Papi doesn’t allow Reyna and her siblings to go out and play in the neighborhood—there is a lot of gang activity, and he doesn’t want them to get involved with a bad crowd. Many nights, Reyna and her siblings hear gunshots in the street, and one night, someone is shot right on their doorstep. Though the man begs for help, Papi will not call the police or otherwise assist the man, because he knows that getting involved will just lead to trouble for him, too.
Just as the children don’t know how to ask for help in the face of Papi’s abuse for fear of worsening the situation, Papi is helpless to defend himself and his family from the violence all around them.
The day after the shooting, Papi decides to go to adult school and take English language classes. He vows that once he learns English and changes his green card status, he will move his family out of their dangerous neighborhood. Watching her father head off for school, Reyna feels that her father’s desire for a better life and passion for education is “contagious.”
Not able to sit back and do nothing, Papi devotes himself to bettering himself so that he can achieve more for his children. Reyna is proud to see her father taking such an initiative, and feels cheered and bolstered by his dedication.
A few weeks after he starts going to school, though, Papi gets some terrible news. He learns that Tía Emperatriz has stolen his dream house after a failed marriage. Papi announces that he is going to go home and get his house back. Mila warns him that if he goes home and is caught crossing the border on the way back, he’ll ruin his chances at having his green card application approved. Papi doesn’t listen, though, and leaves the next day for Mexico. The whole time Papi is gone, Reyna has trouble focusing in school and finds herself distracted at home. She worries nonstop about him—and what will become of his dreams, and hers, if he is caught.
Papi’s desperate need for control subsumes all else when he finds out that Emperatriz has moved into his dream house. Though Papi has come so far and is so dedicated to attaining citizenship the right way, he risks it all when he flies into a blind rage and decides he needs to go to Mexico to wrest control of his property back from his sister.
Two weeks later, Reyna and her siblings come home from school to find Papi sitting at the kitchen table. He looks pale, and his eyes are puffy and red. He announces that he is never returning to Mexico again. When Mago, Reyna, and Carlos ask him what happened, he says that Abuela Evila is ill and frail—Emperatriz basically swindled Evila into giving her the property, and refused to give Papi the house back. Neither Evila nor Augurio backed Papi up, and he tells his children that he had “never felt so alone” in his entire life. Reyna wishes she could comfort Papi, but she has nothing to say. Papi stops going to school, and spends more and more time shut up in his room. Reyna realizes that his dream house is not the only thing Papi has lost.
Papi’s trip is unsuccessful, and he himself experiences intense feelings of betrayal and abandonment at the hands of his family. Reyna feels terrible for her Papi, but knows that his feelings of having been duped and discarded—just like her feelings every time Mami left—will have to heal on their own. Unfortunately, Papi doesn’t have a healthy way to cope with his disappointment, and he distances himself from his family as a way of hiding his shame.