Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 4

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

Image of graffiti board in response to Return to Sender

In their discussion of Return to Sender, our students expressed some of their transactions with and responses to the text through the use of Graffiti Boards. In each collective graffiti created by the teacher candidates, specific reference to the letters written by Mari appears as an important element of those transactions with the story.

Image of graffiti board in response to Return to Sender

This week turn our attention to this aspect of Alvarez’s craft in Return to Sender, specifically, the author’s choice of letter writing to tell a significant part of the story. In her previous novel Before We Were Free, Alvarez also used the genre of letters to invite the reader to follow the protagonist’s story. In that story, Anita wrote down her experiences during the time her family was hiding from the police sent by dictator Trujillo to prosecute suspects of insurgency in Dominican Republic. Writing saved her in a way.

Image of graffiti board in response to Return to Sender

In Return to Sender, Alvarez again, chooses the genre of letter writing to tell Mari’s story. We invite you to share your thoughts about Alvarez’s use of letters in Return to Sender to develop the experiences of the immigrant protagonist. What roles do you think the letters play in the novel? Why does this genre seem appropriate to tell this story? Are there meanings in this story that could be conveyed better through letters or would the effect be the same if conveyed through a different narrative style? What was your experience as a reader as you moved from reading Mari’s voice through her letters to the narrative voice provided for Tyler?

Image of graffiti board in response to Return to Sender

[Editor Note: Return to Sender is reviewed in Volume XI, Issue 3 of WOW Review.]

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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47 thoughts on “Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 4

  1. Carlos G says:

    What roles do you think the letters play in the novel? Why does this genre seem appropriate to tell this story?

    When I read in the story that they were scared of sending the letters for fear that they might get deported if the government found out, it reminded me of something. The remittances that are sent from the US to Latin American countries is tremendous. It’s ironic how people can send money, but not their wishes/thoughts to relatives sometimes. I mean, I don’t know if undocumented people really have that fear, but apparently Mari’s family did…how sad.
    I also feel that letters make this reading a lot more personal. After all, this is someones deepest feelings we are reading. The writer does not intend for anyone other than the recipient to read it, yet we were able to take a lenghty peek at the letter. It’s almost like we were able to look into Mari’s heart a few times.

  2. Jorge Segovia Jr. says:

    As far as the roles of the letters, I think that they play the most important role in the novel since we get a glimpse of what Mari is really going through. To begin with, Mari doesn’t intend for anyone but herself to read whatever she’s writing. Just based on that particular fact, it’s evident that these are very intimate thoughts, making the genre appropriate for the story. This added element of the letters gives us as readers an insight that we wouldn’t have of Mari’s thoughts. I know that whenever people are down, writing has been found to work as a therapeutic practice that people can take up. An interesting thing about writing down your thoughts or feelings is that you can always go back and look at your very own personal progression in life. I think that that’s the reason why the author decided to incorporate letters/diary entries, giving us a chance as readers to see Mari’s progression throughout her time in Vermont. It would be totally different if it was told through a different narrative style since the diary entries really capture what’s going on inside Mari’s head so well. As far as my experiences, I found it interesting moving from Mari’s voice via the letters to Tyler’s narrative voice found throughout the story. I really felt that the juxtaposition of the narratives gave the story more intimacy. The story started out with two narratives/perspectives at different ends of the spectrum, but at the end, it was beautiful to see how Mari and Tyler were able to come together and realize that true friendship has no boundaries.

  3. Beth Winter (NY) says:


    I 100% agree with you. I was wondering how it was possible for the families to send money, but not letters. And how, on that note, phone calls were not questioned as well.
    Mari seemed to use the letters as her connection to her family, but didn’t seem to send them because of this fear. My only question was, why not a journal then? I have students write in journals on a regular basis because it helps them share the feelings they cannot or do not want to express aloud. I understand why Alvarez chose to use the “letter format”. I believe that she wanted us to be in Mari’s head (or heart as Carlos said), but I really do wonder why Alvarez decided on letters instead of a journal.

  4. Christine Reis says:

    I really enjoyed that Alvarez chose to communicate Mari’s feelings, thoughts and activities through letters. Since Mari’s was the author of the letters we as readers were better able to connect with her character. Reading her letters almost felt as though she was sharing her story with only me, as if the letters were being shared and written to me. This allowed me to truly understand her and her point of view. Since Tyler’s side of the sorry was presented in a traditional narrative form he felt slightly more distant to me. I didn;t get to fully connect with him in the same way that Mari’s character was left open through her letters. The letter writing style provides a looking glass into the characters point of view.
    On the other hand the letters do only allow for one point of view to be shared, that of the character writting the letter. The narrative style does allow the reader to know more of what is going on from several different points of view. However, in this story I believe that the author’s choice to use letters was a wise one. The story of immigration, illegal or not, is very personal and the letters give the personal touch to the story.

  5. Christine Reis says:

    Carlos I couldn’t agree with you more. The letters are a glimpse into Mari’s head and heart. They are private communications that through the magic of literature we are able to see. They give us a greater understanding of Mari’s fears, hopes, dreams and thoughts. It is a treat that many authors do not give to their readers.

