Cuando era puertorriquena (When I Was Puerto Rican)

( 13 )

Overview

La historia de Esmeralda Santiago comienza en la parte rural de Puerto Rico, donde sus padres y siete hermanos, en continuas luchas los unos con los otros, vivían una vida alborotada pero llena de amor y ternura. De niña, Esmeralda aprendió a apreciar cómo se come una guayaba,
a distinguir la canción del coquí, a identificar los ingredientes en las morcillas y a ayudar a que el alma de un bebé muerto subiera al Cielo. Pero precisamente cuando Esmeralda parecía haberlo aprendido...
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Overview

La historia de Esmeralda Santiago comienza en la parte rural de Puerto Rico, donde sus padres y siete hermanos, en continuas luchas los unos con los otros, vivían una vida alborotada pero llena de amor y ternura. De niña, Esmeralda aprendió a apreciar cómo se come una guayaba,
a distinguir la canción del coquí, a identificar los ingredientes en las morcillas y a ayudar a que el alma de un bebé muerto subiera al Cielo. Pero precisamente cuando Esmeralda parecía haberlo aprendido todo sobre su cultura, la llevaron a Nueva York, donde las reglas —y el idioma— eran no sólo diferentes, sino también desconcertantes. Cómo Esmeralda superó la adversidad, se ganó entrada a la Performing Arts High School y después continuó a Harvard, de donde se graduó con altos honores, es el relato de la tremenda trayectoria de una mujer verdaderamente extraordinaria.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Esmeralda Santiago describe su niñez . . . con una prosa poética [que] nos regresa a nuestros propios días de inocencia. El tono cautivador y humano del libro acentúa nuestras propias inquietantes y estimulantes experiencias infantiles."
La Revista Hispanic

"Estilísticamente fluida y finamente detallada . . . la autobiografía de Santiago casi cinemáticamente reproduce su pasado y la cultura de su isla. Lo más atrayente de la historia de Santiago es la revelación que ofrece a los lectores que no conozcan el dilema  vivido por todo puertorriqueño: la identidad en conflicto. ¿Es negra o blanca? ¿Es del campo o de la ciudad? Y más importante aún, ¿es puertorriqueña o norteamericana? El lector se sentirá agradecido de que Esmeralda Santiago se decidiera a explorar su cultura y a compartir lo que halló."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Cuando era puertorriqueña es la agridulce historia de una muchacha atrapada entre dos culturas . . . [está] llena de anécdotas sobre su desarrollo hacia la adultez y de dulces memorias acerca de su familia. Hermanos, hermanas, tías y tíos están deliciosamente entretejidos en la textura del libro."
The Boston Globe

"Continuando en la tradición de A Tree Grows in Brooklyn y Call It Sleep, Cuando era puertorriqueñas de Esmeralda Santiago, cuenta la historia de la inmigración norteamericana, esta vez con un sabor especial latino. Santiago ha enviado al mundo un paquete sobre sus viajes, [y] su documental es ahora nuestro regalo."
Washington Post Book World

"Una conmovedora narrativa, líricamente escrita. Esmeralda Santiago generosamente comparte con el lector las memorias de su niñez en Puerto Rico y de sus desconcertantes años en la ciudad de Nueva York. Admiro el valor que requirió el hacer ese viaje —y después escribir acerca de ello con tanta claridad. Su perspectiva sobre el pasado es siempre afectuosa, llena de espíritu y realística. El paisaje puertorriqueño está vivo en este libro lleno de ricos y evocadores detalles."
—Bobbie Ann Mason, autora de Feather Crowns

"Lea su libro . . . Verá cómo la trayectoria particular de una mujer desde una choza de metal ondeado en un barrio del campo puertorriqueño se convierte en una historia llena de ecos para todos aquellos que alguna vez en sus vidas hayan embarcado en un viaje transformador, física o espiritualmente."
San Juan Star

********

"Santiago's autobiographical account cinematically recaptures her past and her island culture. What is particularly appealing about Santiago's story is the insight it offers to readers unaware of the double bind Puerto Rican Americans find themselves in: the identity in conflict. Is [she] black or white? Is she rural or urban? Even more importantly, is she Puerto Rican or is she American? [One] can only be grateful that Esmeralda Santiago has chosen to explore her culture and share what she has found."--The Los Angeles Times Book Review

