This short story by Judith Ortiz Cofer is set in the United States in 1963. The action of the story takes place on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and is actually interrupted by this assassination, which deeply affects the protagonist, a fourteen year old girl called Elena.
Elena is originally Puerto Rican, and the neighborhood in which she lives is heavily inhabited by other Puerto Ricans, as well as African Americans, although their building was originally part of a mostly Jewish area. The building is in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. Across the street is another building in which lives Elena's friend Eugene, who is originally from Georgia and to whom Elena is extremely attached. The two share a common bond based on their mutual ostracism at school due to their unfamiliar accents, and the sense that they do not belong in Paterson. Unfortunately, Eugene's mother also thinks that Elena does not belong around her son, as she is a resident of a building filled with minorities and other people looked down upon by white Americans in this era.