    As for wether or not illegal immigrants truly have a fear of being captured I believe they do. After reading this story I had several conversations with people I know whose families may not have had all the required documentation to come to this country and there really is a fear of being caught and sent back. Certainly i can not speak for all immigrants in that situation but from my personal conversations I know that there are at least some that have this fear. I tried to put myself in their shoes while reading this book and it seemed reasonable to have a fear of la migra. The idea that you could be following the laws, working hard to better the position of your family and then be ripped away from the home you made and sent back to somewhere you didn’t want to be. I am not going to discussion whether illegal immigration is right or wrong, but it’s important to put yourself in their shoes so that one can understand the journey they go through and why.

  6. Monica Johnston says:

    In the world we live in today, the government is able to tamper with our phones, cell phones, e-mail, and mail without us knowing. I would say that we live in a world that lacks privacy, thus creating a fear for everyone about his or her personal life. Since Mari can’t call her relatives, even less visit them, she finds the way of writing letters and saving them until she is able to see the person face-to-face or write letters to just express her feelings in words rather then saying them out loud with the fear of someone hearing her. The letters play a major role in this novel by looking into Mari’s side of the story in detail and emotion. I have a friend in North Carolina that left his home country, Mexico, to seek a better life. He has not returned in two years and in those two years he has told me that when he calls his family, their conversations are never long. My friend also mentioned that he has to write in a journal (diary) about his feelings every day because to him, writing makes him not go crazy. Therefore, by taking away Mari’s letters from the story, the readers would not get a personal insight of the different emotions she feels. When reading through the novel, I tried reading quickly to get to the letters because that’s when I felt the characters emotions about a certain topic. I feel like I am able to get into Mari’s head when I read her letters rather then her narrative voice. It is interesting however, that Mari changes her emotions about Tyler and his family as the novel progresses and I feel like if the novel would have been in a different narrative style, I wouldn’t have been able to seek Mari’s true feelings about Tyler and her family.

  7. Jorge Segovia Jr. says:

    In general, it just saddens me whenever I have to read the hardships and struggles of undocumented human beings in this country. It seems like there’s this fear, or at least how I view things down here in Texas, that linguistically speaking, Spanish might overtake English. I was talking to a classmate about that a few days ago, and the funny thing is that even in a bilingual education classroom setting, the purpose of any bilingual program is to eventually transition English language learners to all-English instruction by the time they get to fifth grade. I just think that’s interesting because that would never be the case since we’re aiding in the creation of more and more English speakers. As a future bilingual educator, the way to go is to implement a dual-language program. Other countries do it, and they’ve been successful. We can take Canada as an example and Europe. The difference in this country is the perception society holds of Mexico, and the Spanish language, and culture. Then, they want to conglomerate other Latin American countries and assume that everyone that speaks Spanish is Mexican. As mentioned, the difference has always been with how we’re presented in society as an inferior group of people. We were able to see that perception throughout the story. I was fortunate enough to have been born here in this country, but I have relatives who weren’t as fortunate, who have had to abandon their families back home in order to help them. It’s really a sad situation. I personally feel that it’s important that we find a solution that would help those individuals already established in this country, who are here illegally. I think there’s a misconception that a reform would increase immigration, when in fact, we want to find ways to reduce it. The plans that I’ve read up on online simply want to get these individuals to abide by the rules, while regulating the boarders. As we all know, we are a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of law. This would help a lot of people find a way to mobilize within society. We have studied the type of psychological effects and concerns that these people have in this country. There are many issues, but I think the main ones would be security, the ability to find a secure job, and opportunity for higher education. I have family here illegally who came to this country in search of a better life, for stability. They always seem worried about being caught to the point where they seem restless all the time, worried, depressed, and very unhappy with their situation. They would tell me how they always felt uneasy about being here, like they’re being watched, like animals being hunted down, and if they only knew that it would be this difficult, they would of never left their home country. All they hope for is a chance to work in this country without any worries. Whenever I get on discussion boards, I just feel sadden by how greedy people can be sometimes. There are people who ask that we cut off undocumented people from all free services, that they’re just taking jobs up, that they’re bringing down our economy, and that if we cut them off, they’ll go back to their country. I don’t know…how do others feel about this issue? Of course I’m going to be biased since I have family in this situation, but I’m just curious to hear what others have to say on the topic, or if the perspective varies else where?

  8. Esmeralda Razo says:

    I feel like the letters played an important role in the novel because it is a way in through which the reader could see what Mari is really going through. The deep and emotional letters enable the reader to truly envision what she is experiencing at the time as well as get an idea as to how she feels. The letters are not only emotional but very intimate for the fact that she never intended for any one else to read them. The use of these letters allow for the reader to have insight of Mari’s thoughts. I feel that if letters were not utilized to convey her thoughts and emotions, the reader would not have as a deep and rich understanding of what she is truly feeling and going through. Being able to write down your thoughts and feelings allows you to relive stress and get things off of your chest. The only object that you can always count on to tell it exactly what you are feeling, thinking or worrying about is a piece of paper. Later on when you go back and read what you wrote, you reflect and realize that you have come a long way since that period of time. Being able to see Mari’s letters was a method that the author utilized to help the reader understand her progress while in Vermont. I feel that if another source was used to convey what Mari was going through would not have been as effective as the letters. To me, the letters are the only personal way of truly expressing what you are feeling and experiencing. I personally thought that the narrative voice provided for Tyler gave the novel a deeper and richer understanding. Although there were two different narratives the reader comes to the realization that there was no limit to the true friendship between Mari and Tyler.

