In Judith Ortiz Cofer's "American History," the protagonist, Elena, faces a moral dilemma on November 22, 1963. This is the day President John F. Kennedy is shot and when the country mourns the shocking loss of a beloved man. Elena and the other students from school are sent home out of respect for the country's loss. Elena notices on her way home that her apartment building is completely silent. This silence is unusual because there are usually different types of music blasting from the windows and people socializing out front. On this day in history, however, Elena's building is silent to show respect for a time of mourning.
The moral dilemma occurs when Elena decides to go to Eugene's house for their study date rather than to church with her mother. Elena's mother attempts to change Elena's mind by saying the following:
"Hija, the president has been killed. We must show respect. He was a great man. Come to church with me tonight."
Elena's mother believes her daughter should cancel studying to attend church with her to pray for President Kennedy, his loves ones, and the nation. Elena does not want to miss going into the house next door for her study date with Eugene. Elena's mother argues that her daughter is forgetting who she is and what she should be doing at a time like this. Also, she takes the time to inform Elena that she is headed for trouble if she continues to chase after Eugene and her dreams about his house. Again, the moral dilemma is whether Elena should exercise respect for the president's death or go to Eugene's house to study.
Ultimately, Elena exercises her freedom to make her own choices and decides to go over to Eugene's house against her mother's wishes. Elena is not able to enter the home, though. Eugene's mother, who has a prejudiced and intolerant attitude towards other races and social classes, refuses to give Elena permission to enter the home or be friends with Eugene.