From Cofer's "American History," how is El Building described and what is its significance?  

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

El Building is located in Paterson, New Jersey during 1963. The main character, Elena, describes it as being right on the corner of Straight and Market streets. She also says that it housed mostly Puerto Ricans who blasted salsa music from their windows at all hours of the day. One person would turn on his music and another would turn on hers to drown out the first. Around the building outside one would usually see children playing and the unemployed complaining.

Near the end of the story, Elena goes next door to study with her neighbor Eugene, but his unfriendly mother opens the door. The mother asks Elena, "You live there?" and points to the building. Elena explains that at that moment, the building "looked particularly ugly, like a gray prison, with its many dirty windows and rusty fire escapes". The color gray is not hopeful or bright and happy image. It seems like a color that says, "blah." All of the images certainly paint a picture of poverty and struggle, but the people inside are not without hope and love in their lives. Unfortunately, Eugene's mother only sees the different culture, and possibly the poverty, and dismisses Elena.

The significance of El Building is that it is like many other apartment buildings across the nation that house immigrants who moved to the United States to seek out a better life. Some may use the building as a temporary stopping place on their way to bigger and better things. Others may live there for years without hope of leaving, but they still hope to provide better futures for their children.

Whatever feelings Elena or Eugene's mother have for El Building did not matter on the day that John F. Kennedy died. El Building turned off its music and remained silent out of respect for the fallen president. The building represents the people who live inside of it and those people were American citizens who cared for the country they lived in. They showed their respect for the office of the President just like the rest of the country. And even though the people in El Building were from Puerto Rico, spoke Spanish, and struggled financially, that doesn't mean they didn't love their country.  

Read the study guide:
American History

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