Cofer's "American History" mostly focuses on what happens to Elena on November 22, 1963, the day that President Kennedy was shot. Mr. DePalma, the P.E. teacher, cries when he tells the students about the assassination. She, along with the other students from Public School Number 13, is sent home from school. As she walks home, she sees that her apartment building, El Building, is quiet. Normally, music is blasting out every window; but out of respect for the death of the president, the music is turned off. This means that everyone in the building is mourning the loss and is shocked by the news. Then, she sees her mother crying, too. Elena doesn't cry because she is too excited for the study date she has scheduled with Eugene at his house later.
Unfortunately, Elena's elation is temporary because Eugene's mother does not allow her to see Eugene. Eugene's mother claims that they will be moving soon, so a friendship will only hurt them; but the real reason Elena isn't permitted to see Eugene is that his mother does not want her white son mixing with someone of another race. This hurts Elena to her core and she cries in her bed afterwards. Elena says the following:
"That night, I lay in my bed trying to feel the right thing for our dead president. But the tears that came up from a deep source inside me were strictly for me."
Elena's tears are for herself because of what Eugene's mother does to her. She suffers for becoming a victim of prejudice and discrimination. She also loses a friend who helped ease the burdens of living in a predominantly black school where she is teased for being Puerto Rican. Unfortunately, as soon as she thinks that she has a friend and some relief from the struggles at school, it is taken from her.