"Condemned" and Part One Summary
The narrator and author, Daisy Hernández, recalls a time when a town official visited her family’s home in New Jersey and declared that it should be condemned. Her mother, who spoke only Spanish, did not understand.
She declares her intention in writing her memoir, which is to understand and tell the stories of her mother, her father, and her aunts, and to do so “without the mancha of a white man who thought our lives and our stories should be bulldozed.”
Daisy has been nicely dressed by her mother to await, with other Cuban children, a station wagon which will take them to Holy Family Catholic School in Union City, New Jersey. Her kindergarten teacher is Miss Reynolds; she speaks in English, a language with which Daisy is slightly familiar, but does not really speak. The first two years of school are like this.
One day, a teacher comes to take Daisy and her friend from class; the friend begins to cry and fight, but Daisy does not resist. The two girls are shown cards intended to teach them English.
Before going to Holy Family, Daisy lived a Spanish-speaking life in Union City. Her father spoke Cuban Spanish; the “Puertorriqueno” her Tía Rosa had married spoke differently. Her mother spoke Colombian Spanish. Spanish was the language of home, of complaining mothers and of drunken fathers playing cards.
It is the 1980s and Colombia is at war, so Daisy’s mother, Alicia, sends money home to her family. Daisy, her mother, and her father travel to other Spanish-speaking places in the United States, including Hialeah, Florida, and Queens, New York.
At first, Daisy’s schoolwork is “unsatisfactory,” but after nine months, she has improved. Alicia signs the report cards, although she cannot read them. Alicia asks her daughter to show off her English on the cassette tapes she records to send home, and the pair count together.
Daisy has learned considerable English by the end of kindergarten. At home, however, everything remains in Spanish.
In 1982, the family moves north to a two-story house in Fairview, New Jersey, a largely white town. Mr. Hernández works in a factory, and Alicia sews. Daisy begins at a new school where all of the students are white.
Alicia’s sisters—Tía Dora, Tía Rosa, and Tía Chuchi, who were all schoolteachers in Colombia—move to the United States, where they perform menial jobs. They correct Daisy’s Spanish, which has begun to go awry, especially in terms of vocabulary. Tía Rosa protectively says that their niece is “Americana.”
Daisy begins “resenting” Spanish when she realizes she cannot share her schoolwork with her mother if she does not know the Spanish for things, such as the word “Pilgrim.” She begins to feel that she must “hate” Spanish in order to become properly immersed in her English life. She speaks to her little sister, Liliana, in English and watches English television. At the age of nine, Daisy incurs an F on a report card, and her father tells her that she needs to study so that she can be better than her parents.
In the fourth grade, Daisy is targeted again for additional English instruction, and this time, she develops an “affection” for the language. She begins reading many books in English and decides she would like to be a writer.
In high school, Mrs. Spielvogel, Daisy’s English teacher, sets in her mind the idea that she should go to Europe one day. Daisy’s father buys her a typewriter.
After college, Daisy enters the book publishing industry, opening mail, writing rejection letters, and proofreading. There is sick pay and paid vacation, to Alicia’s delight. It is a good job, but Daisy begins to feel a sense of loss and registers for a Spanish class with others of similar upbringing. The teacher corrects their “Spanglish” words and their English syntax. For the first time, Daisy begins reading in Spanish.
When, as a student journalist, Daisy returns to the site of her Catholic school in Union City, she finds it has now “grown brown,...
(The entire section is 1,350 words.)