Cuando era puertorriquena (When I Was Puerto Rican)

Cuando era puertorriquena (When I Was Puerto Rican)

by Esmeralda Santiago

Paperback(Spanish-language Edition)

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679756774
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/1994
Edition description: Spanish-language Edition
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 80,402
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

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.

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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Cuando era puertorriquena (When I Was Puerto Rican) 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JGR47 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Jeany More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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''.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Esmeralda, captivates the readers with her peculiar narritive child voice. Her memories are vivid and exiting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.