Library Journal
As president of her own film company, Santiago has won praise for her writing and producing. In this, her first book, she tells of her childhood in Puerto Rico in the 1950s and of her family's move to New York when she was 13. Her rich prose recreates the tropical splendor of Puerto Rico, the harsh conflicts between her parents, and the squalor of Brooklyn. While she shares unique personal experiences, Santiago also expresses the universality of growing up. Her memoir ends dramatically with her audition for New York's High School for Performing Arts. A poignant look at a girl's coming of age and taking control of her own destiny, Santiago's story reflects that of Puerto Rico: to be a part of the United States, yet distinct and somehow detached. Recommended.-- Gwen Gregory, U.S. Courts Lib., Phoenix
School Library Journal
YA-Esmerelda and her seven siblings live in a corrugated metal shack in Puerto Rico. She is uprooted as a result of poverty and her parents' quarreling and suffers blows to her ego from their expectations of her. The girl goes to New York, where her grandmother lives, and must rely on her intelligence and talents to help her survive in an alien world in which being Puerto Rican is not advantageous. Her story rings true and will be an inspiration to YAs forced to make their own way in a sometimes hostile environment.-Ginny Ryder, Lee High School, Fairfax County, VA
Publisher's Weekly
Santiago's artful memoir recounts her childhood in rural Puerto Rico and her teenage years in New York City; also available in a Spanish-language edition.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679756774
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1994
  • Language: Spanish
  • Edition description: Spanish-language Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 142,182
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Esmeralda Santiago

El trabajo de Esmeralda Santiago ha sido publicado por The New York Times, el Boston Globe, el Christian Science Monitor y la revista Vista. Se graduó de Harvard University y obtuvo un MFA de Sarah Lawrence College. Con su marido, el director Frank Cantor, dirije CANTOMEDIA, una compañía de producción de cine. Tienen dos hijos, Lucas e Ila. Este es su primer libro.

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Reading Group Guide

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican. We hope they will provide you with a number of ways of looking at—and talking about—this beautiful narrative of a young girl's coming-of-age in 1950s Puerto Rico and of her subsequent move to the very different world of New York City.

1. Though Santiago's story takes place in several locations, she specifically contrasts two kinds of community: the rural one, represented by Macún, and the urban culture of Brooklyn. What role does "tradition" play in each society? Could Macún be classified as a "traditional society"? How cohesive is the family and social unit in Macún? How does the family unit fare when it is transplanted to New York? Would Tata and Chico lead the type of life they do if they were still in Puerto Rico?

2. Much of the book's text and subtext concern the different roles men and women are expected to play in Puerto Rican society. Though the men work hard, they are allowed time for recreation; the women work far harder with no time off at all. Women serve men, but they also scorn them. How do the demands made on men and women differ in this culture? How similar—or different—are attitudes in the United States? How does hostility between men and women affect the Santiagos' lives?

3. Like all young people, Negi gropes to understand the concept of love by observing the examples she sees around her. What idea of romantic love does she receive from the radio programs and romantic novels she devours? In what way does her principal model of a love relationship—that of her parents—contrast with this model? Is there any way of reconciling these two visions of love? What role does sex play in her romantic imaginings? What does it mean in Negi's world to be señorita? Why is her position as casi señorita such a difficult one?

4. Describe the ways in which the Puerto Rican concept of dignidad contrasts with contemporary American manners and mores. Is there an equivalent concept in our culture? In the Puerto Rico described by Santiago, how effective is dignidad as a social code? Does it contribute to the well-being of the community? Does it contribute to the oppression of women?

5. The scenes in which Negi translates for her mother and other Hispanic women in the welfare office are suggestive of tensions within the city culture. How can we deduce Mami's feelings from Santiago's description? How does Negi feel about the women who pretend to be Puerto Rican so that they can collect welfare? Why does she agree to translate their lies?

6. In what way does Negi respond to the challenge of the more socially fluid society she encounters in the United States? How is her encounter with Mr. Grant representative of her changed circumstances? Will Negi's victory cause her to change her ideas of dignidad and of respect for her elders? Will it cause her to change her ideas of correct feminine behavior?

7. How does Santiago use the event of her audition at the High School for the Performing Arts as a symbolic dramatization of the many barriers that she has had to cross in order to escape Brooklyn, Hispanic cultural ghettoization, and her life of poverty?

8. Certain contradictions in Puerto Rican culture are symbolized by the juxtaposition in Santurce of the Evangelical church and the botanica. How does each one minister to the spiritual needs of the people? How do the different belief systems of the Puerto Ricans—Christian, African, Native American—manifest themselves in the Santiago family?

9. What effect does the past tense of the title have on the reader? (Discuss this point as if you haven't read Santiago's note to readers.) At the end of the book, Esmeralda Santiago calls herself a hybrid. Is there anger in her conclusion, as well as pride in her own achievement?

