Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

In our work as Latina teacher educators, we prepare teachers to be successful literacy educators in a multilingual world. In our teaching, we use high quality children’s and adolescent literature in order to invite our students to read multiculturally (Hade, 1997). That is, through small group and whole class literature discussions, we engage pre-service and in-service teachers to make personal connections with the literature and to take a critical stance to explore questions that often reveal the many sociopolitical forces shaping the education of minority students in the United States. These include interpreting signs of power, race, class, and equity, among others, as they are represented in the literature.

In the past, we have selected books that address some of the familiar challenges encountered by recent immigrants to the United States, including the process of adapting to a new schooling practices and language learner. We have also used books that describe the day-to-day complexities of living in between two cultures from the perspective of cultural insiders. Examples include A Step from Heaven by An Na (2001), Tangled Threads by Pegi Deitz Shea (2003) or Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat (2002)

This semester, Carmen and Andrea have planned for a Digital Literature Discussion Project with students enrolled in a graduate teacher preparation program in New York, and in an undergraduate program in Texas. During the month of March, our WOW Current posts will help to facilitate an online literature discussion of Return to Sender. This latest book by outstanding Latina writer Julia Alvarez, was recently announced as the recipient of the American Library Association’s prestigious Pura Belpré Award, which every year recognizes excellence in children and adolescent literature that “best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.”

Our collaboration for this project started months before the first class in our courses, as we read newly released novels and discussed possible books to use with our students. The decision to select Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez was an easy one. It was one of the books that we were carefully considering for our work and the recognition with the Pura Belpré Award validated our selection criteria. We wanted a novel that would present an authentic, relevant, engaging, and contemporary story about the issues facing minority families in the United States as they navigate their new cultural landscapes. In Return to Sender, Alvarez tells the story of two families struggling to survive: a migrant Mexican family and a Vermont family trying to save their farm. (Listen to Julia Alvarez on Vermont Public Radio discuss her book and talk about the inspiration behind the story.)

On February 23 and 25, we each had our first literature discussion in class. Using the literature response strategy Graffiti Board (Short, Harste, Burke, 1995), the students were invited to share their initial responses, connections, wonderings and questions to the book. In their Graffiti Boards, the students identified an illustrated numerous poignant experiences shared by the main characters in the book, Tyler, an 11 year-old growing up in a farm in Vermont, and Mari, an 11 year-old daughter of an undocumented Mexican migrant worker. The students’ responses captured in great detail their initial exploration about issues related to the phenomenon that Igoa (1995) calls “uprooting,” living in a new place, in a whole new culture with a whole new language, after having left behind the world you came to know as yours.

For our first WOW Current post, we invite readers to respond to Alvarez’s take on her own identity as it informs the experiences of her characters, Tyler and Mari in the Return to Sender. Alvarez is quoted as describing herself as a “Dominican, hyphen, American.” She believes that, “As a fiction writer, I find that the most exciting things happen in the realm of that hyphen — the place where two worlds collide or blend together.” For our first discussion, we would like to pose the following guiding questions:

•    What does this “hyphen” mean to Mari and for Tyler in the story? What does it mean to their families?
•    How are Tyler and Mari actively involved in defining their role, their identity, their sense of self and place in between two cultures?
•    What does this “hyphen” mean to you as a reader?

Enjoy the conversation!


Hade, D. (1997). Reading multiculturally. In V. Harris (Ed.) Using multiethnic literature in the K-8 classroom (pp. 233-256). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Igoa, C. (1995). The inner world of the immigrant child. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Short, K.G. & Harste, J., with Burke, C. (1995). Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers. (2nd ed.) Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Please visit to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

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67 thoughts on “Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

  1. Belinda Mendoza says:

    In my opinion the “hyphen” for Mari and Tyler can and does mean a variety of aspects. From one point of view, the hyphen separates, but also joins them, by their two different cultures. Mari is of Mexican descent and was raised with fear because she had to be ready in any circumstance to run. In other words, she lived in constant fear of being deported back to Mexico. On the other hand, Tyler was open to live his life as pleased. Not necessarily with luxuries, however he was not scared of speaking up or defending his views. Mari and Tyler are also faced with recognizing and defining their place in their cultures in many ways. For starters, Tyler lives in a home, with usual chores, parents who work(ed) legally, and with a mailing address that is not a secret. Mari, on the other hand, is not allowed to talk about where she is really from, her dad and uncles are working illegally trying to save money, and she is not even allowed to mail letters directly with her “address.” In addition to this, as mentioned before, Tyler doesn’t live in fear on a constant basis of being deported back to Mexico as Mari does. Tyler praises his American life, and Mari loves both her Mexican culture, as well as her American side (in secret). However, their worlds come together when they are sharing those moments of special friendship. Tyler and Mari had a simple friendship however a powerful one. Although hesitant at first, Tyler soon grew to love Mari and did everything he could to see her smile, even give up his hard earned money to rescue her mother. If this isn’t a clear definition of friendship then I do not have a different way of describing it. This hyphen to me as a reader reminds me of what life really is and has been for many years. There are those individuals who live as Mari and others like Tyler. As well, there are those individuals who do not understand why people need to work without papers to earn a decent living. The experience that Tyler and Mari had for the time they had together was truly an unforgettable one. A friendship that profound and that true proved to me that the hyphen does separate two worlds but sometimes it brings them together. In reality the “hyphen” is a true symbolism that can be defined in various ways. Mari and Tyler demonstrated that although there was a hyphen, the stars that they always watched and saw, brought them together.

  2. Sharon Pozos says:

    In the story the “hyphen” means that both of their worlds can unite and work together for a purpose, which is the farm in the story. Not only are Tyler and Mari able to come together but also both families are able to grow respect for each other even if they come from different parts of the world. The “hyphen” breaks down the wall that keeps these two cultures from coming together. Tyler is very proud to be American he is always talking about how good his country is. At first he was so afraid to break the rules of his country by allowing Mari and her family to work on the farm without the proper documentation. For this reason at first he did not want to be friends with Mari because she was breaking the laws of his country. Mari on the other hand is able to take on both identities of being Mexican American. She is able to keep some of her Mexican roots while at the same time adapting to the new one from the U.S. For example during Halloween when they wanted to give out candy to kids that knocked on the door her dad said that they don’t give anything to beggars but for Mari it was hard to understand because it’s a tradition that kids and adults have in America. Also because of Mari being from Mexico she lived in fear of la migra catching her and sending her away sometimes she felt like she did not belong in America. To me the hyphen means being able to bring something together to make one just how in the story Mari and Tyler were able to forget there differences and come together and be friends. The hyphen allows me to take on both identities.

  3. Liliana Arriola says:

    Throughout the novel a collision and blend of two worlds happened internally within the characters, specifically with Mari. Chapter 2 demonstrates the confusion Mari has with herself, she can comprehend how she is categorized as an alien and is mistreated by others when she feels worthy of living in the U.S. Furthermore, page 72, portrays this blend of two worlds as she states that she will always be a proud Mexican who is proud to celebrate her homeland independence, “ I will turn in the opposite direction facing toward my homeland. “Viva Mexico!” I will cry out in my heart. Three times, “!Viva Mexico! !Viva Mexico! !Viva Mexico!” But, at the same time she includes herself an American proud to state “Long Live the United States of the Wold! !Viva! !Viva! !Viva!”. Personally I feel like this part of the book is amazing because it is evident how two identities have formed Mari, and the blend within her. On the other hand it is evident the internal identity issue Tyler went though. At the beginning of the novel he is proud of his country and wouldn’t dare to even brake a rule because it wouldn’t be “citizen like”. Yet, towards the end of the novel Tyler is a different boy who even gives an incredible amount of money to free Mari’s immigrant mother. Tyler at the beginning of the novel couldn’t comprehend why his parents were braking the law, when they taught him to be a correct U.S citizen, yet in the end he realizes that being a good citizen is one who helps and does right humane actions.

    In terms of the “hyphen” as a separation of worlds, I must agree. Tyler and Mari came from different worlds and cultures, yet they were united by their ability to stargaze and vent out with each other; an incredible friendship that goes beyond one can think. Mari’s life was always fear, anguish, and sadness of being herself, loosing her family or ending up alone. Tyler on the other hand had a different type of life, he never would have to hide from the La Migra, or feel like in any moment he might loose his parents to La Migra. He, unlike Mari could speak up, something that Mari truly yearned for as she wrote letters to express herself. As a reader, I saw this “hyphen” Alvarez mentions, both characters were able to respect their differences after a collision of different worlds and more so blend their similarities in life, which blended two worlds.

