’t left him behind in Mexico. In his eternal silence, he had been a much better father than the one we lived with now.
  37. justify
    defend, explain, or make excuses for by reasoning
    We didn’t tell Mila we were sick and tired of her justifying Papi’s behavior with the same lame excuses.
  38. acceptance
    the act of receiving with approval
    My father’s acceptance of me had become my sole reason for being.
  39. dissolve
    become or cause to become soft or liquid
    Tears filled my eyes as the Host began to dissolve, and I pictured Jesus bursting down from Heaven in a blinding beam of light and sending me straight to the worst Hell imaginable, a Hell where I would spend all of eternity alone, without my Mago, for even though I wanted to stop being overshadowed by my sister and her bigger-than-life personality, I was terrified of being without her, of being on my own, of making my way in the world without her by my side.
  40. imagination
    the ability to form mental pictures of things or events
    “Nena, all that is nonsense. First of all, there is no Hell or the devil. Those are just stories Abuela Evila liked to frighten us with. Come on, when are you going to stop believing in that? Use that imagination of yours for other things. Second of all, if there is a Hell, we’re already living in it.”
Created on May 31, 2017 (updated April 9, 2019)

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