10. In writing When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago encountered difficulties in finding appropriate English terms for some of the Puerto Rican concepts she was trying to convey. She decided to leave many of these words in Spanish, providing a glossary at the end of the book. Can you explain why she might have had a hard time finding exact English equivalents for concepts like dignidad, jÌbaro or toda una señorita? Can you come up with good translations of these terms and others in the text?

11. How does Papi define "imperialism"? Does Negi come to share his opinion? In giving her father's opinions, is Santiago telling the reader something about America or is she using the conversation as a way to reveal her father's character?

12. How might you compare the Latino experience of assimilation with those of, for example, Chinese, Jewish, or Haitian immigrants? How might the cultural barriers between these groups and mainstream America differ? What roles do race and language play in the process?

13. When I Was Puerto Rican is nonfiction, but Santiago relies on many techniques important to fiction writing. What sort of "narrative voice" has she chosen to use? What ideas of Negi's character and culture do we glean from her narrative style? She has chosen to portray her parents and relatives not as fully developed characters but as adults seen from a child's point of view. How does that enhance or detract from the book's impact?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 16, 2014

    Spanish Version is Best

    Excellent. Esmeralda takes you on a journey revisiting the growing up in a proud culture buttressed by the influence or the US slowly creeping into the society. One part of the Island welcoming the new while the other part holding fast to the proud tradition. A great chronicle which merits a must read chronicle.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    Muy Bueno

    Te cautiva... nos lleva a rememorar nuestraas propias vidas en los campos de Puerto Rico..... y nos hace sentir ke no somos los unikos en sentirnos dividos entre 2 naciones.... yo tambien me sinto ke alguna vez fui Puertorriquena

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2009

    ES UN LIBRO ESPETACULAR

    LEI ESTE LIBRO EN 3 DIAS NO PODIA DEJAR DE LEERLO ME TRAJO MUCHA NOSTALGIA DE MI NINEZ Y RECUERDOS INVORABLES DE MI BELLA ISLA , RECOMIENDO ESTE LIBRO

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2003

    Much integrity to E. Santiago's work

    I give 5 stars, not because I was necessarily challenged in weighty intellectual 'profundities' (as a criticthat I've read has stated), but simply because the quality of story-telling (at least in the Spanish version) is insurpassable. I was able to see right into the heart of Esmeralda's thinking. She was almost always eloquent beyond her years; at first I thought that this wasn't accurate for a girl of her age; but in retrospect, I think that the author knew this beforehand and realizes that her character is indeed representative of the many children or tíneyers who are absolutely brilliant but are perceived to be not so bright because of a spoken language. I would like to find out if this was a subtility that she wanted to communicate. With that said, my favorite aspect of Esmeralda's eloquent subtilities is her honest, authentic anger towards haughty and egotistical people. I believe that E. Santiago was intending also to disfrazel the machista haughtiness that existed in Po'rico. I wanted to reach into the story and punch her Papi in the face. What a pig! I grieves me to think that such a man really existed! Another thing, the move to New York, wonderfully contrasted with Macún - and the innocence of perceiving the jews, italians and blacks throught the eyes of a sweet girl with no prejudices - a brilliant girl indeed! How was she able to dislodge herself from all of the enticements of having prejudices so quickly formed? The best part of the entire novel - a definite tear-jerker - is the rapid dénouement punched at me (the first sentence of the epilogue). I didn't expect it; it had sort of a Great Expectations twist there at the end; if there were ever a movie based on this story, I think that that would be the brilliant finish of the story. The human spirit inside of each of us hopes and believes: 'Un día de estos, un día de estos.' We all relate so well with Esmeralda that I strongly suggest that this book be included in ethnic-american/hispanoamerican classes and reading circles. This is a must. It's already been successful at Pittsburg State University (KS) with Greg Brown and Dr. Edmée Fernández; try it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2001

    A Fantastic, and Strong Story!!!

    This is a wonderful story. It not only teaches you how the people in Puerto Rico's mountains lived. But how they tried there best in their lives, sometimes. Is an honor that Esmeralda Santiago is a ''Puertorriqueña''.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2000

    Absolutely fascinating

    Esmeralda, captivates the readers with her peculiar narritive child voice. Her memories are vivid and exiting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2000

    Nostalgic

    For any Puerto Rican transplanted to the US mainland this is a must read. Esmeralda writes in a deliciously colorful language. She is a truly gifted writer. I am proud to be Puerto Rican like her.

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    Posted February 27, 2012

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    Posted February 24, 2013

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    Posted July 21, 2009

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    Posted October 28, 2008

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    Posted April 29, 2009

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    Posted July 9, 2010

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