  9. Esmeralda Razo says:

    Carlos, I completely agree with you. It is sad how people can send money to their loved ones through a variety of ways but cannot send them their thoughts and wishes. I feel that undocumented people do have the fear of sending each other letters due to the fact that unfortunately, the government can invade our privacy. The government has and always will have the ability to tamper with not only our letters but other forms of communication as well. It is saddening that families cant express their concerns for each other or simply just tell each other how much they miss each other because of fear of being found and caught. From my past experiences of speaking with undocumented people, I can tell that although they really desire to communicate with their loved ones, they rather not take the risk of even putting themselves in a risky situation. These individuals fear that they will be putting themselves in a situation where they can jeopardize everything that they have gained and worked hard for in order to maintain a better life.

  10. Esmeralda Razo says:

    Monica, you are right. Unfortunately the government does have the ability to tamper with our privacy by looking through our mail, emails, and phone calls. This then creates fear for people causing for them not want to communicate with each other. The only way of communicating with each other would be face to face but even then undocumented people are constantly hiding from the world to not be seen in fear of being reported on to authorities. Like you said, the letters that Mari wrote was the only way for her to express her feelings and let everything out without being heard by anyone. Without these letters, the reader cannot have insight on what is truly going on inside her. Like Carlos stated, we can see deep into her heart through these letters. If letters were not used as a method to express her feelings, we would be clueless as to what in reality she was feeling. While reading these letters, one can truly get into her character and feel exactly what she is feeling and thinking. I agree with you, without the letters, we as readers would possibly have a different perspective of Mari as well as not have that connection with her character.

  11. Cynthia Reynoso says:

    I agree with everyone about the letters. Beth, also the letters took the form of a diary towards the end of the book so that is very similar to a journal.

    Throughout the novel Mari is very scared and is limited in what she says about her family or herself to many people around her. She is so afraid of being sent back to Mexico that her life is pretty much a secret life. The letters give her the ability to express herself freely without fear. Haven’t we all experienced this feeling? When you write letter you are more free to express your true feelings. This genre for this novel is very appropriate because it gives a way for the readers to truly understand Mari and her fears and feelings.

  12. Cynthia Reynoso says:

    Jorge, you bring up so many good points. I have also had family that were illegal and they experienced the same fears. In my opinion, the best way to handle this issue is to try to legalize illegals that are currently in this country. I think the real debate is the issue about illegals not paying taxes. When you think about it, is it fair to get governmental aid without paying taxes? Don’t even get me started on businessowners who hire illegals so they don’t have to report the payroll and pay workers’ comp, etc. I don’t agree with la migra sending back illegals to their countries. So why not just make them go through the process of becoming legal?

  13. Beth Winter (NY) says:


    Although I see your point about the “one sided narrator”, I found the letters to actually stop the novel from having a one-sided narrator. The story is told from Tyler’s perspective, having Mari write her letters puts another point of view on the story.

  14. Hicela Martinez says:

    Through out the book, Alvarez use of Mari’s letters made the story more interesting. It became more interesting because I was able to see different view points of the characters. I was able to know about Tyler’s thoughts and also Mari’s. Through out the letters, I was able to read what Mari’s truly feelings were. If the letters were not in the story I would have just assumed what Mari thoughts were by her actions but by reading the letters I was able to know her true feelings and her view on certain topics or ideas. I was able to see how Mari’s and Tyler’s belief’s progressed from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. Mari wrote the letters in order to release her emotions, especially the emotions that she did not share with anyone else. I was able to get a personal insight of her emotions, which makes the genre suitable for the story. For example, in the letter where she writes about her mother being held by “coyotes,” and the condition she finds her. Mari is not able to tell her sisters or father because she does not want them to be scared or to worry. If the letters would have not been in the story, I believe that the story would have not carried the same meaning and emotions it did. We would have not been able to really imagine the fear Mari’s family had of being caught by “la migra.” For me, the letters helped me imagine and also put myself on Mari’s shoes. I just imagined myself being scared all the time and hiding or not being able to go as I pleased because of being afraid of getting caught, it would be an unpleasant life. Just imagining not knowing any information about my mother whereabouts makes my heart sink.

  15. Cynthia Reynoso says:

    I also think that the letters were very sophisticated for a child Mari’s age. It seemed like an adult was writing them.

  16. Hicela Martinez says:

    I feel the same way you did. I felt that I was able to connect more with Mari than with Tyler. At the end of the story it made me feel that I personally knew Mari. While reading the letters it also seemed like if it was just a communication between Mari and the reader, kind of like a secret between both. I believe that this makes the reader want to continue reading, in order to know more about Mari’s “secrets.” I say secrets because many of her emotions and thoughts she kept them to herself and did not tell anyone about them.
    On the other hand, I do believe that I was able to view Tyler’s and Mari’s point of view through out the story. Mari’s were more personal through her letters and maybe that’s why it seems that Tyler’s point of view were not shared. In the beginning of the story we are able to read about both of their view points on illegal immigrants and through the progression of the story we are able to see how Tyler’s beliefs change.

