Nicholasa Mohr

El Bronx Remembered

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El Bronx Remembered Summary

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El Bronx Remembered is a collection of short stories by award-winning Nuyorican author Nicholasa Mohr. First published by Harper & Row in 1975, the book contains eleven short stories and one novella, each centering on Puerto Ricans in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. El Bronx Remembered—a finalist for the National Book Award for Children’s Books—is appropriate for young readers in grades three through eight.

In a brief introduction, Mohr offers a concise history of Puerto Rican immigration to New York City. Though the first immigrants arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that traveling from Puerto Rico to the mainland became affordable and more accessible to everyday Puerto Ricans. There was a sharp spike in immigration to the mainland U.S., with a few migrant workers settling in the country but most concentrating in New York’s Spanish Harlem and, eventually, other neighborhoods as well. As Puerto Ricans made an indelible impression on the culture and community of America’s largest city, they become an essential part of the American fabric and set their eyes on the American dream. The stories in this volume capture the golden years of this monumental promise, primarily the decade between 1946 and 1956.

Among the pieces collected here is “A Very Special Pet.” The Fernandez family has two pets, a cat named Marialu and a beloved hen named Joncrofo (short for “Joan Crawford”). When Mr. Fernandez falls ill, his wife decides that he needs nourishment to get well again. However, the family is poor, and with Mr. Fernandez unable to work, there is no money for food. Therefore, Mrs. Fernandez decides to kill Joncrofo without the children knowing. She chases her around the kitchen and eventually bats her several times with the broom. The children come in and beg Mrs. Fernandez to stop. She does, realizing that she could never kill the hen, and even if she could, no one in the family would ever eat such a treasured pet. She feeds Joncrofo a bit of liquor, and the hen recovers from the ordeal. Mrs. Fernandez, meanwhile, sets to cleaning up the kitchen, dreaming of returning to the farm in Puerto Rico, where food was always plentiful.

In the story “Shoes for Hector,” the title character is his school’s valedictorian, and he must look sharp for his graduation ceremony. But money is tight in the family, so Uncle Luis gives a pair of his own shoes to Hector to wear. The shoes are orange and don’t match Hector’s navy-blue suit, but, he can’t deny, the shoes fit extremely well. This predicament forces Hector to make a decision: Should he wear the shoes, be comfortable, and please his family? Or should he refuse and risk hurting Uncle Luis’s feelings and embarrassing his parents? It is a small moral dilemma, but one with potentially big implications for Hector as he takes his first steps toward being an adult.

“Mr. Mendelsohn” chronicles the friendship between an elderly Jewish man and the Puerto Rican Suarez family. While his own family does not seem to understand him, Mr. Mendelsohn finds an unexpected sense of belonging and comfort with The Suarezes. Ultimately, he imparts some valuable lessons to them as well.

The story “The Wrong Lunch Line” finds two school friends, Yvette and Mildred, unwittingly caught breaking the rules. Yvette, who is Puerto Rican, and Mildred, who is Jewish, wait in the lunch line together. However, it is a Jewish holy day, and Yvette cannot, according to the rules, stand in this line. The girls get into trouble, but even when they do, they realize the rules about who stands in what line are tantamount to segregation. Their resistance to such unfairness only makes their friendship stronger.

“Princess” is a story a bit darker in tone. The eponymous character is a fluffy little white dog on whom Dona Nereida dotes. Because Dona Nereida and her husband have no children, no interests, and no hobbies outside of their bodega, they lavish the bulk of their attention on Princess. When Princess dies, Dona Nereida is understandably devastated. However, she is unable to move beyond her grief, still focusing all of her energy and attention on Princess’s memory. Dona Nereida reaches a point where grief traps her, preventing any healing or moving forward, and the memory of the cherished dog becomes an object of fixation.

The other short stories in this volume are “A New Window Display,” “Tell the Truth….,” “Once Upon a Time…,” “A Lesson in Fortune-Telling,” “Uncle Claudio,” “Love with Aleluya,” and the novella Herman and Alice. As in the rest of the pieces that comprise El Bronx Remembered, Mohr continues her profiles of Puerto Rican life in New York City during the middle years of the twentieth century, exploring timeless themes of love and loss, belonging and isolation, and the struggle between the old ways and the new.