  4. Yehimi Saquiche says:

    The “hyphen” in the novel is that union and separation between the world of Mari, and the world of Tyler. It was a separation because through their different cultures, personalities, and problems, they were two completely different people, but also through those same characteristics, Tyler and Mari, their families, and their friends became together. Through the “hyphen” of Mari and Tyler, the novel ended up being a lot more interesting because of the “two world collide” between these two characters. Both Mari and Tyler had different problems that forced them into not knowing their place in this world. For Mari, being born in Mexico, but growing up in America, and not having the ideal family created an identity conflict within herself. The problems that Tyler had were so different from Mari’s, but also created identity conflicts for him. For example, at times, Tyler would feel out of place in his own American family, and the only friend he felt comfortable with was undocumented. Another aspect in Tyler’s life that created an identity conflict for was the fact that he did not want to “betray” his country for an undocumented friend, but at the same time, he did not want to betray his good friend Mari. It is here where the “hyphen” becomes very important for these two characters. By blending together, they were able to surpass all of the obstacles for the one year the novel Return to Sender took place. By supporting each other, at the end of the novel, they learned that both of the cultures are what they really were. Mari was a proud Mexican but she also recognized that America is a wonderful country. Tyler learned to understand that sometimes, patriotism and being a good citizen might be so much than just following the rules the country has placed. As a reader, I was able to understand that differences in people can actually bring them together as in the case of Mari and Tyler.

  5. Elvia Jaimes says:

    At first the hyphen alienated Mari and Tyler. Mari being born in México had yet to adapt to her new culture and language. Mari faced criticism, injustice, anguish, and was degraded by her peers because of her status. While on the other hand, Tyler being a PROUD citizen of the United States did not understand the struggle and fear that Mari and her family faced. He especially could not stand the idea of breaking the law to help the “alien like” people. He was resistant to speak to them, even less to get to know them. Soon enough the hyphen evolved into a form of communication between Mari and Tyler. Not only that, the powerful hyphen’s force attracted Mari’s and Tyler’s family to become one. Throughout the story both Mari and Tyler helped each other to define their role, identity, and sense of self and place between the two cultures. Both were able to grow wiser and learn from each other. Now, the inferiority that once existed had forever vanished. Once again, the hyphen represents the Mexican culture (Mari) and the United States culture (Tyler) melting together. The hyphen portrays their ideologies and define a wonderful, endless friendship. It is like a weapon used to fight the injustice that they had to surpass. The hyphen kept them going at an continuous speed through the rocky roads of bravery and hope. Their worlds collided but yet blended together. The hyphen is the swallows and the stars uniting under one moon. However, the hyphen can represent a barrier that Mari and Tyler faced. The hyphen is like the border wall being built to isolate and separate families. It is the back and forth exchange of ideas and experiences from both counterparts. It depicts their distinct identities and is a learning tool, as Mari and her family learn from Tyler’s family, and Tyler’s family learns from Mari’s family. At last he is able to comprehend that being a PROUD citizen extends beyond following the laws. It is about an act of kindness and difference that one can make in someone’s life. The hyphen is a representation of what many individuals are living now. Nowadays, we live a diverse society where they hyphen can be seen more than once. It is a unity between cultures, but yet a separation, however each hyphen sustains their identity. The hyphen allowed me to further understand the strong friendship of Mari and Tyler.

  6. Belinda Mendoza says:

    I liked how you pointed out how Mari supports both sides of her life even though she does not understand many factors that go into living in the United States. For example just like you said, Mari believes that she feels worthy in the Unites States and even though she is mistreated she still supports the life it brings. In my opinion, I believe that many of us in society are in disagreement in the way our government is run however we support it anyways because in the end it is our country. In addition to this, Tyler who categorizes himself as a true citizen does not want to have anything to do with Mari because he knows that his parents are not following the law. However, after getting to know Mari behind her citizenship, he grows very fond of her and what her family has done for them. Tyler not only creates a true and meaningful friendship with Mari but also learns that maybe the laws are not always meant to be followed. I say this because of the fact that Tyler risks his money, family, and safety to go rescue Mari’s mother. I am not saying he disagrees with the government laws, but just like you said in your response, “he realizes that being a good citizen is one who helps and does humane actions.” Tyler and Mari had a hyphen that separated their worlds, but also brought their different worlds together.

  7. Alicia Reyes says:

    After reading the book, I feel that the “hyphen” means a variety of things to both Mari and Tyler. The “hyphen” seems to draw a connection between the two different cultures and lives each of them live. Mari is Mexican and has always lived in fear of deportation since her family is undocumented migrant workers. Tyler, on the other hand, is an American who’s family has always been faithful patriots who are never in fear of the law. This all changes when Mari’s family comes to Tyler’s family farm to help them from having to sell it. This is when the connection between two very different cultures comes to exist. Although Tyler feels like his family and Mari’s family are committing a crime by not hiring workers legally he is able to make deep friendship with Mari. The hardships and hard work that the two families have to face allows them to overcome their differences and help each other try to succeed so that none of their families lose what they worked so hard for. Tyler’s family wouldn’t be losing the farm while Mari’s family worked on it and Mari’s family would be able to continue to support their family back in Mexico.

    Tyler and Mari are actively involved in defining their role, their identity, their sense of self and place between the two cultures through various ways. In the beginning of the story, Tyler thought that being an American and having patriotism was to know right from wrong and always obeying the laws. When his family had to hire undocumented workers he struggled with his identity of whether he was “truly American.” Through school and his growing friendship with Mari he was able to see that being American was not just following what was right from wrong but it also involved standing up for injustices and building a better community for all. His family and even Tyler stood up for Mari and her family even when their where finally caught and later deported. Throughout the story Tyler began changing his ideas and really starting shaping his identity of what it men not only to be American but just humane. Mari on the other hand, struggled with her identity until the very end of the book. She was proud of being Mexican but also envied her sisters for being American. Through her writing she was able to finally release her thoughts and worries and become her own person. With the friendship between her and Tyler they were able to really decide for themselves who they really were without caring for the views or ideas of others.

    For me the “hypen” demonstrates how cultures, people, and identities blend together. I feel that we live in a society that has so much diversity that has led to no one standard of identity. There is no longer just being American, there is now Mexican-American, Dominican-American, Cuban-America, etc. I personally consider myself as Mexican-American. Although I wasn’t born in Mexico my parents were and I identify with that side of my culture because it was how I was raised and I consider myself American since I was born and raised here in Texas.

  8. Theresa Lewis says:

    Throughout the entire novel the characters are trying to discover themself, and find who they are as individuals. Mari and Tyler both struggle with this concept. For Mari the “hyphen” is the difference between her two worlds. Unlike her sisters she seems to be confused, she understands what it is like to be “American”, but she also understands that it is important to stay rooted with her Mexican culture as well, so she has a connection to her parents. It is like a balancing act for Mari to make sure she doesn’t lose either part. Tyler on the other hand is born an American and I believe the “hyphen” is his connection to Mari. Even though may not have anything culturally in common and sometimes don’t understand each other they still have a bond which is friendship. The hyphen is what brings these two characters together and to understand each other.

  9. Estefania Carmona says:

    The hyphen that unites these two children is the power of unlikely friendship and love. Tyler and Mary both faced unique internal dilemmas that help them mature and accept each other’s differences. I believe that the hyphen of discovery and friendship is what unites and connects Mari and Tyler. They know that they are so different from each other but they are attracted by those differences. For example, Tyler deals with an internal conflict; his feelings and actions are conflicted. He doesn’t understand why his parents are willing to break the law in hiring illegal immigrants even while they tell him that he must obey the laws and rules to be a good citizen. As Tyler becomes close with Mari, he doesn’t know what to do about his sympathy for Mari and her family. He then learns that he can be a good friend and at the same time respect, support, and defend his patriotic beliefs.
    On the other hand, Mari is an illegal immigrant who develops a “hyphen” identity with her native and new culture. She develops a bicultural identity by endorsing both her culture of origin and that of the receiving culture. Furthermore, she was able to adapt to the new culture because of the interaction with her sisters and peers. I believe that Mari’s Mexican identity was strong compared to her sisters, because she was born in Mexico and lived more years back home. It was impressing to see that Mari didn’t suffer of a cultural shock because of her mothers’ absence. Instead, she was able to make new friends and express her anxieties and feelings through letters. Even when Mari’s adaptation and acceptation of the new culture was not easy; she was able to take out the best out of the hard criticism and injustices of their peers.
    In the process of getting to know each other, Mari and Tyler define their identity and learned to respect each other’s differences. Mari and Tyler define their identity by interacting with each other and melting together to become one. They were able to grow wiser and strong by learning how to face challenging situations together and by becoming compassionate of each other circumstances.