  17. Jorge Segovia Jr. says:

    Christine, I agree with you 100 %, but as far as undocumented people not paying taxes, I’m not too familiar with what goes on, but to my understanding, there are a some that actually do pay taxes, but I’m not sure what type of taxes you mean since there are many. But yes, the best way to handle the issue would be to fix the system, and let those who are here fix their legal status so that they can contribute to our society because I’m sure that if they were given the opportunity, they would do it in a heartbeat. There are a lot of people here undocumented who play by the rules, besides the fact that they’re here illegally, but there are also many Americans who participate in illegal activities themselves. I don’t care if they might be considered minor offenses or not, but breaking the law is simply that, breaking the law. I really liked the book so much because it did shed light to a controversial issue in society today. And through the book, we can follow the story of a little girl who was born in Mexico, but raised here in the States. Because of this, we can see that she values her Mexican culture, but she’s also assimilated some American culture as well, making her a bilingual/bicultural individual. It just reminds me of a quote I read in a textbook we read for our Foundations of Bilingual Education course that said “el hombre bilingüe vale por dos…,” meaning that a bilingual person is worth two times as much for the simple fact that we can easily navigate through different cultural settings because of our experiences, and our ability to speak two languages. That’s why we should value biculturalism/bilingualism, but for some reason, we perceive it as something wrong. If you’re American, you’re to speak English and English only. What’s your take on biculturalism/bilingualism? I mean, it seems like the government wants that for our country, but we contradict ourselves whenever we act the way I’ve described. What’s your take?

  18. Amanda M. says:

    Jorge, I agree with you. First, I think that the letters from Mari to her mother were an extremely important part of this story. No one could explain to us how Mari felt except for Mari. She talked about so many important feelings of an immigrant in her letters that me as an American can not understand, yet by reading these letters I have the sense of how scared and lonely she really was. With the use of letters, it also gave Mari the chance to express herself without anyone having to read it. She was just able to get it off her chest. Many people keep journals so that they can express themselves without anyone having to see it. This is a way of unloading yourself into these pages without worrying others or sometimes you, the writer, doesn’t want to share with anyone so you write it down.
    I also feel that during the letters throughout the story you see how Mari’s transition from North Carolina to Vermont, where she has this extended family who cares about her and wants to learn about her heritage and culture.

  19. Beth Winter (NY) says:

    I didn’t look at it like that, but going back I can’t help but agree. I understand that she was in America long enough to learn “English”, but there is no way my students (6th and 7th graders) would be able to write as well as she did. I did however, love how at times Alvarez used code switching.

  20. Hicela Martinez says:

    You have made a lot of good points!! I also have family members who are here illegally and all they want to do is to work in order to provide for their families but they also live with the fear of someday being caught, just as Mari’s family. I don’t know if people are aware that if you are here illegally and you are paying taxes, once you do your income tax (with an ITIN number that the government provides you) you don’t receive the full credits and you don’t receive the full amount back that you should have been given, credits such as child credit etc. but the government sure enough wants you to pay them the full amount. It just sadness me that the media portrays that illegal immigrants, especially Mexicans, are getting government money and that they don’t pay taxes etc. but they never talk about the ones that do or how the government once they pay taxes doesn’t give them the money they should receive back or how much illegal immigrants have contribute to the economy. I believe that until you are in that same position or truly know of someone who is, you will not understand the full story of illegal immigrants. Their struggles and hardships just being able to arrive here to the United States and as it continues while they are living here. In the book we are able to see Mari’s and Tyler’s families struggles and hardships. * ” El hombre bilingüe vale por dos” *

  21. Monica Johnston says:

    To Jorge and Cynthia,

    When it comes to the conversation of undocumented people not paying their taxes, I think they are talking about not reporting their taxes to the IRS. I do agree that illegal’s are paying taxes when they buy something, but many are not doing their income tax, thus not paying the IRS. I don’t know if I’m correct, but I think this is the issue with illegal’s. As far as going through the process to become legal in the United States, it takes many years to do that and even then, the majority of the time they are rejected. I still have many friends who have family in Mexico that have applied to become citizens in this country. It’s been over 8 years now and they still haven’t heard a reply back. Therefore, many people come to this country as a means to work, save enough money, then go back to their country, sometimes though along the way, they end up having family in the United States which causes them to stay. This is just some cases I’ve encountered with, but like with Mari and her sisters, both of Mari’s parents came to the United States so that Mari’s father can work and for their family to have a better life. Along the way though, Mari’s mother had two daughters here. Like in the real world, once the two daughters turn 18, they can apply for their parents to become citizens, but like I said before, it’s a very long process. I do agree that if they don’t want to fear of being deported back to their home country and risk separating from their family, then they should apply to become citizens, but the process is long and expensive. Therefore, I suggest that the government should make the process easier and cheaper. I believe though that the reason they don’t make this process easy is due to the fact that the Spanish language will invade the United States and risk losing the English language. Also the government has a fear that the Latinos will become the Majority (which they are now) and take over all the jobs. This is what I think their greatest fear is, but this country should be a country of hope and a country that unites all cultures/other countries, rather then just pushing everyone away for the fear of losing jobs and the English language. My mother came to the United States illegally as well to have a better education. Her intention was not to establish in the United States, but just to learn English and return back to Mexico with a higher education. Yet, she met an American (my Dad) and he was able to make her a citizen after several years. Over the years, she felt obligated to learn English and lose her first language to compete in the job market. I agree with Jorge though that knowing two languages is better then one because it is easier to navigate with other cultures/communication.

