An Analysis of Nicholasa Mohr's "In Nueva York"
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Nicholasa Mohr’s collection of short stories entitled In Nueva York focuses on the struggles of Puerto Rican immigrants that moved to New York in search of a better life. Through these stories, she illustrates that although they have found a way into America, they are far from achieving the American Dream. Although this collection tells the stories of individuals within a Puerto Rican Diaspora, in “The English Lesson,” Mohr introduces characters that migrated from other parts of the world and shows that their struggles are not so different.
Within “Old Mary,” the first story in the collection, Mohr introduces her reader to Mary, a woman who received a letter from a son in Puerto Rico that she hasn’t seen in forty years. She believes that his desire to come to America will bring her wealth and change her luck. This attitude is similar to how she felt before she came to America:
“…at the hotel all the workers ever talked about was going to New York City. In Nueva York, they said, the wages were high and opportunities greater…Old Mary knew she had to go there” (12).
New York was idealized by these workers in such a way, that just getting to New York meant a better life. Mary failed to realize the struggles she would face as a poor immigrant.
Similarly, she believes that her son coming to visit her will also care for, support and “protect” (16) her. Dona Teresa tells her that she doesn’t know her son—that she should not be convinced that he will change her life so drastically. Mary simply says, “‘But he will tell me everything when I see him’” (17).
She is waiting to see him before she loses hope. The hopes she had for New York are very similar to her idea of her son. When he arrives, these hopes literally fall short:
“He was no taller than three feet eleven inches…With a swagger to his gait, he rushed up the steps and embraced Old Mary” (24).
He no longer is able to protect her in the way that she assumed. If she had found out more about New York and more about her son, these false hopes would have been less disappointing. Although Mary is shocked by this unexpected event, her son gets a job and begins to learn English.
Before Mary’s son arrives, she describes that he will come and change the way her other children live:
“But with William to protect me, then Ralphy will behave. It will change. It will have to change because I will have a son here to protect me” (16).
The theme of men protecting women is a key theme in Mohr’s collection. In “I Never Even Seen My Father,” a girl that is struggling with drug abuse describes that when she is attempting to feed her addiction, she needs the help of a man:
“So you steal and you turn a few tricks and then you get yourself a man for protection. A pimp, so you got more rights on the street” (41).
Even to make money immorally, she needs a man’s help.
"The English Lesson"
In “The English Lesson,” Lali marries a man she does not love with the aspirations that her life would improve:
“She had accepted his marriage proposal expecting great changes in her life. But…being in a strange country without friends or relatives, and the long hours of work at the luncheonette confined Lali to a way of life she could not have imagined” (63).
Similar to the hopes of other women in this book, Lali is under the impression that having a man by her side would change her life for the better. But, as many of them realize, having a man around one more “habit to support” (41).
Mohr is telling the story of various immigrants that come to America with aspirations of a better life. Although their hopes often fall short of expected, they find ways to better their lifestyles and remain hopeful of their time spent in New York.