Mami's belly starts getting bigger around the same time that Francisco is diagnosed with cancer. Mami moves her children again so that both Tata and Francisco can live with them. Tata is nice to Francisco when he's home, but is still mean when she drinks. Francisco and Mami's baby, Franky, is born in March. When Francisco is hospitalized again, Mami goes to visit him and he tells her he saw an angel the night before. A few days later, the hospital releases Francisco to go home to his parents' apartment, and he dies the next day. Mami mourns for the next year.
In Francisco's last months, Tata allows Mami to present the façade that they're one big happy family, though she insists that Mami not forget that it's indeed just a façade. Mami continues to grow her family but notably doesn't push for Francisco to marry her (that we know of). This suggests that her desire for Papi to marry her came from her insecurity about their relationship in particular.
Negi tells the reader that she wrote to Papi for several weeks after arriving in Brooklyn. When Negi's siblings arrived, however, they told Negi that Papi married another woman after Mami left Puerto Rico and sent the children to live with other relatives. Negi confirms this story with Mami and then confronts Papi in a letter about it, telling him that he's as good as dead to her. Papi and Mami write letters and fight over this, though Mami insists that Negi and her siblings stay in touch with Papi. Negi agrees grudgingly, though she realizes that Mami is becoming both mother and father to her children, and they can count on her to always be there.
Papi's actions after Mami left suggest that it's true that Mami wasn't his primary partner. This distances Papi even further from his children, despite Mami's insistence that they keep in touch. Insisting that, however, means that the children show Papi the same low level of performative love that he showed them. Mami, on the other hand, makes it clear to Negi and her siblings that she's reliable and will always be there to care for them, unlike Papi.
Mami leaves the house every morning to work in bra factories in Manhattan. She works her way up quickly from being a thread cutter to sewing the bras, and carries special scissors and a special handbag. Mami is happy when she works and is proud of what she makes, though she tells her children that they need to do better in life than she is. She asks them to translate their report cards for her and praises them when they receive good marks. Negi soon becomes suspicious that Mami's optimism is all for show. She fears that whatever Mami came looking for in Brooklyn doesn't exist anywhere.
The bras continue to give Mami a sense of pride and purpose. The job allows Mami the ability to independently care for her family without having to rely on a man as she once relied on Papi, which turns the bras themselves into a symbol of self sufficiency and independence. Negi's fears about Mami's optimism suggest that Negi is beginning to feel hopeless about the trajectory of their lives in New York.
Though Chico doesn't live with Negi's family, he spends time in their apartment regularly. He drinks all the time and offers the children small change to do small favors for him. One morning, when Negi is on her way to school, Chico stops her in the hallway and offers her a quarter to open her blouse. Negi refuses and threatens to tell Mami. The following day, Chico pinches Negi's nipple as he walks behind her. He tells her not to tell anyone and throws a dollar at her. Negi buys herself her first sundae the next day.
Negi is confronted with the horrible knowledge that Mami's extended family isn't always kind and trustworthy. Some of them see her as a female body to be consumed rather than a family member to be protected. This makes it clear that Negi is truly growing up, since her body is garnering this kind of attention. Buying the sundae is an attempt to regain control of the situation and make it more bearable.
One day, Mami tells Negi that she has to go with her to the welfare office the next day. Negi whines, but Mami insists. Negi speaks enough English to explain Mami's situation to the social workers. At the office, they sit for hours. They never know when their name will be called. Fights break out occasionally, and even Mami punches a social worker once, saying that they treat her like an animal.
In America, Negi's Puerto Rican identity means that she and Mami are sometimes treated as less-than. This recalls Mami's early warning that Negi not aspire to be a jíbara—here we see how jíbaras are treated by those in power, reflected in the racism of the social workers.
Negi often translates for other women in the welfare office. These women are little different from Mami, though Negi can tell that some of them are lying about their situations. Other women who aren't Puerto Rican claim to be Puerto Rican so they can take advantage of American citizenship. Negi feels conflicted about these women and doesn't know whether to tell the interviewers the women are lying or not. She's afraid the women who lie about being Puerto Rican make all Puerto Ricans look bad.
Despite the mistreatment and racism she experiences, Negi understands that her Puerto Rican identity does come with some privileges that other people would like to take advantage of. The welfare office workers recall the "experts" in that they can't recognize different accents and flatten all Latin Americans into one type of person.
When Negi arrives home one day with a stack of books, Mami screams at her for being out late and talking back. Tata tries to call Mami off of Negi, but Mami persists. Negi isn't sure what Mami is angry about. Mami comes at Negi with raised fists and Negi grabs Mami's wrists. She and Mami both realize she's now strong enough to fight back, and Negi yells at Mami to kill her. Mami backs down and sends Negi to her room, but never hits her again.
This moment, perhaps more than any other, brings about Negi's coming of age, as it's the first time that both she and Mami acknowledge that Negi has the size and the guts of an adult and the desire to be treated accordingly. It brings about positive change in Negi's relationship with Mami when she puts an end to Mami's violence.
Negi's neighborhood is especially violent. One day, Don Julio comes home after being mugged in the subway. After that, Negi sits by the window every night and watches for Mami coming up the street. Negi lives in fear that someone is going to rape her on her way to or from school. In the winter, Mami doesn't allow the children to do anything but walk to and from school, and she doesn't allow them to play outside.
Negi cares deeply for Mami and Mami's safety, and Mami cares for her children's safety in return. Negi's knowledge that men can and will take advantage of her whether she accepts their advances or not creates a sense of fear in her as she grapples with the knowledge that her power is limited.
Negi realizes that though Mami had enforced similar rules in Puerto Rico to keep the children from hurting themselves, in New York, the rules are meant to keep others from hurting them. Negi can barely comprehend the way people live in New York with their doors bolted tight. She doesn't understand how the neighbors would ever be able to help if they needed it.
In New York, Negi's family is forced to rely fully on family to help; there are no Doña Ana or Doña Lola figures to trade food with or care for the children in Mami's absence. Family is truly the only thing that Negi can rely on.