  22. Angelica Gonzalez says:

    The letters play a great role in expressing and making the novel a great story. I enjoyed the letters because it gave and expressed Maris feeling greatly. Through the letters I felt more involved in how she was feeling, how alone she felt, how sad she was, etc. Throughout the letter I could feel the pain and sadness she was going through. The letters really engaged me to the novel because they were very descriptive and detailed of Mari’s emotions and thoughts. Most of the letters are very personal because many of the letters she writes never really get sent out, the letters she writes to her mother, la virgen the Guadalupe, her grandmother’s letter, etc. The letters are also a symbol that Mari has left of her mother in the beginning, because her mother told her that writing a letter when you feel alone or want to speak to someone just to write it in a letter.

    This genre is appropriate to tell the story because knowing the perspective and feelings of the author engages the reader and helps have a better understanding of what the character is going through. When writing letters they are usually more personal and for that particular reason is why the genre fits perfectly in telling this novel. The letter separates Maris thoughts from the narrative of Tyler’s giving the novel more creativity and insight of two different characters and perspectives.

  23. Melisa Gonzalez says:

    Since the novel is told through Tyler’s point of view, I think that the letters play a very important role in the novel because they allow the reader to deeply understand Mari’s feelings in regards to what she is going through. The reader is able to see things through her perspective and really put himself/herself in her shoes. Mari is extremely explicit in her letters and shares her most intimate thoughts and feelings, feelings that she would not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. Therefore, by using this genre, the reader is able to have a form of insight into Mari’s mind and heart. The letters are a perfect way to demonstrate her experiences as an immigrant and her thoughts about her experiences. If the story was written in a different narrative style, I believe that the story would not be as engaging. The reader would not be able to make a good connection with Mari. He or she would only be able to make inferences as to what Mari was feeling. However, since these letters are included in the novel, we are able to see both Mari and Tyler’s points of view. As I was reading the novel, I was really moved after reading her letters. I felt like I was there with her and was able to sympathize for her. I felt that after reading her letters, she expressed things there that she wouldn’t have otherwise in the narrative voice provided for Tyler. Since Mari shared her mother’s view that “El papel lo aguanta todo,” paper can hold anything, she was able to freely express her feelings and as readers, we were able to see everything that she had to go through, including being strong for her family, especially her younger sisters. Therefore, the fact that Alvarez was able to include Mari’s letters really let us see through Mari’s eyes and look deep into her soul to feel what she felt. Her letters really moved me and I was able to connect with her on so many levels and I was also able to relate to her experiences.

  24. Melisa Gonzalez says:


    I believe that you are right. It would be nonsense if illegal immigrants did not have a fear of being captured and deported back to their country. After all, they have risked so much to get here and had to come up with the money to come to this country, most with the goal of finding a good job so as to provide their family with a better life and better opportunities. Maybe even to support their family back home. The fear of being deported is definitely something that comes with taking this risk. There are so many individuals and families that come here to work and this is the case of Mari’s family. They follow the laws and work hard to support their family but yet, someone can take all of this away from them in an instant. I know many people that are here in this country illegally and it is amazing how connected they are to each other. If immigration is at a certain location, they warn each other not to go there. I think that it would be hard for someone to imagine how difficult it can be living life like this if they have not experienced it themselves. Through Mari’s letters however, one is able to get this insight. We are able to see the experiences that she and her family have and how much they have to be careful so that they will not be caught. Although this is a novel and it is based in a small town, many of these things do happen. For example, we were able to see the fear that Mari’s father felt of something simple such as sending out a letter. He was afraid that their family might be tracked down if Mari sent her letters and that is why he asked her not to send them out. After Tío Felipe was arrested, Mari’s father was even more scared that they would be found so he did not let Mari go to school. They would not even go to the store to get their basic needs. Again, this was probably a more special case since it was a small town and many people knew each other. However, illegal immigrants living in a city have the same trepidation of being captured by la migra at their job sites and live with this constant fear every day.

  25. Melisa Gonzalez says:

    Christine and Hicela,

    I completely agree with both of you. I believe that the fact that Alvarez incorporated these letters written by Mari, really allows the reader to establish a connection with her. As I read the novel, I would look ahead to see if any of Mari’s letters were coming up because I really looked forward to reading them. I feel that she wrote them with such honesty and such great feeling that I felt as if I really knew her. I was able to see through her eyes and understand what she was going through as well as why she was feeling the way she was. Hicela, I like the way that you say that because of these letters, the reader wants to keep reading about Mari’s “secrets.” This is exactly the way I that I felt. I consider letters to be something very personal. The fact that Mari wrote these knowing that no one else would read them but her, made these letters become a way of confessing, of letting her innermost feelings out. We were lucky enough to get to read her most intimate feelings, which are in fact her secrets, through these letters. Therefore, we were able to see her experiences and feelings about being an illegal immigrant, which was something very personal to her.
    I too feel that I was not able to make that same connection with Tyler. Although we were able to read about his thoughts in the rest of the narrative, he seemed a little more distant. It was as if there was someone there, mediating for him and describing his feelings. However, I like that throughout the novel, we are able to see how both of them grow and how their perspectives change. Tyler especially, since he changed the way he felt about illegal immigrants.

