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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE AMERICAN DREAM...
This is a rich and evocative memoir of the author's chaotic childhood. Growing up in rural Puerto Rico, while often living in primitive conditions, the author's lush and lyrical prose paints a vivid picture her early life. The flavor and rythms of her island home come alive under her expert hand, creating an unforgettable picture of her early childhood.

The...
Published on February 26, 2006 by Lawyeraau

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Warm , funny interesting read with a disapintingly abrupt ending
Even though I was born 1950 Indiana, I found Ms Santiago's novel to be very interesting. My parents were born in Puerto Rico, and married there. They moved to Indiana for work. I was the first child. We lived in a Polish neighborhood, and had no immediate family. the novel helped me to have a better idea of their early lives. While our lives were much more stable and...
Published on August 29, 2011 by Tita


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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE AMERICAN DREAM..., February 26, 2006
This is a rich and evocative memoir of the author's chaotic childhood. Growing up in rural Puerto Rico, while often living in primitive conditions, the author's lush and lyrical prose paints a vivid picture her early life. The flavor and rythms of her island home come alive under her expert hand, creating an unforgettable picture of her early childhood.

The author grew up in a poor family. During her childhood, she lived in Puerto Rico with her unmarried parents, who were always at war with each other, as her father was a somewhat irresponsible philanderer. It was her mother who centered the family and who always sought a better life for all of her children. When an irrevocable break occurred between her parents, her mother moved to New York during the nineteen sixties, eventually settling with her seven children in the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City.

The author details her life's journey from rural Puerto Rico to Brooklyn. The author was transplanted to Brooklyn at the age of thirteen, and her description of her life in Brooklyn is every bit as interesting as that of her life in Puerto Rico. Her oftentimes bewildering transition from her native, Spanish speaking Puerto Rico to an English speaking environment is engagingly chronicled. The author takes the reader on her journey through Brooklyn's public school system to the prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where she graduated and went on to attend Harvard University on a scholarship.

This coming of age memoir is so engagingly written that I was left with the desire of wanting to know more about the life of this remarkable woman. I was also very taken with her writing style. So, I went ahead and bought every book that this author has ever written and look forward to reading each and every one.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gift From Santiago, November 2, 2003
By 
Alan Cambeira "author of Azucar's Trilogy" (Dominican Republic, author of Tattered Paradise...Azucar's Trilogy Ends) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
A joyful and proud eulogy to the island of her youth. Santiago is a wonderfully talented voice that exudes passion. The title alone, When I WAS Puerto Rican, is at first intriguing. But we soon learn the profound sense of this past tense usage. I read Santiago's memories in Spanish, which, in my view presents her story in a distinctive poetic prose, rhythm and rhapsody (often characteristic in Spanish) that is absolutely captivating. However, what is most appealing about this autobiogaphy, interwoven delightfully with memorable and richly detailed anecdotes, is the moving revelation that Santiago shares with her readers who don't know what it means to be caught in the agonizing web of dual-identities/dual-allegiances that is largely the Puerto Rican Experience ... as well as other North American immigrant experiences. This writer has presented us with a lyrical gift of enormous joy. High on the list of Must-Read novels, especially those by the new cadre of Latina writers. If you haven't as yet seen the excellent movie version of the sequel to this novel, Almost A Woman, do so. Wanda de Jesus is brilliant in the lead role.
Alan Cambeira
Author of AZUCAR! The Story of Sugar (a novel)
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONLY IN AMERICA..., January 5, 2006
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This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
This is a rich and evocative memoir of the author's chaotic childhood. Growing up in rural Puerto Rico, while often living in primitive conditions, the author's lush and lyrical prose paints a vivid picture her early life. The flavor and rythms of her island home come alive under her expert hand, creating an unforgettable picture of her early childhood.

The author grew up in a poor family. During her childhood, she lived in Puerto Rico with her unmarried parents, who were always at war with each other, as her father was a somewhat irresponsible philanderer. It was her mother who centered the family and who always sought a better life for all of her children. When an irrevocable break occurred between her parents, her mother moved to New York during the nineteen sixties, eventually settling with her seven children in the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City.

The author details her life's journey from rural Puerto Rico to Brooklyn. The author was transplanted to Brooklyn at the age of thirteen, and her description of her life in Brooklyn is every bit as interesting as that of her life in Puerto Rico. Her oftentimes bewildering transition from her native, Spanish speaking Puerto Rico to an English speaking environment is engagingly chronicled. The author takes the reader on her journey through Brooklyn's public school system to the prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where she graduated and went on to attend Harvard University on a scholarship.