  10. Sharon Pozos says:

    Lili I really liked how you talked about the part where Mari was embracing both cultures. I was born in El Salvador I lived there till I was six then I came to the state I consider my self both Salvadoreña and American I try to embrace both of my cultures. Sometimes I do struggle with my identity because I feel more American because I have lived here for so long, but I have to remind myself that I cant forget where I came from because it makes me who I am I can identify and be proud of being both.

  11. Estefania Carmona says:

    Similar to what Theresa says, I believe that both Mari and Tyler were discovering their identities and them as individuals. They were both facing different and at the same contradicting situations. For example, it was contradicting to Tyler how his parents were admitting illegal workers at his farm and at the same time asking him to be a good citizen and to obey the laws and rules. For me, Tyler growth was impressing; he was able to accept that being patriotic does not necessarily mean that you have to bring someone down, in this case (Mari). Tyler also became compassionate to Mari by supporting her to bring her mother back. I like how you mention that Mari makes a balance with both of her cultures so that she doesn’t lose either of them. In the letters that Mari wrote, we can see how she stayed strong with her roots and values. She was also confident enough to step out and learn how it is to be part of the American culture. Personally, I have always being proud of how I am and were I come from so I felt very connected to Mari in that sense. Like Mari, I was also able to open myself to accept and be part of the new culture. Yet, when I don’t consider myself American at all, I am thankful to be part of this country and of being allowed to see how two cultures can be so different and similar at the same time.

  12. Liliana Arriola says:

    To go more into detail about this “hyphen” I agree to how Alvarez feels about the hyphen portraying the most exiting things that one will experience as two worlds collide or blend. I say this because as a Mexican-American myself I experience the collision of two worlds, and experience the blend of them as well. Identity tends to be a big issue in our society; we all have been classified or have classified ourselves. And, if we think about it, WHY do we do that? Why is it so important to know who we are? Most importantly, WHAT are the moments in life that allow us to finally come to a conclude answer of who we are in terms of our identity? Personally I believe that those moments/instances that happen when two worlds have collided or blended (“hyphen”) is what allows us to come up with an idea of our identity. Mari is a great example of this idea, although she is a Mexican native the experiences she has had in life are allowing her to create her own ideas of who she is (identity), weather the two worlds collided and then blended, she has slowly realized for what she is proud and what she is not. Necessarily I don’t think these experiences are exiting, what makes them exiting is the observation and realization one makes when we see who we are becoming. Like Mari, such experiences like rejection, poorness, racism, love, friendships, ext, is what will shape her identity, perhaps as an unwelcomed U.S citizen, or perhaps a Mexican-American.
    What do you all think, have you been there? Personally I have been in that collision of two worlds internally. Since I was born in the U.S yet raised by Mexican parents I always thought I had to choose to be either American or Mexican. My first language has and always will be Spanish, my customs, culture and values are very much shaped by my parents teachings. Yet I was always criticized by my native Mexican friends that I wasn’t a Mexican and then I was criticized by my American friends that I wasn’t an American because I acted “too Mexican”. Crazy, but in the end all those experiences helped me to realize who I am. And, it is true! For me those moments, those “exiting things” that happen within that hyphen are the ones who helped me realize who I am; as two worlds collided within me and I learned to blend them.

  13. Yehimi Saquiche says:

    I agree with Liliana and Sharon about how Mari feels towards both the Mexican and American culture. The quote that Liliana chose demonstrates how successful Mari was into finding her identity. “Viva Mexico!” I will cry out in my heart. Three times, “!Viva Mexico! !Viva Mexico! !Viva Mexico!” but she also recognizes that America is a wonderful country. “Long Live the United States of the World! !Viva! !Viva! !Viva!”. Mari was able to acculturate into the American Culture effectively but still kept her Mexican values. I also want to address to the response that Sharon gave. I faced a situation similar to Mari and Sharon. I was born in Guatemala, and stayed there until I was 10 years old, since then I have been living here in the United States. During my first years here, I wanted to assimilate completely, but as the years went on, I learned that living in the United States did not mean that I didn’t have to embrace my Guatemalan culture. As a final comment, even though Return to Sender is not a real story, some children do face situations like such, and they do deal with their problems the same way that Mari did.

  14. Elvia Jaimes says:

    Like Mari, I grew up with a hyphen of separation, but yet with a union of the Mexican and United States culture. I can personally relate to Mari’s circumstance. Having been born in México but raised in the United States, I found myself attempting to discover who I am. I was living in two distinct worlds. I will speak Spanish at home, while at school English was reinforced and encouraged. My home was a zone of comfort because I no longer heard the negativity of others stating, “Wetback!” “Go to back to México!” My cure was to simply assimilate and forget about my native language and Mexican culture. There was a poignant chapter in my life when I was ashamed of saying that I was born in México. I wanted to avoid the criticism so I will just say, “I was born here.” I was reluctant to speak Spanish, even less embrace my culture. Also, like Mari I have three brothers who were born in the United States. And although they were joking, my brothers like Ofie and Luby, have abruptly side commented on my immigration status. I envied my brothers for this. I spent countless moments wishing that I had been born here like the rest of my siblings and friends. Asking my mom, why couldn’t have I been born here instead? Now, I do not ponder on those thoughts. I feel fortunate of my Mexican culture and language. Most of all, I love speaking Spanish. I do consider myself Mexican, however, I am thankful for the extensive opportunities that the United States has granted my family and me. Overall, we are blessed to be part of this country. As Theresa stated, it certainly is a balancing act between both cultures. We have to learn how to adapt to different situations. We have to juggle both cultures. To reiterate, the hyphen is that rope that ties both cultures together, while at the same time, the ropes loosen the cultures. Theresa I would like to further your thoughts on what the hyphen personally means to you? Where has the hyphen played a crucial role in your identity?

  15. Alicia Reyes says:

    Theresa, I agree with you that throughout the novel the characters are trying to discover who they are. Like you said, Mari struggles with balancing her identity between being American and being Mexican. I felt that her struggle of trying to balance out her two identities was one that existed through the end of the novel. She loved being rooted to her Mexican culture and demonstrated this through maintaining her native language. At the same time she loved being part of the American culture because she appreciated the better life working in the U.S. provided for not only her family here but in Mexico as well. But I somewhat disagree with you that for Tyler the “hyphen” meant the connection with Mari. I feel that like Mari, Tyler had his own personal struggle with deciding if he truly was an American. I think for him the “hyphen” was between being an American who always did what was right under all circumstances and being an American who knew right from wrong but stood up for injustices. Tyler in the beginning really was against Mari and her family but later appreciated all they did to help them save the farm and the struggles they faced. Although, I don’t agree with you what the “hyphen” meant for Tyler I do agree with you that the friendship brought the two characters together even with their cultural differences.

  16. Hilda Rodriguez says:

    I believe that this hyphen for Tyler and Mari is that it they are so confused on the basis of right and wrong. For example, with Mari she believes that there is the Mexican part of her and the American part of her but believes the Mexican is the right part. She believes that this is who she really is and who her sisters must be as well. Yet, as the book progresses the American part of her is slowly coming in, not in the sense of being Americanized but on the idea that it is okay to have a mixture in your identity. Mari still defends her culture very much and she still wants to keep it as much as possible but it becomes difficult when it seems the whole world is fighting against her. I think that at the beginning of the book, Mari feels that her Mexican identity is the right thing to represent and her American one is the wrong one but in the end, she accepts that both are what actually make her Mari.
    When it comes to Tyler, he is in the same situation with the right and wrong but in another view such as what is the lawful right thing to do but what is the right thing to do that your heart says. In the beginning, her believes that what his father is doing is wrong because it is breaking the law of a country that he loves very much. Yet, as the book progresses he believes that it is more of a human law that is right rather than a government one. He sees that a human’s rights and their qualities are what make a person a good or bad person. He learns that individuals can change into something better and even though there is a negative situation, there is always room for change. Like it was said in the book, it is up to Tyler and Mari to be able to make a change in the world to be able to be accepted for their mixture of identities .
    I believe as a reader I can actually connect to both Tyler and Mari’s situation because I sometimes feel like Mari because I feel that I have to be patriotic to one part of me but I’m letting down the other part of me, which is very stressful. There are times when the Mexican part will come out of me and there are parts when the American part will just jump as well. Yet, there is one that I like most but I feel like that is the one that is hidden the most. I also connect with Tyler in the sense that I know that sometimes things are wrong and that you are not suppose to do them but yet, I can understand why you would do something like that. For example, I understand that immigrants coming here is wrong but I can totally understand why they would it. So there is that conflicting feelings about what is right and wrong. It’s the same reasoning as your heart and your mind. They each tell you a different thing to do or how to react but you know only one is right.