  26. Angelica Gonzalez says:

    Christine, you stated a good response of why the letters where such a good idea to use in the novel. The novel indeed brought a good insight to Mari’s emotions rather than the “traditional narrative form” used for Tyler’s perspective and emotions. Tyler’s narrative didn’t give a good insight to his thoughts and feelings, as did Mari’s. I felt that there was a bigger connection between Mari and me than I felt with Tyler. It was easier to know and understand Mari through the letters she wrote. Throughout the letters there are feelings and personal thoughts that were exposed correctly, making it more meaningful to read as a reader. I felt as though I knew the character more through the letters because it was as if she was writing the letters to me.

  27. Amanda M. says:

    I agree with you. The letters definitely expressed feelings and personal thoughts. Through the letters you were able to feel that more and connect more with Mari then with Tyler although, he too had feelings and personal thoughts expressed throughout the story. They just weren’t as powerful written in narrative form vs. Mari’s letters. Also, I think that a lot of us like receiving letters and reading letters and with technology now a days, we don’t usually have that kind of communication anymore. A lot of our communication is very impersonal, they don’t show the feelings like Mari’s letters do.

  28. Angelica Gonzalez says:

    Carlos, I was really interested in what you pointed out in your first comment. It saddens me that people fear sending their own family and relatives letters. I believe that there is many undocumented immigrants that are afraid and fear getting caught because many just want what’s best for their family and are trying to survive in America themselves and possibly live the American life. It’s ridiculous how just because one is an immigrant they have to be afraid, stressed, and have to hide their identity, and who they are only because it is against the law. A law that is not at all fair. It is sad that sending a letter to a relative can drastically change the life of an immigrant’s family. Is it really worth it? Is it really fair that immigrants be treated differently only because they weren’t born here? NO. Immigrants should have the right to privately speak with their relatives and not have to be afraid of being deported…. but unfortunately it is this way. And we cant do much to change it although it is not fair. What makes immigrants any different than us? Why is it that I can send my family letters without having to be afraid?

  29. Monica Johnston says:

    What I want to conclude is how the book didn’t really let Tyler express his feelings in detail. I felt like I didn’t hear his side of the story as in depth like Mari. I do understand that Tyler’s perspective on illegal immigrants did change throughout the novel, but I still feel though that the author should have had his side of the story as well. I also understand that since Mari couldn’t send her personal letters to her family members or see them, we, the audience, were able to capture her emotions. I liked this style in the book, but I however would have liked the author incorporate Tyler’s deep emotions and feelings about certain situations. This probably would have made the novel a lot more compelling if Mari’s and Tyler’s feelings were shared about the situation that was going on.

  30. Yazmin Mtz. says:

    I would’ve loved to learn more about the internal struggles going on with Tyler as well, but I feel like the author did well focusing on Mari. Mari’s strong feelings and emotions towards the events and people that surrounded her, poured into her letters, allowed us to feel like we were part of the story, like we were looking at a “real” piece of paper, written by a “real” person, and not just a fictional character or book. I felt like I became part of the story and not simply a spectator. In my point of view the letters make the story feel more real.

  31. Zyanya Lopez says:


    I agree with you in the terms of how the letters make the story unique. We are able to see Mari in a first person perspective. Her letters took me into her thoughts and made me realize the struggles she is going through is nothing compared to what I go through day by day. It must be hard to live in fear for your family. The letters play a very important role in the book. There is not many times in the media where you see the perspective of immigrant communities. Knowing her inimate thoughts and recollection makes her story more real to me.Having her letters is a way that she can reflect personally on what she is feeling and it’s a way that she can express herself. I see the importance in having our youth in our communities write about there experiences. My favorite letter in the book was when Mari writes her letter to the Virgen de Guadalupe. She asks the Virgen to keep her family safe. With this letter you can tell that Mari has a very strong catholic faith. That may be what keeps her going.
    I personally was moved by her story. I have gone through similar experiences like Mari. I came to the United States at a very young young age with my family.

  32. Lizbeth Morales says:

    I agree with most of you about the importance that the letters played in the novel. It did allow us to look inside Mari’s heart and see her perspective and true feelings about everything that was happening around her. We see a different side that we wouldn’t have been able to absorb if we had just been allowed to hear Mari’s voice. Here we hear her conscious and most inner feelings. We find out, in detail, of the events happening in her life and how her family dealt with them. I feel like this narrative style works best for this novel. I know Carlos mentioned that a journal would have been just as good or even a better way for Alvarez to present us with Mari’s feelings but I disagree. Last year I was able to live in Spain for four months and was able to keep both a journal and send letters to my family. I feel like during this time my journal entries focused more on certain feelings and one specific moment of that day or week. I would write just enough to help me remember later on. On the other hand, when I would write letters to my mother, I would explain everything in great detail because she wasn’t able to share the feelings with me at that time. I would express everything I was feeling in hopes that she could somehow live vicariously through me. What I am trying to say is that in my experience journals are used mainly to focus on one topic and write your feelings about it and/or write just enough that when one goes back, their memory is triggered and they remember what had happened at that time. When you write a letter to someone, you want to explain and share every possible detail because they weren’t with you at the time and you want them to be able to share the same feelings you had. My point is that I feel like the narrative style Alvarez chose was perfect. Mari wanted to share her feelings and experiences with her mom because she was such an important part of her life. She wanted to feel like her mother didn’t miss out on their events and it was almost like having her there.