This coming of age memoir is so engagingly written that I was left with the desire of wanting to know more about the life of this remarkable woman. I was also very taken with her writing style. So, I went ahead and bought every book that this author has ever written and look forward to reading each and every one.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Santiago dazzles in devastating, illuminating ethnic memoir, April 21, 2004
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This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
One of the most difficult challenges facing a memoirist is the task of making her particular story resonate with universal truths. Esmeralda Santiago's "When I Was Puerto Rican" is a stunning success; it not only captures the dynamics of identity creation, does so in the context of ethnic, class and geographic tensions. Santiago's coming-of-age saga encompasses an incipient awareness of her unique status as an oldest daughter, conflicted thinker and anguished observer of family disintegration. That she writes without a drop of self-pity is remarkable given the abundance of sadness and betrayal which swirl in her story.
For much of her childhood in Puerto Rico and her early adolescence in New York City, Santiago lives a dual life. Possessed of a "stubborn pride," her "frightened self hid" behind a false veneer of acceptance that "everything was all right." At once proud and ashamed of her rural "jibaro" identity, Santiago grapples with exactly who and what she is. In this respect, "When I Was Puerto Rican" reverberates with the near-universal dynamic of identity creation, hidden shame at life's circumstances and constant questioning of how and why families created such tortured environments in which children evolve.
Plaguing Santiago is the ambiguous, tormented relationship between her mother and father. Exposed equally to the sounds of lovemaking and arguments, Santiago can neither be surprised that her parents never wed or the constant absence of her hard-working, poetic but irresponsible father. Eventually, the pressures of this quasi-marital status between Mami and Papi erupt, and Santiago saves her best writing for its description. As her mother and father savage each other in verbal warfare, "they growled words that made no sense." Their fighting echoes "all the hurts and insults, the dinners gone to waste, the women, the abandonments." As Santiago "crouched against the wall," she witnesses her parents "disfigure" themselves with anger. "In their passion Mami and Papi had forgotten" their children. They were real "only to one another." Santiago and her siblings cower in a corner, "afraid that if we left them, they might eat each other."
This authentic voice carries throughout the memoir as the author explores the various influences of her own existence. Nicknamed "Negi" by her parents due to her dark complexion, Santiago is acutely aware of her ethnicity and is perplexed upon her move to New York that people who look like her (African-Americans) have deep, unfounded suspicions about her and her people. As a Puerto Rican, she develops ambivalence about the United States and the American presence not only on her native island, but in her heart as well. How American will she become? At what cost? These are the same questions millions of immigrants have asked themselves as they immerse themselves in their new land. But how can she be "new" when Puerto Rico is and has been America for all of her life.
Though "When I Was Puerto Rican" treats Esmeralda Santiago's life during the 1950s and 1960s, it has a timeless feel to it. Moving, illuminating and compelling, this memoir does much more than describe one girl's emerging self; it invites us to explore our own past and examine the forces which have created our own identity.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When I was Puerto Rican, October 15, 2003
By 
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
When I Was Puerto Rican Random House Inc., 1998, 270 pp., $12.00
Esmeralda Santiago ISBN 0-679-75676-0
The powerful book When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago is a tribute to Santiago's homeland, Puerto Rico because it has to do a lot with the authors experiences growing up. The book tells the story of a young Puerto Rican girl named Negi. Negi is a typical girl who has to deal with a typical situation: moving. What's not so typical is that it's not to another town, it's to another country: the United States of America.
Moving from Puerto Rico to the United States is hard for Negi, but moving from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, New York is even harder. Since Brooklyn is so dangerous, Negi can only go to and from school and can't go out. This makes her angry at times because in Puerto Rico, she could go out all the time, which makes her argue with her mom a lot. Her mother is pretty strict and has a bad temper, but she loves her children more than anything. Negi's father has a good relationship with her because he is the kind of father that gives good advice and is wise. There isn't much to say about her annoying sisters Delsa and Norma except that they are typical sisters and bother her very much. Negi's sisters are a lot like my siblings, and that helped me relate somewhat to the book. She also has to deal with learning how to speak English like Americans do, which can get frustrating at times.
Have you ever been in a situation like that? If you have, then you know that it isn't always the best thing that can happen to you. Negi has some trouble with this change because it is such a big difference to the way that she was living before. She even asks her father at one point, "If we eat all that American food they give us, will we become Americanos?" She has some trouble understanding the American culture because things are done very differently than in Puerto Rico. She is trying to find herself in a whole new world.
Negi has to really mature in America, because things aren't all fun and games anymore. Life is serious, and she needs to be too. She not only has to mature, but she also has to become a woman, a much more difficult task. Not to mention she has to become an "American," whatever that means. It's basically a story about fitting in this new American life and dealing with issues that women have to deal with. In the end, Negi deals with having to accept the fact that things just have to happen a certain way sometimes.