  17. Hilda Rodriguez says:

    Elvia, thank you! I don’t think I totally completed the “hyphenated” meaning on my comment and I think Elvia just put it into a better perspective. I would have never thought how it was actually a separation of both of them instead of actually being a combination of the two. I agree that this hyphen does transform from something negative into something positive throughout the book because there is that separation between both Tyler and Mari because of what they believe is right and wrong. It is also what connects both of them to having a wonderful, true friendship in which they understand each other and know each other’s struggles. They do not know Mexican or American but they know they are just special friends. To Mari, this hyphen means being stuck between the two cultures of being a Mexican and American. To Tyler, it means being a true American citizen but being a true world citizen. Yet, slowly Mari and Tyler began to learn about that you must integrate both in order to be the individual that you are. They finally can understand that there is no right or wrong when it comes to who you are but just being able to be true to yourself and be a citizen of the human race, not just one specific race.

  18. Lindsay Gregory says:

    I like how Liliana worded her idea- in the story a collision AND blend of two worlds occurred, creating two meanings for a hyphen in the story. I like how you said that the collision and blend helps one find their identity. I feel Alvarez’s characters are trying to find themselves. Mari is certainly stuck between both worlds, but is indeed recognizing the blend of both cultures as Yehimi pointed out the quote regarding Viva Mexico and Long Live the US. Mari and her family are struggling with assimilating to the US while Mari feels an identity crisis between her and her sisters since she was born in Mexico and not in the United States. With Tyler, he is in contact with with a new culture that he feels is destructing his American citizenship. He must learn to, as said by Hilda, to belong to the human race, not just belong to being American. Tyler is hesitant at first to befriend Mari because of their differences and the situation his family has put him in. He doesn’t feel it’s right to lie and do something against the law.. Alicia- that’s something I definitely agree with you upon. Tyler was more concerned with being a true American citizen on one side, but standing up for injustices on the other. Mari is trying to bridge both worlds since she is proud of her Mexican heritage and also proud to be living the life she is in America. I feel she is actively trying to find a happy medium with both while also looking to be accepted and not feel like an outsider. Tyler, taking her on as his friend, helped her feel like she was apart of something, blending her world with an American one. As a reader I see the hyphen as a bridge between two worlds. I look at it as a balance scale whereas if Tyler and Mari are standing in the middle, they have finally figured out their self and place.

  19. Liliana Arriola says:

    I totally agree with what you said about Mari, Lindsay. I also believe that Mari is trying to “bridge both worlds” and “trying to find a happy medium without feeling like an outsider”. I just think it is very important that we (humans) should not feel like we HAVE to choose one side over the other. Harsh fully some people in society want interracial people to choose either or and honestly only one can choose who we are. Mari showed us in the novel how she is slowly embracing both and perhaps that will define her. Tyler on the other hand also demonstrates that he is ok to accept and look beyond someone’s race or ethnicity, as he becomes friends with Mari again. And, again these moments/actions that occur in the “hyphen” are the ones, I believe, that shapes a person.

  20. Theresa Lewis says:

    Estefania, I really like how you said, “They know that they are so different from each other but they are attracted by those differences.” This is so true because the differences that Mari and Tyler embrace among themselves is what draws them together. The idea that they come from two culturally diverse backgrounds is a mystery to each other and when they begin to learn more about each other they slowly get closer. In the end, I feel as if they are the only ones who really know each other because of the time they spend together.

    Liliana, I completely agree with you that we as humans should not feel like we have to choose one side over the other. As teachers, we must find a way to make our students comfortable enough to accept both sides and not feel like they have to “americanize” they most of them do feel. I also want to stress the importance on not have English be the only language they speak. By embracing there school language and home language it defines who they are. I love how Mari tries to get her sisters to embrace their Mexican language as well as English. She doesn’t want them to lose their connection to their family.

    The hyphen that we are all discussing is really the way people look at themselves and whether or not they are going to embrace or reject their two culturally different worlds.

  21. Sharon Pozos says:

    Theresa I like that you remind us that we must embrace the child’s language. The other day I was teaching a lesson and the students had a writing assignment. Well this particular student asked me if he could write in spanish I told him if that is the language you feel comfortable with than yes. One of his classmates made a smart comment that english is better. As teachers we need to remind students that they need to accept their classmates for who they are. I thought your comment was very important.

  22. Randa Hodges says:

    So many of you have actually known what it feels like to have two cultures be a part of who you are. The discussion is enriched by your comments. I was going to refer to the idea that a hyphen acts as a bridge also. Even in it’s most identifiable role on a page of written text holding a word together, when one line must end and the word is split by a hyphen to begin on the next line, so too is Maria’s life; the life in Mexico is interupted by a shift to a new line – the move to the United States where she begins again but with an unbreakable bridge to the previous line. Tyler on the other hand, while learning to truly appreciate and embrace the differences between friends and between worlds, cannot know what the hyphen feels like inside. That’s not to say that there aren’t important bridges being made between friends, within families, between families, between community members and between ideas. And for me, that’s what teaching (especially ESL/bilingual education) is all about – forming relationships and building bridges.

  23. Elvia Jaimes says:

    No problem Hilda. I totally believe that the hyphen can represent an infinite of things. Like you mentioned that in the end it all narrows to who we are as individuals. We surpass our race and our focus lies on knowing about each other. Despite the differences that one may encounter with others, these differences are what unite us. A strong friendship is created. I liked how you highlighted that Mary and Tyler do not know Mexican or American, but what they do know is the friendship that exists between them. Indeed, is their friendship that sustains the hyphen firm and going. Lindsay, I do not believe that Mari and her family are attempting to assimilate into the United States culture. They value and are proud of their Mexican culture and language. Mari celebrates the day México earned its independence from Spain. “I will cry out in my heart.” Three times, “¡Viva México!” “¡Viva México!” “¡Viva México!” This certainly indicates that she has not forgotten México. If they forget México, then they forget who they are. I could not imagine being full “American.” Similar to Mari I am thankful for living in this wonderful country. Although, injustices and discriminations still exist among undocumented immigrants, overall, back in our native countries life will be a constant struggle. Tyler at first did not comprehend their fear and anguish. He viewed them as aliens from another planet who were attempting to invade his country. Fortunately, Tyler’s outlook changed about them and in a sense, Tyler’s family too became Mexican. They even celebrated El Dia de los Muertos together. It is a continuous learning process from both families. They guide each other through the rigorous and happy moments lived.

    I will like to end my thoughts with an excerpt from Julia Alvarez, “Through the imagination we can rise above the borders that divide us and make a new homeland together through reading and friendship.” Certainly, this novel has the potential to connect borders. It portrays the harmful experiences that an immigrant family goes through attempting to fulfill their dream of desiring a better future.

  24. Yehimi Saquiche says:

    Theresa, commenting on your first blog response, I think that it is so interesting to see how both of the characters struggled with their identities in different ways. It is eye opening that not only those people that are in the shoes of Mari suffer from identity problems, but also “average” people like Tyler. I also want to address to them comment that you presented about Mari’s sisters. I know that the original prompt asked us to write about Mari and Tyler, but I want to take a different approach and to talk about how Mari’s sisters had an even worst identity problem. Throughout the book, they were always neglecting their Mexican heritage, and only praising their American life. Both Marias were always trying to only be American. For example, there was one instance where Mr. Cruz had to prohibit them from speaking English; he knew that they were very close on completely losing their language. As a reader, I could see that these two girls were also having identity problems, and were more affected when they were taken to Mexico. It was worst for them because they had never visited their parent’s homeland, and suffered “cultural shock” during their first few days in Mexico. I think that Mari was that “hyphen” that allowed these girls to be “connected” to their new culture.