  33. Cynthia Reynoso says:

    When I was talking about illegals and taxes I really meant that the issue really boils down to money and the government getting it. It seems that the issue of illegals is very political and why make it easier and cheaper to become illegal. It is harder and more expensive to become a citizen because of the political nonsense in this country. What would have happened to Mari and her family if they were sent back. Her sisters were American citizens so they had a right to be here. How could they send them back? I am not sure how that works, but I thought that if you had children that were citizens then you couldn’t get sent back. Any opinions?

  34. Cynthia Reynoso says:

    Monica, I completely agree with you. I also felt that I could connect with Mari at the end of the book, but I did not feel that closeness with Tyler’s character. I think the author should have had Tyler write more letters to that the readers could understand him more as well.

  35. Lizbeth Morales says:

    To Jorge:
    This novel, for me personally, was one of my favorites because I could relate so much to it. I feel like people are so negative when it comes to undocumented citizens. From personal experience, the comments of others can have such an impact on the people that already have so much to deal with. These students are worried about not having their families together or not having a home or not knowing whether they were going to have a meal that night. The last thing they want to worry about is whether they are going to pass their TAKS exams or other things like that. These families work hard to support each other. They take jobs other people don’t want and work twice as hard because they understand how hard it is to live in worse situations. They make something of themselves and in some instances these people make a difference in this country. They need support, not negativism. We as future teachers must believe in them and encourage them to believe in themselves and in some way try to protect them from the criticism of others. They support and help out our economy. They give back just as much as they earn and for many of these people, they pay their taxes dutifully. Just like you said, this might be a biased perspective because I was once in the same position, but because I know how hard life can be back in Mexico, for example, I try my best to repay my community and this country what I have been given. We can’t be cruel to the people that risk so much trying to better their lives. Yes, the news presents us with these horrible stories about undocumented people, but that is not the only side to the story. All Americans aren’t perfect either and we must try to accept and help the ones that deserve it.

  36. Lizbeth Morales says:

    Jorge, my ultimate dream is to be able to work in a dual-language classroom. I agree with you that bilingual classroom are just here for English language transition. Their focus isn’t on maintaining the students first language, rather it is to make them learn English as soon as possible. They have up to fifth grade to be able to be up to par with their peers. I am currently in a fifth grade bilingual classroom and 90% of the teaching is done in English. My CT is a great teacher and she tries to facilitate her Spanish student’s learning as much as possible. We are the ones that teach our three Spanish students the material in Spanish and they seem to really appreciate the effort we are making. I also agree that we are always talking about how we want to maintain the students first language while teaching them English, but the bilingual classrooms do something very different. Arizona and California are two states that actually keep their word and mean what they say. Although it is not something we want to enforce in our states, they don’t contradict themselves.

  37. Yazmin Mtz. says:

    My classroom setting is the same way. The students were already transition into all English instruction and have lost a good deal of their Spanish. I noticed that some of them don’t even value their first lanugage as much as I’d expect they would, which saddens me deeply.I feel like kids should appreciate their own heritage as much as possible. I feel like they lose part of their identity when they don’t learn about their culture or have time to appreciate where they come from. I can agree with how Mari felt in the book when she talked about herself being a Mexican and feeling somewhat alienated. In school I feel like teachers should welcome and encourage kids to learn more about these topics and appreciate each others cultures. This way I feel like everyone would feel validated and more comfortable around their peers. Would at least help them not build up stress, like Mari’s, over something which forms part of every kid’s life, their cultural background.
    We write letters for different reasons and in very different formats. In the story the main reason for writing the letters was Mari’s way to let out her feelings, it was her outlet, and the way she wrote her letters was in an informal way. Because of this reason we “feel” her pain and “hear” her pleads much more. We all do something to let out our stress, this way we can all identify with Mari. The letters play a far more important role in the story than they seem. They don’t only tell the story from the point of view of Mari, or, as I mentioned before, make the story feel more real, but they also allow the main character to relieve herself from some of the pain that accumulates in her heart as the story goes along, as she herself explains in one of her letters. I can certainly relate to this feeling as I’m sure many of you can. Writing is a great outlet for things that stress us and we can’t or don’t feel like talking about.

  38. Karina Rodriguez says:

    I very much agree and like the way in which you put it how you felt much closer to Mari because of the written letters. I felt like I connected more to Mari because of the relationship she shared with her mother and how close they were, but I after reading your comment I see how the author’s choice of writing out the letters from daughter to mother made it a much more meaningful experience to the reader. Tyler’s story was a meaningful one as well, but it was not as powerful because of the way in which it was presented. I already had some previous knowledge of such issues in immigration before reading this novel, but it only made me feel even a closer connection, sympathy and understand them better.

