Here, Esmerelda, Sal's mother, speaks. He is in jail, but she is somewhat trapped as well, as she explains.
She writes to her son in prison, using his adult name, Salvador. She tells him that lunch is over, but even though it is noon, there is no sunlight in her apartment: "The buildings here, tall as our mountains/ Slice through the windows and cut off the sun."
By "our mountains," she means those back home, in Puerto Rico. She is homesick. Even if life was hard there... well, it is hard in New York, too, but not as pretty outside! Still she vows to Salvador to "never return until you are free." Thoughts of the homeland fo cheer her, especially when she hears the Aguialdo-- a Hispanic Christmas carol of sorts-- to which she dances with her daughter, Aurea.
She confides to him that she has been "unlucky" in love. Her Puerto Rican husband drank and ran around. Gonzales, the preacher who brought her to America, was a "hypocrite," who "beat you and preached about repentance/ Has gone." Actually, she left Gonzales, after he abandoned Sal to his prison fate.
Esmerelda might also point out that the church that took them in to begin with was also, ultimately, cruel to Salvador. Both lands, both husbands, both churches, have made promises of rescue... only to require that they be rescued from them, in turn!
"Another Sunday ends," Esmerelda sighs. This throwaway line is actually very telling. Esmerelda is no longer banking on "Sunday,"... on promises of faith and salvation, especially not by those who profess religious power.
No... "tomorrow is another hardworking Monday." She is trying to depend on herself, on her own work. But this seems another blind alley filled with false promises; "I am still hoping for the raise they promised me." Perhaps, someday, she will have the fortitude to remind her employers of their promise. For now, she is neither dependent on men--husbands or her son-- nor on the Church.
"There's a job as a operator/ If I could speak the language easily." In the era before cell phones, operators were telephone company employees who helped connect calls, provide 411 information, etc.; today, their job would be called "customer service." Naturally, fluency was a requirement. Esmerelda is unaware that classes in English for non-native speakers have been offered in places like libraries and community centers for decades, and she seems still too reticent to even ask after such things.
After all of her struggles, she seems ready to take a break, though: "I view my light with resignation." Further, she is still a several-times-over minority-- a woman, an immigrant, older than most job seekers, a not-quite fluent-enough-speaker. Oh, and the mother of a well-known convicted murderer, which could also hurt her career prospects.
She also seems content to consider "the Barrio" as "our own little nation," a Puerto Rican island, as it were, within the island of Manhattan. Perhaps being close to her people is as close as she can get to being with her family, which dwindles ever smaller. Wistfully, she tells Sal, "Sometimes I hear you run upstairs."
Even with all of her betrayals by the organized Church, Esmerelda still clings to her faith, and tells Sal to, also: "Keep your Bible near you."
Why? Because "time is an ocean of endless tears." Every time she put herself forward-- to the church back in Puerto Rico, to both her husbands, to this new land, and now to her job-- she has been slapped backward.
And now, she sits in her apartment, and Sal in his cell.. each a prisoner wavering between resignation to darkness and hope of sunlight.
But the Bible tells of the rise of Joseph, the Exodus from bondage, the entrance into the Promised Land, the elevation of David.... and the Ascension of Jesus. All stories of lowly people achieving liberty, self-determination, and salvation.
Next Song: Time is an Ocean