  25. Randa Hodges says:

    Thinking about how different the experiences were for Mari’s sisters than they were for Mari, I also thought about Tyler’s experience vs. Mari’s. Both were exposed to new new cultures, new ideas and new languages, but they begin from a different place. They are learning and seeing new things through completely different lenses. Tyler feels conflicted because of his patriotism and loyalty to the laws of his country but has never had to question them. Maria, while feeling patriotism and loyalty to Mexico, has been exposed to the lack of opportunity there, and has been directly affected by the immigration laws of the US. Her experiences are more tangible, while Tylers were more abstract until he and Mari grew closer as friends. It wasn’t until Tyler had a stake in the ramifications of his country’s laws that he began to question them. His family’s survival was dependant upon the help of Mari’s family – as the survival of many farms, businesses and sectors of the US economy are dependant on immigrant workers. Which brings to one of my original thoughts about the book – that we (US) send a mixed message… we need you as long as it benefits us – but you’re not really welcome. Thanks to Mr. Bicknell at the town meeting, people began see that even Mr. Rossetti benefited from immigration as he wouldn’t have been there had it not been for the Italian immigrants into Vermont. At some point, during subsequent generations, people’s sense of identity shifted, and they adopted a “mine” not “their” attitude. Alvarez illustrates the ease with which those attitudes can begin to form – Mari’s sisters were in danger of that when they bragged about being American. Enlightened attitudes come from sharing experiences and stories – which Alvarez has done successfuly.

  26. Giseyla Lopez says:

    First of all, I would like to compliment Julia Alvarez for this great literary work that she has successfully managed to compose. Not only has she wanted to reach out to the Latino community, but to the American community as well. She effectively does this by including two characters, Tyler and Maria “Mari” Dolores, who become friends throughout hardships and ordeals of dealing with loss, citizenship, family issues, and identity. I would definitely recommend this book to all educators, and everyone in general. It gives the reader insight into the lives of individuals who may seem different than everyone else, but in reality, are very much alike.
    In relation to the question of what the “hyphen” means to Mari and Tyler, I believe they both mean two different things for both children. For Mari, the “hyphen” that interconnects her bicultural identity of being Mexican and American at the same time, is that relationship and how she feels about being in the middle of both cultures. Not only is she faced with issues whom her sisters have no relation to, as they are American and Mari is from Mexico, but Mari is faced with the dual identity of being both a Mexican and an American at the same time. She is secretly an American because she is forced to live by the rules of this great country and because she cannot go back to her homeland, so she must assimilate in a way. She is faced with what W.E.B. Dubois called dual identity where she identifies with both cultures and identities. Tyler, on the other hand, is faced with his identity as a patriotic American and one that is unfaithful because he has deceived his country by keeping illegal immigrants work on his farm. What this “hyphen” means to both families is the connection that Mari and Tyler make when they become best friends. They are able to ignore their differences and help each other out, as Tyler later gives his hard worked money to save Mari’s mother. Mari identifies her role as she writes her letters to her mother as well as letters for class (as is seen in her letter to the President). Tyler uses his means of his connection with his grandfather and the stars to overcome many of his obstacles that he faces when he doesn’t fully understand how to deal with his situation and his identity. What this hyphen means to me is the combination of both of what Tyler and Mari feel. I am a Mexican-(hyphen) American. Even though I was born in the U.S.A., I am more connected with my Mexican roots. I have experienced this hyphen or dual identity in my life on a daily basis. I am forced to overcome many obstacles when dealing with situations that I am faced with, especially when they relate to my identity as either an American or a Mexican. In many instances, I have had to deal with trying to understand my place in this country and in life. Since I am a citizen of this country, I am forced to follow its rules. But what happens when I decide I want to help my own people and deceive this country by not accepting its rules or views of immigration and legal matters? Am I not patriotic enough if I believe many of the injustices done to my own people should be revised and rechecked? These are just some of the questions I raise when I have to decide where I stand and with what culture I identify most to.
    Giseyla Lopez

  27. Belinda Mendoza says:

    Randa, I really loved the way you compared a hyphen on the text to Mari’s life experience. I could not find better words then to say “when one line must end and the word is split by a shift to a new line.” In many ways this is how many of us, who have to be torn in between two worlds or cultures, feel like our life has been “hyphenated.” This occurred to me when I moved to Austin to finish my career three years ago. It felt as if my life was hyphenated because the different cultures, traditions, and not to mention lifestyle was incomparable to what I was used to. I can only imagine how many other individuals who actually go through the experience that Mari did make it through life and maintain a good stamina. I also loved how you said that a hyphen is what defined Mari in her life. She had a hyphen between her Mexican and American identity, which interrupted her life on a daily basis. Not only did this hurt her physically but as well mentally. On a daily basis she cried for her mom, she hated that she did not have citizen rights even though she’s considered herself a part of the United States, and she had the responsibility of taking care of her younger sisters. I agree with you when you say, “teaching is all about-forming relationships and building bridges.” Teaching is about teachers getting to know his or her students in order to build a relationship. This not only helps the student in being comfortable in the classroom environment, but as well the teacher gets to see how unique each student really is.

  28. Crystal Galvan says:

    The hyphen stands for the split yet at the same time, the tie of Mari and Tyler’s worlds. On Mari’s side of the “hyphen” she faces her Mexican cultures and values while Tyler on his side faces his American values. Mari displays patriotism for her own country yet for her new country as well when she says, “Viva Mexico, Viva Mexico!” and “Long Live the United States of the World!” This shows how she crosses over the “hyphen” into Tyler’s similar belief and strong patriotism. The split unites their families. We see the crossover of this when Tyler’s Grandma celebrates Dia de los Muertos with the three Maria’s.

    We see Mari actively defining her role in the form of writing; when she writes to her mother making ties to Mexico and their life in the states. Also when she writes to the president to “share her sadness” (pg 71). She writes to both her mother and the president and later to her diary about her sense of self. She sees her place as a Mexican but not fully as American as her sisters who were born in the states. This is almost to point of her being envious of them. Tyler’s role takes a change throughout the story. He starts off with big pride and morals towards always doing the “right thing” and sticking the law. As he deepens the bond with him and Mari, he eventually steers away from that. He finds his sense of self through Mari in a way. He goes so far as to help Mari’s dad with money at one point. Also I saw the stars as an important connection to Mari and Tyler. They were both untied by the way in which they saw the star-gazing as an escape from the troubles they faced.

    As a reader the hyphen stands for what lies behind the person embracing something new and what lies ahead. Both of these are metaphorically speaking by the hyphen united at the same time.

  29. Estefania Carmona says:

    I really like how Giseyla interpreted what the “hyphen” means two Mari and Tyler. It was interesting to see that the hyphen does not necessarily have to tie both of them but instead they separately had a hyphen interconnecting each other. Now that I see it the way you pointed out it makes more sense. The hyphen that connected Mari was both of her cultures, her Mexican as well as her American side. If you read my first comment, I was thinking that they could only be one hyphen that united both Mari and Tyler, but as we dig into the question we can find all this different perspectives. Similar to your experience, I also believe that I am a Mexican (hyphen). I was born in Mexico and I could never assimilate nor become patriotic to this country. I am not saying that I don’t respect America, I do, but I don’t feel American at all. Like I said I was born and raised in Mexico, therefore, I learned to stay strong to my roots and beliefs. Until today, I get excited and proud when Mexico plays or when they achieve something important. Like Lily mention before, it is very hard to be accepted by others, especially those who haven’t experience similar situations and see us as strangers. I remember going to Mexico and people calling me “gringa” o “pocha” which is basically an insult for Latinos, pochos are those who don’t know how to speak Spanish or deny their Mexican culture. It was painful to me, to be called gringa when I have always felt proud of who I am and of my Mexican heritage. For me, it was so frustrating to try to explain them that not just because I was leaving in US, I was American or that I have forgotten about my roots. Similar to you Giseyla, I believe it is very hard when we as Mexicans have to see all this injustices to our people. Sometimes, I feel so helpless when I see how my people are suffering and that I can’t do anything to help them. Like I said, I respect very much this country, but there are some things with this system that I don’t agree at all. I hope that someday we can all by accepted as who we are and like Mari and Tyler be united by this “hyphen” of love and friendship.

  30. Amy Ullrich says:

    The hyphen is a simple line that is used to connect the parts,it’s a compound bringing things together.In this story so many things,people,cultures,thoughts and ideas are being brought together.My first thought of the hyphen is in marriage when a person wants to join with another to “become one” and at the same time dosent” want to lose their identity.So much like Mari.Scared and excited to be in America, Mari needs to hold on to her heritage and yet bridge across to the new America.Now in Vermont,friegtened and scared ,Tylers’ mom is the hyphen between him .Mari and her family.Through the journey of their friendship Mari and Tyler find the love they share of swallows and stars,two untangibles that help define who they are.