  39. Sharon Pozos says:

    The importance of multicultural literature in the classroom

    I think multicultural lit in the classroom is very important. It shows the students to value other cultures other than their own. I also believe that when you bring multicultural literature in the classroom it allows other students to learn from different parts of the world and you bring other parts of the world into their classroom. Growing up I don’t remember having any multicultural lit in any of my classes so I never valued my own culture. It was not until I got into college that I started reading a lot of multicultural lit that I began to value my culture and where I came from. Multicultural lit allows students to appreciate not only their culture but cultures of other people in their class as well. For example return to sender offers a really huge learning for those who dont know about the immigration system and how hard it is to become a documented citizen/resident. In college I met a girl who was critizing immigrants and saying that every thing that happens to them is there fault and said “Why dont they just get documented” From experience becoming a resident/citizen is not easy my parent and I applied for our residency when I was 7 yrs old and I did get it until I was 18 years old. I think if we had more multicultural lit used in the classroom others would not be so quick to judge other cultures or immigrants. It is an educational experience. I am definitely going to use multicultural I want to show the students in my that they should be proud of their culture and who they are as well as expose them to other cultures.

  40. Yazmin Mtz. says:

    I agree. Tyler’s change in ideals and views made a big statement in the book, but his life overall wasn’t the main focus and I feel like it was for a reason. We were just like Tyler, spectators of the hardships that illegal aliens go through and just like him we might have changed our views on illegal immigration, remained neutral, or if we already sympathized with them we would’ve just felt a lot closer to the story than we would’ve otherwise. The story was about Mari the only one in her family who had been left in the borderline. She neither felt fully Mexican, like her parents/uncles, or completely American, like her sisters. It was this internal struggle that resonated with the readers, specially those who could relate to the feelings and events she went through. I feel like the major reason kids like Mari struggle with their identities is because of acceptance within their peer groups. Acceptance that is not quite there due to a lack of knowledge/appreciation of other cultures and differences overall. As future bilingual teacher, I’d like my students to understand the wonderful people of this beautiful country, and I not only mean Mexicans or Hispanics, but also everyone who contributed with their 2 cents to our way of life. We’re a melting pot as it is. Ideally, understanding by the means of learning about our own rich cultural backgrounds will foster a welcoming environment where all kids can feel like valued members of our classrooms, and ultimately society in the U.S.

  41. Alison H says:

    In response to Post 29, Monica:

    I also agree that by the end of the story I felt a real connection to Mari and not so much to Tyler due to the format of the novel. As everyone has stated, the letters really helped you see the inner feelings and emotions that Mari was dealing. With Tyler, it wasn’t as personal, and I would have liked to see this. I think what he was going through was so significant and so many students throughout the United States could relate to him. How often does a child in a public school make friends with an undocumented immigrant and have this same internal struggle? I think on Long Island, it is definitely a common occurance. We see Tyler develop into a young adult who understands that all laws are not black and white and that there can be laws that go against our morals. I think it might have been interesting to see Tyler’s story told through a Journal. He definitely had these feelings that he did not feel he could share with anyone, which would be perfect for a journal format.

  42. Alison H says:

    I think the letter format definitely made the book move more fluid. I looked forward to seeing who Mari was writing to and I also loved the use of code switching. There was one letter however that really stood out to me. Mari’s teacher Mr. B assigns the class to write a letter to someone. Mari decides to write to the President of the United States. “So this letter is from a voter from that future when you would want to be treated as fairly as I am asking you to treat me”(60). It is a simple message but one that many people, politicians, etc have a hard time remembering. Another great quote from this same letter is on page 71 where Mari says “[Mr. B] is the one who says that you need to know what is going on in your country. How even kids who would otherwise be friends have to turn away from each other”. This is referring to Tyler’s reaction to when the school bullies pick on him for befriending Mari. He begins to ignore her because he thinks he is wrong in befriending someone who has come to the United States illegally. I thought this was quite moving because it is put in such simple and real terms. Mari proves to be a very profound and intelligent thinker throughout this letter.

  43. Kerrianne Lynch (NY) says:

    Overall, I really liked the use of letters in “Return to Sender”. I thought they made the story a lot more personal, and helped me relate to the story. Although the story was about the relationship between Mari and Tyler, I think it was more Mari’s story. Mari’s family are made more of the focal point of the book because of the letters. While, what Tyler’s family was going through was important, what was going on in Mari’s family was much more interesting. Her family was settling into a new place, they had to fear being deported, and were also dealing with Mari’s mother being missing. I feel the story was definitely more Mari’s tale. Mari’s letters were moving and so detailed, they were as many people have already said the heart of the story.

  44. Christine Reis says:


    I believe that bilingualism is so important. We stress to our students in NY that learning a second language is important, that it will help you in life. We do this with the foreign language requirement from 7th- 11th grade(at least in my school district) and with the regents exam. However, when we havea students whose first language isn’t English our goal is to pump them with information and focus solely on English language instruction. We let their first language fall to the side. I think that while it is our duty to teach these students English so that they can fully function in our society we also have a responsibility to help them maintain their first language. I understand funding can be an issue and finding good bilingual teachers is difficult especially f a students first language is not as common as lets say Spanish. Even if bilingual classes are not an option just appreciating and valuing the first language could be a huge help. Providing multilingual books and materials will help these students stay connected. If they feel their first language is valued they will be less likely to feel ashamed of it and limit their speaking of it.

  45. Theresa says:

    I thought the letters made the entire book. Tyler was learning from Mari, I think, and maybe realizing that his life was not as difficult as he thought?

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