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How is El Building described and what is its significance in Cofer's "American History"?

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Elena describes the apartment block where she lives—colloquially known as "El Building"—as being like "a monstrous jukebox." This description tells us two things about the place. First of all, it's big and ugly; and second, it's very noisy, with lots of loud salsa music blasting out of it at all times of the day and night.

As Elena goes on to explain, the people who play loud music tend to be new immigrants who've just recently arrived from Puerto Rico. They blast loud salsas out of the open windows as a way of drawing out whatever problems they're currently enduring.

And it's not just salsa music that makes El Building sound like a giant jukebox. There's also the sound of screaming children, the abusive tongues of viragoes (an old-fashioned word meaning bad-tempered women), and the cursing of the unemployed.

Taken together, all these descriptions of El Building and its residents emphasize that this is a run-down apartment block full of poor Puerto Rican families. The full significance of this will only become clear later on, when Eugene's prejudiced mother refuses to let Elena into her home when she finds out that Elena lives in El Building.

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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.  

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