  31. Alicia Reyes says:

    Elvia, I can somewhat relate to your story. Although I wasn’t born in Mexico my parents were and I was raised speaking Spanish. I remember growing up everyone assumed I wasn’t American and that I wasn’t born here because all I spoke was Spanish. Even today when I go to some stores they assume I don’t speak English and talk to me in Spanish. For must of my early education I wished that I didn’t have my Mexican culture I just wanted to fit in and be “American.” It wasn’t until I was in high school that I became proud of my biculturism and in large part it was because of really good friends that were from Mexico. Through their help my Spanish improved significantly and started speaking it more and more. I would especially enjoy speaking Spanish around those who didn’t understand it because I felt it made me stand out. Today I am proud of being part of two cultures and as a future educator I hope to implant that pride to others.

  32. Giseyla Lopez says:

    I appreciate your comment, Estefania. I have also had a similar experience as your own. Some of my own family members have called me “pocha, gringa, or bolilla.” And like you, I have questioned why if they know that I am more closely related to my Mexican heritage than my American one. I think that a lot of the choice I have made with being more connected with my Mexican roots has to do with being raised by a single mother who only spoke Spanish to my two sisters and I. She inculcated that we love our language, our culture, and our customs. This is why I am very proud of my Mexican background, and guiltily, sometimes deny that I am American! I think that this identification choice has made me who I am today. I love my Latino community, my Spanish language, and my bilingualism! And why not put it to good use and teach Bilingual students to do the same? This is how we can contribute, as educators and people, to our growing Latino community: help them get an education and make this place a better place to live in. I just wish there was more support for Bilingualism and, even better, Multilingualism! When I was trying to choose a career, I knew that I wanted to do something that would help Latinos, so I either wanted to be a lawyer (to help Latinos get justice) or a Bilingual teacher (to help students be proud of who they are and love their language and culture). With this, YOU are also contributing to the success of our community and this country. 😉
    My interpretation of Alvarez’ definition of “hyphen” is what I explained in my first comment, but after seeing your own interpretation, I see that it can be a variety of things. How I understood it is that both Mari and Tyler had their very own hyphen between their own identity evaluations, but they did have a “hyphen” connection within their own blending of two worlds. I think it is essential to see our different views of the story because we can gain new insight and develop our understanding to a great extreme. Thank you for your insight.
    Giseyla Lopez

  33. Andrea Garcia says:

    I value the thoughtfulness of the discussion so far and the way that your participation is creating a dialogue framed by your personal and professional experiences, as well as by your transactions with the text. Being that I am Mexican, but have been in the U.S. for over 10 years now, I am amazed how much I feel the tension of living in this “hyphen” and negotiating everyday my “Mexican” identity with my “American” life. I feel inspired by your comments to keep revisiting my own ideas about what it means to live a transnational life in the 21st century. Andrea

  34. Amy Gaddes says:

    In preparing to cover Dr. Garcia’s class this week, I had the pleasure of reading through your insightful and personal comments about the definition of the “hyphen”. As an ESL teacher, these comments have helped me focus on the experiences of my newest students as they enter this ‘hyphenated’ stage of their lives. It has allowed me to reflect not only on the new arrivals, but also on the need for understanding the students who have been here for a year or two. Just coming to ESL accentuates their ‘hyphen’ as a means of separation. Many of you brought to light that the ‘hyphen’ can be both a bridge and a isolating force. As an educator, I must constantly reflect on my student’s experiences as they navigate their transnational lives but also how I contribute to these experiences. Are my actions and words making that “hyphen” more of a separating force, or am I helping them build the necessary bridge towards success and a feeling of wholeness?

  35. Lindsay Gregory says:

    Lili – No human should ever have to choose one side over the other. You are definitely right that people all over feel that push to choose when really they should be embracing both sides of the hyphen. I two believe that the hyphen we are looking at is really whether or not people are accepting of themselves culturally – are they going to accept both sides of the hyphen? In our story Tyler and Mari are both working towards accepting both sides and opening up their worlds. As teachers, we need to work in our classrooms to mesh both sides of the hyphen into our students’ lives. They need to be open and accepting to diversity just as Sharon proposed.

  36. Giseyla Lopez says:

    Andrea, I concur with what you say about feeling the tension of living in this “hyphen” having to daily negotiate your identity of being “Mexican” and “American.” This experience has been the same for many of my classmates and I. We discuss identity on a daily basis and it is a great factor in my classes as well. Recently, we did a sketch on a poster depicting what we believed reflected what Mari’s experiences were in Return to Sender. Here it is, take a close look (hopefully it can be uploaded):
    Poster Sketch
    How we defined what Mari felt were many things, which defined the “hyphen” that she felt in her life. We split her up into two Mari’s. The one on the left is her “Mexican” identity and her ties to her family. She wrote letters to her mother expressing her feelings about the many situations happening in her life. She also stated that she felt very proud when the priest, on Mexico’s Independence Day, rings the bell and the people yell, “Viva México!” She also expresses her own pride with the United States, stating “Viva los Estados Unidos del Mundo!” Since she has had to define herself by her dual identity, she is faced with many experiences that make her question who she really is. On the right side of Mari, she is her American self. She is dressed as an American and she shows who she is in America. President Barack Obama (though he is not the President in the story) depicts democracy and the United States. Mari writes to the President explaining that she is proud to be an American by addressing democracy in many ways. She also expresses her concern for her love to México and how she cannot understand why she and her family cannot be accepted in this country. A very powerful quote that my group believed signified what Mari strongly felt was, “What if it gets so bad that everyone on the earth will be like Mexicans, trying to get to another planet that won’t let us in?” (pg. 60). This not only allows the reader to get a small insight into what she feels as an outsider, but how the reader would feel him/herself if he/she was in Mari’s place. Very powerful words! With this quote, we added the quote that is stated under the President. Mari strongly felt that we are all citizens of one planet, therefore, we should all be treated equal. She also expresses her concern of people seeing her and calling her an alien. This is how Mari felt throughout the story, defining herself and questioning her dual identity. This is something that you and I both feel, we question and negotiate our dual identities on a daily basis. It is now up to us to figure out who we are and how define ourselves.
    Giseyla López

  37. Roseann Tarantino "Hyphen" Carboy says:

    When I got married 25 years ago, I kept my maiden name as well as took on my husbands name. To me, the hyphen is the glue that keeps me connected to my former identity. I didn’t want to become a new person with a new name. I wanted to be me and keep my original identity and yet accept my new identity as well. I think the hyphen for Mari (as well as for myself) represents her accepting a new identity without losing her old identity. As Giseyla and Alicia said in their comments, the hyphen is the “Blending of 2 worlds”. I think this class should be mandatory for all educators. Making the teaching community aware of the issues faced by the immigrant child can only help alleviate many of the stresses these children face each day.

  38. Nicole Gruenfelder says:

    I really enjoyed the comment made by Sharon Pozos, about how Mari was able to fuse both her Mexican culture, and the American culture that she was living in together, to form her identity.In Return to Sender, Mari often times is seen with the inner conflict of reconciling her new lifestyle, and the culture of where she is living (US) with that of her heritage (Mexico), which makes her a Mexican-American, despite the fact that she is not a legal citizen, she is residing in the US, and as such, has adapted many of the cultural practices of the new home as her own.

  39. Nicole Gruenfelder says:

    I also like what Lindsay Gregory posted. It is important for all of us as future educators to encourage our students to be more accepting of other cultures, and to embrace the American culture, but not at the expense of losing their own heritage cultures and languages. Mari and her sisters taught grandma about Mexican traditions, and helped her to accept grandpa’s death, by explaining to her about el dia de los muertos, which was soemthing that Tyler’s family was unable to do. Likewise, Tyler taught Mari about the stars, and introduced Mari to his world. When the two families came into close contact, they began to have a cultural exchange, and the hyphen became a bridge between the two, uniting them as friends.

