Study Guide

Bronx Masquerade Family

By Nikki Grimes


She tiptoed in, late
and limping, her cheek
raw as red-brown meat.
I caught a quick glance
in the chilly glow
of the refrigerator
before she had
a chance to hide
the latest souvenir
her boyfriend gave her.
"I bruise easily,"
is one of the lies
she sprinkles like sugar.
But I'm fifteen,
not brainless. Besides,
I knew the truth at ten.
"He'll never do it again,"
she swears.
But he will, because
she'll let him. (6.1)

Chankara's sister shapes her image of herself in this poem. She's seen her sister get beat up by a string of boyfriends and Chankara never wants to be in the same position. The difference between her and her sister? Chankara won't make excuses for an abusive bum.

I will paint Mami, standing at the ironing board late in the evening, after a day of piecework in the factory, sweat pouring off her, steam rising from a pot in the background, me tugging at her skirt while she irons. I will paint the way she used to smile down at me, the love in her eyes saying "I only do this for you." Mami's beauty is better than a movie star's. It survives a kind of life where pamper is a noun, not a verb. I will capture that beauty on canvas, someday, when I am good enough. (8.15)

Raul's family is an inspiration to him. They are the people that make him want to paint and portray his Latino family as something beautiful and worthwhile and special. You go, Raul.

"I bet Papi doesn't guzzle beer all the time," I often say to Mami.

"You don't know what he does, Lupe," she always says. "How could you? You were only five when he left. And he left on his own, Lupe. Pero, what did I expect? He was a jíbaro through and through. He couldn't wait to get back to his precious mountains! And this is the man you love? But Berto, who puts food in your mouth, him you despise. ¡Dios mio!" (17.7-8)

Lupe has an idealized portrait of her biological father. Of course, it's not hard to romanticize him since her mom's boyfriend, Berto, has never been much of a dad to her. Bummer.

It hurts all the time. Missing Mom, I mean. I was full up with loneliness for her a few weeks ago. It was one of those moments that come from outta nowhere, when you all of a sudden feel something reach inside your chest, grab your heart, and squeeze 'til you can hardly breathe. (26.3)

The loss of Leslie's mom has totally overshadowed her life; it's the reason she's left her old home and friends. The family connections she depended on just aren't there for her anymore.

For a long time, she put off telling me what her mom died from. My mom died of cancer, which was no big secret, but hers died from a drug overdose. Porscha thought that would make a difference, but when I found out, I told her it made no difference at all. Dead is dead, and lonely is lonely, and they both stink. (26.12)

Leslie forms new bonds with Porscha. Since they've both lost their moms, they understand each other—their lack of family is kind of what brings them together as friends. Yay.

It's bad enough my stepfather talks about me like a dog. The few times my mother gets on him about it, he laughs it off and says he's just joking. I should cut his tongue out, see how funny he thinks that is, 'cause there's sure nothing funny about being called ugly. So why does Mom let him do it? Sometimes I think she loves him more than me. Otherwise, she wouldn't let him tear me down like that.

One of these days, he's going to call me ugly, and I'm going to ugly myself on outta there. I don't know where I'll go, but it'll be far away from him. Then Mom won't have to worry about defending me. And I won't have to waste energy being angry because she hardly ever does. She's all right in private, though. She tells me to ignore my stepfather. (29.9-10)

Judianne might act like she's all that at school, but her family life is anything but perfect. Her stepdad tells her she's ugly and her mom just lets it happen. Judianne isn't so much mad at her stepdad (who's a real jerk) as she is at her mom. Isn't family supposed to stick up for you?

All my life, I've seen my mother pray, and all my life, I've seen her prayers answered. There was the time my baby brother was dying of pneumonia and the doctors had given up, but she prayed until the fever broke. There was the time she was laid off from her job, and the refrigerator was empty, and she bowed her head over an empty pot and prayed for God to fill it. That night, a woman upstairs begged her to accept a bag of frozen meats and vegetables, because she was moving the next day, and she hated to see good food go to waste. We had steaks that night, and we never have steaks. There were lots of times like that. "See there," Mom would say. "That's God's hand. If you have God's hand on your life, everything will be all right." So of course I believe. And I believe big. (44.19)

Sterling's mom is an inspiration to him. Even in difficult times, she's never lost faith and that's why he never has either. Do you think Sterling would be a different kind of person if he remembered some of the prayers that weren't answered?

Better yet, ask my father. He thinks I'm so tough, I don't need anybody. Not even him. He didn't always treat me that way. He used to handle me more like china. But then Mom left to start another family—without us. After the divorce, Dad decided we both needed to toughen up, that we needed to learn to stand on our own. I thought he meant together.

Two years ago I got sick at school and he was called in to take me to the hospital. Apparently I had appendicitis. I was doubled over with pain, tears streaming down my face, and he wouldn't even put his arm around me. He just walked beside me, stiff as a two-by-four, asking "Are you okay?" every couple of minutes. Jerk. (50.1-2)

Amy's father has been hurt pretty badly, but instead of helping his daughter through a rough time, he's pushed her away. That's why Amy's so cold and unfeeling to everyone—it's what her parents have taught her. Besides, if she pretends not to feel, then no one can ever hurt her, right?

I've felt that way a couple of times. Once, when the undertaker carried my pops out of here. Another time when my girlfriend left me for my supposed-to-be homey. Both times I remember wishing I couldn't feel the hurt, wishing I could just cut my heart out and be done with it. (52.1)

Tyrone's known his share of tough times. He tells us in the beginning of the story that his dad is one of the few people that actually stuck around to raise him, only to get shot in a drive-by. Awful. His death is an especially painful memory for Tyrone, and it's one of the things that makes him skeptical about the future.

Everybody else in my family looks typical. Olive complexion, dark hair, dark eyes. Then there's me, sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. But hey, I might as well. I'm the black sheep, anyway. The only girl in the family who wants a career instead of babies. The only cousin who likes to hang out with Blacks and Latinos. The only one who doesn't think they're all lazy and shiftless. Never mind that they've been discriminated against and shoved to the bottom of the economic rung since they've been here. Try telling that to my father. And don't even mention slavery, he throws his hands up and walks away. So of course he thinks I'm an idiot for wanting to go into social work to help minorities. He might understand better if he knew any. (53.13)

Sheila doesn't fit in with her family. She not only looks different, but she feels different, too. Maybe the fact that she doesn't feel like she belongs, even in her own household, is what pushes her to want to try out a new more "ethnic" identity?