The First-generation Immigrant in America Essay

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My grandmother has a certain look in her eyes when something is troubling her: she stares off in a random direction with a wistful, slightly bemused expression on her face, as if she sees something the rest of us can’t see, knows something that we don’t know. It is in these moments, and these moments alone, that she seems distant from us, like a quiet observer watching from afar, her body present but her mind and heart in a place only she can visit. She never says it, but I know, and deep inside, I think they do as well. She wants to be a part of our world. She wants us to be a part of hers. But we don’t belong. Not anymore. Not my brothers—I don’t think they ever did. Maybe I did—once, a long time ago, but I can’t remember anymore. I love my grandmother. She knows that. I know she does, even if I’m never able to convey it adequately to her in words.

The scene is always the same: the three of us sitting in a room together, talking. I see her from the corner of my eye, glancing for only a second or two, but always long enough to notice the look on her face, the expression I’ve become so painfully familiar with over the years. I am forced to turn away; the conversation resumes. She is a few feet from us. She hears everything, and understands nothing except what she can gather from the expressions on our faces, the tone of our voices. She pretends not to be bothered, smiling at us and interjecting random questions or comments in Chinese—a language I was raised to speak, a language I’ve slowly forgotten over the years, a language that is now mine only by blood. It is an earnest but usually futile attempt to break through the invisible barrier that separates her from us, and in spite of all her efforts to hide it, that sad, contem...

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...weak, when their echoes fade, and in that moment, I will awake to a dark, empty silence. And the silence will be deafening.

* La Gringa: Derogatory epithet used to ridicule a Puerto Rican girl who wants to look like a blonde North American.

Works Cited

Andalzúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. 2nd ed. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 93-101.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz. “Silent Dancing.” Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. 2nd ed. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 145-51.

“History.” The Latino/a Education Network Service.14 Oct. 2002.<>.

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. 2nd ed. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 603-07.

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