When I Was Puerto Rican Book Report Essay
Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican focuses on island life in the 1950s. In the immediate period leading up to the 1950s, Puerto Rico experienced a rapid change in the economic situation of the island. The island began to change from a primarily agricultural economy to one dominated by industry and commerce. Sugar plantations (owned by the wealthy and worked by the poor), cattle ranching, and subsistence-level agriculture gave way to a more urban style of living. In the 1930s, many people still lived in bohios, or small huts.
During the 1940s, however, people on the island, mainly the rural poor fled to the city seeking work. Santiago presents in this book her life in Puerto Rico until she was 13, were she grew up with many brothers and sisters, which end up being ten. During this time she lived with both of her parents which had a lot of marital problems and this caused a constant moving of places and houses. The author uses a lot of descriptions on how everything was, the material of the houses, the soil underneath, the animals, the myths that people believed in, and even a description on how to eat a guayaba (guava).
Esmeralda’s nickname is Negi and she has been called that since she was born, because she looked of colored skin. Negi is short for negrita, which means black skin. There is a lot of comparison between her and her siblings, Esmeralda being the oldest. When Esmeralda was around 13 years old her mother starts considering moving to the United States in look of a dream of a better life. Esmeralda’s mother left her father with all of the kids and went to live to Brooklyn. The author describes the neiborhoods and how there was a difference between the Puerto Ricans that had been born there in Brooklyn and the newly arrived.
Her mother found a new boyfriend that ends up with cancer and getting her pregnant, and there is still a constant moving to different apartments. They wrote to their father once in a while, who had remarried as soon as the family left Puerto Rico. In New York Esmeralda try to succeed but she felt she was treated differently because she was from Brooklyn and had an accent. She tries to go to Performing Arts High School in Manhattan where she goes for an interview, and she gets out of the interview thinking she was never going to be able to leave Brooklyn.
The last chapter of the book jumps to ten years after she graduated from Performing Arts High School, where she comes back from Boston where she attends Harvard University, to visit her mentor. Esmeralda states how she had forgotten about the skinny girl, with colored skin and curly hair, and her mentor told her that she hadn’t and the reason she was accepted in the High School was because she was brave enough to go for an interview and try to get in. The author states that by then she had ten brothers and sisters and that she had been the only one that had made it to college. Analysis
It is interesting how at the beginning of the book in the introduction she explains that she wrote this book in English first and then in Spanish. She states how difficult it was in both languages, in English just because it wasn’t possible to translate words like “jibaro”, “alcapurrias”, “cocotazo”, etc. so she had to include a little glossary with the meanings of many works she couldn’t find the right word in English. When she wrote the book in Spanish she found it difficult to write in a language that had been her second language for many years and she found herself learning what was once her first language all over again.
This is something really interesting and I think it happens to all of us, when we come to live to the United States we find ourselves forgetting many phrases and words. The very title of the book suggests that the author no longer considered herself Puerto Rican and had severed her ties with a place she would once call home. The fact that author uses past tense in the title makes it clear that Santiago could no longer associate herself and her identity to her homeland.
She makes us wonder, “so what happened when she was a Puerto Rican” and you can read the book and find out why she is not a Puerto Rican anymore and what led to this change of identity. In the introduction she also states how now as an adult she strolls in a supermarket through the fruits aisle and she finds a section of “exotic fruits”, where she finds a guayaba (guava) and she picks it up and smells it and it brings back all of the memories of when she was a child, he even has a whole chapter on how to eat one.
A guayaba, an exotic fruit? In Puerto Rico you can find one anywhere, but you come to the United States and it is an “exotic fruit. ” The author tells us how she puts the fruit back and walks over to the fruits of her adult life, the apples and pears. It is clearly stated that over the years she has lost her connection with her Puerto Rican culture and has assimilated the prevailing white American culture. She says that she rarely speaks Spanish because her husband, friends, coworkers, etc. nly speak English. One thing you can clearly see in the book is the racist connotation that they use towards Esmeralda with her nickname Negi. Even her family saw a darker color of skin and when Esmeralda asked why that was her nickname if it had nothing to do with her name they told her that it was because when she was born she had darker skin that everyone. In terms of opportunities when she came to the United States she was very lucky that she got where she is right know.
But that took her self-determination that she wanted to go far in life and have the same rights and benefits as the people of the prevailing group in the United States. One thing that was really shocking to me was that in this book you see more maternalism than paternalism which is very rare in a Latino culture and rarer during the time that the book takes place. It can be seen how her mother leaves her father various times and how she has more control over the children, and she even moves away to Brooklyn alone with all those kids.
It takes a very strong woman to do that and it’s clearly seen how that strength is passed on the most to Esmeralda as the oldest. Interactionism plays a role in the novel in the relationships between the family, and how they adapt (or do not adapt) to each other, and what these relationships ultimately mean to the family as a whole and individually. Each member of the family has a specific role, and plays it out throughout the book. This book relates to the class in many ways. We have been studying different Latino groups and their incorporation into the United States.
This book clearly shows the transition of a girl living in a Latin country and coming to the United States, not because she wanted, just because her mother brought her, and how she had to assimilate the culture in order to be successful. In an interview done to the author she states how she went back to Puerto Rico when she was older and she was rejected by the people in the island and she wasn’t considered to be a Puerto Rican. She said that she felt that she didn’t belong anywhere because Brooklyn didn’t feel like her place either, so she found herself not being part of any culture.