American History Questions and Answers
by Judith Ortiz Cofer

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President Kennedy's assassination is often described as a turning point in American history. His death marked a loss of innocence in this country—that is, the discovery that dreams can be destroyed in one horrible moment. In what way does Elena make such a discovery?

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Elena has developed a major crush on her new neighbor Eugene. Although the other kids at school make fun of him for his Southern accent, Elena thinks he's incredibly cute. So she plans to go over to his house one evening to study. It's a measure of just how much of a crush Elena has on Eugene that even the tragic events of that fateful day in November 1963 aren't enough to prevent her from going. Elena's mother, like just about everyone in the neighborhood and millions across the country, is deeply shocked and saddened at the news of President Kennedy's assassination. She thinks it somewhat indecent that Elena should be getting on with her life as if nothing has happened. But she still lets her go over to Eugene's house anyway.

When Elena shows up on Eugene's doorstep, it's then that she experiences her own loss of innocence. Her frosty reception at the hands of Eugene's mother shows her that this is a world in which prejudice and hatred are all too prevalent. Elena is Puerto Rican, and Eugene and his family are white Southerners. It's abundantly clear to Elena that Eugene's mother is prejudiced against her and so won't allow her to set foot in the house. In that brief, horrible moment, Elena doesn't just lose her innocence; her dream has also been completely destroyed.

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