  40. Amy Ullrich says:

    So much has been thoughtfully presented dealing with the relationship between Tyler and Mari and their unique friendship.I agree the hyphen represents the connection between them and their cultures.The coming of age as teenagers and at the same time becoming responsible for those around them .I have thought of another line or hyphen, a person in the story that has had a huge impact on all, on the Paquettes , Maris’ family ,. the community and Mr. Rosetti .Grandma!?( I couldn’t wait to use that punctuation,the interrobang) and this is why I feel Grandma is the hyphen to me, the reader. As the Matriarch, grandma is strong and accepting. She suffered a loss, not of country,nor language, but of her own love, what defined her, her husband.But there is more to her than that. The farm, the family, the church, the life she has in Vermont. When Mari’s family comes to stay and help on the farm Tyler had questions, doubts.Grandmas’ hyphen comes to me when she tells Tyler” Nobody but nobody in America got here-excepting the Indians without someone giving them a chance” The Paquettes came down from Canada, Mari and her family came from Mexico,and Mr. Rosettis’ family came from Italy.Grandma accepts Mari and her family, not only to help maintain the farm after her husband dies,and son is temporarily disabled but as an extention to her own family. She has the girls call her Grandma, she wants to know about the girls holidays- the hyphen joining or bridging two cultures and their very special celebrations together.She comforts the girls and treats them as a mother or Grandmother would -a hyphen between the girls and the missing of their own Mother. The hyphen has special meaning to me when the family wants Grandma to leave her home-take away her independence,much like La Migra , she becomes freightened and wants to run away .Because she is strong, brave and has to become independent she is able to move on with her life , much like Mari and Tyler,they face their fears and learn from each other becoming stronger and more accepting of others. And as Mr. Bricknell taught the class that year,”The only way we’re going to save this planet is if we remember that we are all connected,like the swallows”.

  41. Hilda Rodriguez says:

    I had never thought about the hyphen when it comes to it being in last names. I know in the Mexican culture it is very important to keep the family name throughout generations. When it came to me ever thinking if I was going to hyphenate my name, I was like, “Yeah. Totally!” but I never really thought about why. Yet, Mrs. Tarantino “Hyphen” Carboy really does put in perspective why you would do that. I believe it is difficult to be able to keep these two identities and not lose any of them. I can understand Mari when it comes to struggling between these two worlds because you are torn apart by them. In one hand, she wants to be in the world of back in Mexico with her family and be happy but on the other hand, she has started to love the world that is involved in the American country. She has the best of both of worlds but it comes at a price because there is always thing you must sacrifice in order to find that peace. Tyler also deals with this situation because it makes it difficult for him to be able to choose between what is the right thing to do for yourself and the right thing to do for your country. In the end, the hyphen can either make you or break you depending on what kind of human you are.

  42. Lindsay Gregory says:

    Elvia- I see what you are saying about Mari and her family and I think I did not word right what I was trying to convey. I definitely agree they are proud of their culture and language as Mexicans- but I also feel that they want to be apart of America in a way too. They want to feel accepted for who they are as Mexicans in America. I like how you stated it is a rigorous learning process for BOTH families. They are both learning from eachother, especially Mari and Tyler. I feel that Mari’s experience was different than her sisters throughout the story. Mari’s sisters are considered American citizens, so their struggle for identity and acceptance is not as evident as it is for Mari. As Randa said, Tyler and Mari’s experiences were also varied. They are both being exposed to a new culture, an unfamiliar eye opening for them to discover new things about the world, eachother, and themselves. As I cannot relate to the experiences of immigrants, this book really put into perspective the struggles a child can go through when coming to America. A child that one day could be sitting in MY classroom. Alvarez did a great job presenting Mari’s character as well as Tyler. ”The only way we’re going to save this planet is if we remember that we are all connected,like the swallows.” Thanks for posting that quote Amy- I think it’s a great representation of what the story is about. Further – I think Hilda presents a good point in her last post about the hyphen making or breaking you depending on what kind of person you are. If only the world was filled with more accepting and open people, we would finally be at peace. Unfortunately this is not the case. However as educators we can use our role to develop in our students the qualities that come along with being accepting of, open to, and embracing of diversity!

  43. Theresa Lewis says:

    Elvia, it is funny that you ask me how I feel like the hyphen affects my own life because honestly I never thought of that until recently. I have always thought that I was an Irish American and always tried to balance the two cultures, yet I have been doing a family tree and there is no Irish heritage in my background yet. I am not done so I can not say for sure. Not having this idea anymore though has made be extremely upset because now I feel like I have nothing to hold on to anymore, and i actually wish that I had a hyphen to even confuse my identity even more. Now I think that I am more lost than ever. Wierd, I know, but I now feel like a piece of me is missing almost.

    Sharon, I truly love and respect that you have done that in your classrooms. We read so many articles about people trying to do that, but never heard a personal response. Kudos to you! Keep it up!

    Randa- I loved the way that you connect the hyphen in a name to the hyphen in a word. It is so symbolic of the same idea and I would have never thought of that if it wasn’t for you. The idea that it just gets interrupted and then continues is amazing. It is like where one hyphen leaves off, another begins almost.

    Roseann- I love that you have added the word hyphen into your name here. It must now really mean something to you not only relating to the novel.

    The idea of acceptance I have noticed has been brought up a few times, and I have to agree with you, Lindsay, when you say that our jobs as educatos is to develop accepting qualities in our students and embrace diversity. That is so unbelievable true and extremely difficult. Students come to school each year with preconceived notions that are instilled upon them at home, and not that our job as educators isn’t hard enought, now we have to try and make a welcoming and non-judgmental enviroment. I don’t believe that it is forced on us, I believe it is something in our nature that we should do no matter what, not that this is a new idea, but one that needs to really be focused on!

  44. Randa Hodges says:

    Amy, I’m glad you talked about the grandmother. You are right that she was experiencing her own fear of displacement. It was striking to me that as the families were getting to know each other, she wasn’t simply trying to “Americanize” them. She tried to learn as much about their way of life as she shared about her own. She had the wisdom to recognize how immigration had impacted her own life and history, and wasn’t afraid to share those opinions. As teachers, while we will be teaching about the United States and it’s culture and traditions, we can be mindful of the importance of our own continuing education and encourage our students to share their cultures with us and their classmates. I thought Alvarez did a good job of framing some common themes in her characters that make us think about our assumptions and attitudes – not the least of which is fear, but also curiosity and a need for understanding and making sense of our world. She illustrates a process of transformation in individuals, that allows an openness to being united and/or “hyphenated” to each other. Rosanne, I like the idea of the hyphen in your married name; you are still who you are, yet united in a marriage that ultimately impacts who you are becoming as we are all impacted and grow from the experiences we have with others. (For the record, I think men should hyphenate their names too – but that’s a discussion for another blog.)

  45. Ryan says:

    Alvarez’s idea of the hyphen is a powerful one, but I am more interested in the period which follows it. A hyphen is used in order to create a compound adjective, thus her idea of being “Dominican, hyphen, American.” neglects the fact that she is person (more accurately, she should have claimed that she is a “Dominican, hyphen, American” person). For Mari and Tyler, the two are eventually able to see that their cultural heritage is only a small part of whom they are, as that is one of the most beautiful parts of being in the US culture; we see beyond past and focus on the future. Mari had a very crucial moment in her story when she created a metaphor for her sisters about their Mexican heritage being their roots and their being American is like a flower sprouting from those roots. That flower, then, is the potential that we the people believe in as a part of the quintessential American Dream.

  46. Lindsay Gregory says:

    In a student-centered classroom, it is inevitable that a nonjudgmental environment can form. Once the students build that classroom community and the teacher creates an open, warm, welcoming environment, students will feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. The teacher must provide the opportunity, the environment, the example of being open to diversity. Incorporating into our curriculum these values will make them clear to our students. Think of the discussion that could arise reading this story in a secondary level classroom. Students can relate to these characters in different ways and important issues can be raised for conversation. Dialogue is necessary in the classroom to tackle these difficult issues of race, diversity, and culture. Teachers need to create the environment where these ideas are apart of the curriculum everyday.

  47. Jenn Duffy says:

    When Alvarez describes herself as “Dominican, hyphen, American” I believe she has left it to have many meanings. The hyphen means different things to Mari and Tyler and their families. The hyphen somewhat defines who they are. Mari and Tyler are joined by the hyphen- a Dominican and an American joined together on the farm. Mari is a Mexican immigrant trying to work and keep her family together while Tyler is confused about why Mari and her family are a secret. The hyphen also can stand for separation because they two of them have to live two different lives in the same place. From the separation they come together to form a unique kind of friendship. They are both constantly trying to identify themselves in the same place but with different views on the world. Mari living in fear and no freedom, Tyler living in confusion with freedom. As a reader the hyphen for me connects the best and worst of both worlds. The hyphen is left as an open-ended question with never-ending possibilities of answers.

  48. Carlos G says:

    What does this “hyphen” mean to Mari and for Tyler in the story? What does it mean to their families?
    The hyphen, in my opinion, has a deeper meaning for Mari because of her siblings. Tyler, on the other hand, really does not have that hyphen in his life directly. This presents an interesting situation.
    Mari is fully Mexican, living in the US. Her sisters, on the other hand, are Mexican-Americans. Tension is the result of this because her sisters consider themselves American, Mari does not. She remembers her relatives, home country, and everything related to that hyphen. To her sisters, Mexico, and most-things-Mexican are distant, perhaps even alien.
    Tyler comes to realize that everyone, excluding the Native-Americans, is an individual with a hyphen. He, however, feels distant from that hyphen and cannot really tap into that distant part of himself.
    For Mari’s family it means that there will be division and a constant form of tension. For Tylers family I feel that the hyphen is something that they will simply discuss, but never fully experience.

  49. Carlos G says:

    Belinda Mendoza #6
    I think that Belinda alludes to something important and very noteworthy in her comment. The only reason that Tyler initially dislikes Mari, and her family, is because of fear. According to the government, undocumented people are illegal aliens who are guilty of a criminal act. Once he got to know them on a personal level, however, he realized that they had more in common than not. In other words, all this country needs is more communication and less stigmatization.

  50. Carlos G says:

    Estefania Carmona #29
    I can relate to your comment to some extent, and I believe that Mari and her sisters could too. As a child born in this country from Colombian and Salvadoran parents, I was usually in two different positions. I could not be accepted by my Anglo peers because I did not look like them, celebrate their holidays, or participate in their social-extra-curricular activities. I was not accepted by my Latino peers because I did not live in their neighborhood, dress like them, or behave like the majority of them. In other words, I was trapped in no-mans land. Mari, and her sisters, were not accepted by their peers … and there were no other students that they could identify with.

  51. Jenn Duffy says:

    Ryan #45- I agree with Ryan in saying that the hyphen does in fact neglect that she is a person. Mari and Tyler are more then their culture. Although their culture divides them in that they have two different lives it also connects them. The hyphen does take away the importance in their lives in that they are a person. A person cant be defined as their culture. Their culture helps define who they are but they are a lot more then their culture.

  52. Jenn Duffy says:

    Carlos #48-
    For Mari’s family it means that there will be division and a constant form of tension. For Tylers family I feel that the hyphen is something that they will simply discuss, but never fully experience.

    I agree with this because Tyler and his family can never understand what the hyphen truly means- what it means to be divided culturally. Although they take in Mari and her family they dont understand how it is to live in the fear they had too. The hyphen has two different meanings for the families. Maris family has the hypen to represent how divided they actually are and the fear they are constantly living in.

  53. Ryan says:

    It is interesting to note that, for Tyler (and thus white American culture at large) this hyphen is really more of a source of conflict between acceptance of different cultures and bigotry and prejudice. Mari and Tyler are both actively engaged in working to promote cultural acceptance, but more importantly are motivated by a developing conscious between right and wrong. Both individuals question the status quo (and enact changes if they can. The true triumph in the lives of these young people is their developed moral compass.

  54. Nicole Gruenfelder says:

    I agree with both comments made by Ryan, about Mari. She was able to point out to her sisters that there is more to the hyphen than a mere label. Being Mexican was part of their heritage, and would always be part of them, no matter what they chose to believe, but they were also American. The flowers and the roots was a very strong metaphorical representation that served its purpose. I also agree that Amserican society as a whole has a tendency to overlook the beauty of embracing more than one culture, rather than foresaking one for the other.

  55. Phara Fils-Julien says:

    Although I was born in the US and raised in Haiti, I always considered my self as Haitian. The hyphen represent where both my Haitian world and American world unit together. The hyphen brings both of my worlds together and helps me to embrace both cultures without feeling any sense of betrayal to my native country. My father always remind me that I am Haitian first and American second whenever we are having a discussion about both culture. I always referred myself as Haitian-American, maybe it’s because I always want people to know I am Haitian first. You always want to stay true to where you came from. The hyphen gave me a sense of security of knowing that I am staying loyal to both countries and not feeling any sense of betrayal. I am tried my best to always remind myself that I am a Haitian-American everyday, and the hyphen between the two plays a major part. In that hyphen both worlds are joined together and I am able to do things as an American and Haitian. I think without that hyphen maybe I will have felt that I am betraying one of these cultures

  56. Phara Fils-Julien says:

    Amy #30. I agree with her post, when you are married you joined your name and husband with the most part with a hyphen. You don’t want to loose the person you are although you accept to be another person; you kind of want to build a bridge where both worlds could unit. Mary in the story doesn’t want to loose or forget where she came from because she will feel as if she is been a traitor.

  57. Phara Fils-Julien says:

    I somewhat disagreed with Ryan#45 as far as the hyphen neglect the fact that Mari is a person and that they are more than cultures. To me your culture is what define you somewhat and make you stick out from someone else. Being of Haitian decendent define me as a person. Our different cultures and backgrounds make us who we are. The hyphen just connect both worlds and make them intertwined.

  58. Annette Fiedler says:

    There are many different uses for a hyphen in modern socitey in comparison to ancient times. I believe that any way a person wants to be identified either with names or races/ethnicities should be accepted and most importantly, respected. It reflects how people want to be identified and what is valued and important to them alone. This is true for both Tyler and Maria’s family.

  59. Salina says:

    The hyphen is a point of contention. Mari is proud of her Mexican heritage, while Tyler wishes she could be more normal so that his friends wont make fun of him. For Tyler, the hyphen is all Mari’s characteristics that he is embarrassed about. The “hyphen” is a constant reminder of his parents’ illegal employees, and the different cultures they possess. Mari holds on to her hyphen to remind her of who she really is,and what she can’t forget about.

  60. Amanda says:

    Mari is trying to find her identity. She struggles with she was born in Mexico, but mostly raised in the US. She seems to find that she is split down the middle and not belonging to just one culture. Tyler on the other hand knows he is an American and at one point he thought that Mari and her family shouldn’t be their without papers. It was braking the law and against being an American. Later he understands more and feels differently about the situation.

  61. Rae Etta Zuniga says:

    I believe the hyphen is used to publicly demonstrate a person’s racial identity or recognize the family with which they belong. When the hyphen is used by an individual to identify themself, they are demanding respect and acknowledgement of who they are racially, culturally, and showing the pride of their family. As people come together through marriage and relocations, the blending of cultures creates new hyphens. How this blending is accepted is where the fun and the conflicts arise.

  62. Elizabeth says:

    As a reader, the hyphen meant the elephant in the room that no one wanted to discuss much less have to address if the situation took a turn for the worse. I also think the hyphen can be all of the in between parts, the events that help shape an individual and learning from these lessons, a work in progress.

  63. Theresa says:

    The hypen, in my mind, are all of the in between parts, the little things that make us who we are. What name do we use to call our father or mother. What is traditional food to eat on Sunday for family gatherings. Things like that are small, but so very significant.

  64. Celina Lopez says:

    I think Tyler and Mari’s hyphens are where their cultures collide and mesh. Tyler and Mari learn many things from each other, but I think one of the most important lesson was what it means to be a human being. Tyler struggled with this and the differences between right and wrong.

  65. Carilyn Cash says:

    In the beginning, Tyler struggles with what is legal and what is right. He is mad a Mari for not having the papers she is supposed to have and refuses to talk to her, but then he decides that it is not her fault that her Mama and Papa made her come to the United States. He believes that the United States should allow the Mexicans to be here and is made at his country for turning it’s back on it’s neighbor.
    Mari is no sure where she belongs. She knows that she was born in Mexico but she feels like she deserves to be in the United States as her family cannot survive in Mexico. She struggles with this concept through out the whole story!

  66. Alicia M, Fagan says:

    I see a hyphen as a place to come together. Tyler and Mari found a place where they were not just their culture, but they were kids. In many aspects I feel that our culture makes us who we are, but I believe at the deepest root we are all humans. Tyler and Mari were children who connected as children often do over common interests. Beyond the hyphen they were able to share their own life experiences with each other, which I think helped each grow as individuals, but the hyphen is where the differences didn’t matter so much.

  67. tabitha kline says:

    I also think the hyphen is where Tyler and Mari shared common things like age, grade, and interests. When all the uncertainties were worked out they were two kids who became special friends and grew in acceptance because of their differences.

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