This realistic fiction book is honestly and beautifully written, and because of that I recommend this book to mature, respectful readers. This book really caught my attention and left me feeling like I had to keep on reading to find out what was going to happen. I felt like I was the character in the story. I think it is a marvelous book that I easily related to and I think many others will as well. At first, it is challenging, but it just gets better and better, so if you are looking for a good challenge, and a memorable tale, this book just may be the one for you.
-Christina J. Rodríguez, Grade 8, Patrick Lyndon Pilot School, Boston, Massachusetts
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!Esmeralda holds NOTHING back!You wont put it down!, November 2, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
This book is like a sneak peak into the hearts and lives of Puerto Rican migrants. Esmeralda Santiago writes in a way that makes you feel what she feels. She puts you in her shoes and takes you through her journey from Puerto Rico to the United States, as well as from her childhood to adolesence. Many people migrate to the United States searching for a better life without poverty. Unfortunately, in many cases these people are greeted with low paying jobs and discrimination. The effects of migration are different for everybody. The increasing number of immigrants coming to this country makes it necessary to educate yourself about different cultures. This seems to be the only way to break down the walls of misconception between people of different backrounds. Read this book and LEARN about the migration experience of a poor, Puerto Rican family in search of a better future. Beautifully written! Colofully detailed! Shockingly honest!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between Tears and Laughter, December 31, 1999
By 
Liza Molina (Boston, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
As both a Puerto Rican female raised in NYC and a Harvard alumna, I purchased this book somewhat out of obligation. I finished it feeling as though my reading it was a calling from God. It captured and affirmed three generations of my family's experiences - my grandmothers (the tin house in Ponce), my mothers (performing arts HS) and my own (Harvard). What took Esmeralda one lifetime to accomplish, took us three generations. Between tears and laughter I thanked Esmeralda every page of the way for being so generous with her memories and her creative words.
I have read other customer reviews suggesting that authors like Rosario Ferre are better authors. Go for Ferre if you are into elitism. And by the way, Ferrer is actually CUBAN born in PR). If you want some writing that is home grown and as sincere as abuelas arroz con gandules - read Santiago.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeing into another culture, February 29, 2004
By 
"baydavis" (Acton, Me USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
When I was Puerto Rican is the story of a young girl's childhood in Puerto Rico. The story follows Esmeralda Santigo through her hardships and joys of growing up along with her mother and seven siblings. Esmeralda, nicknamed Negi, spent most of her childhood in Puerto Rico living in poverty. Her family did not have very much money and surviving was sometimes a struggle, especially when the family kept growing. The family's lack of money, (along with other reasons) cause them to move a lot, throughout Puerto Rico. All the moving caused problems with Negi; she often found herself lost in the world she's been living in her whole life. Not only does Negi's family not have much money, they also struggle to stick together. Negi's father, Papi, isn't home very much, upsetting Negi's mother immensely. She blames him for cheating and becomes very angry, resulting in Negi having a lot of unwanted responsibility around the house. This unwanted responsibility causes a strain on their mother-daughter relationship. Negi is constantly trying to find herself in a very confusing world, where her father is never around, her family is always moving and her relationship with her mother and siblings is inconsistent. Just when Negi turns 13 and the problems of her childhood seem to be settling down, her mother moves Negi and her siblings to New York City. This changes Negi's life completely; everything she once knew is left behind in Puerto Rico. She has to start all over again. Negi has to work very hard at school, to learn English and catch up with the other children her age. Through her hard work and determination she is able to accomplish a lot and make herself a bright future.
The book was nicely set up. The short, detailed chapters helped keep the book moving, and were able to often catch one's interest. The writing gave a great sense of the Puerto Rican culture. The book was very realistic to the culture; the food, the style of living, and the religious practices felt very real. Also, great detail was used when describing the type of land, and how it was used in the country. The story was very relatable; there were many problems that normal people face on a day basis. An example would be that because Negi is a preteen she and her mother don't agree on much. When Mami wants Negi to become more responsible and help out around the house Negi gets mad because she would much rather be outside playing. This is something most people can relate to one time or another in their life. Having these connecting experiences made the book easier to read.
There were a few weaknesses to the book. The way the author decided to demonstrate time was one of them. At the end on one chapter Mami had just given birth; the next chapter started with the family moving and shortly after Mami was once again having another child. In some chapters the time seemed very rushed compared to others, making the book hard to follow. Also there were times when the story slowed down dramatically and nothing much was happening for a while. This made it easy to lose interest. Because of these two weaknesses, the book felt choppy, which made it a little difficult to understand.
I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in the Puerto Rican culture, and likes reading a mellow book. Someone who didn't need a strong plot and can appreciate cultural differences would enjoy this book. If someone is not into either of those aspects of reading, I don't think this book would be a very good choice. It doesn't have enough to really pull a reader in for a long time. Overall, it was an educational book, that was nicely written, but it just didn't have enough to entice anyone for a long time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Classic in Puerto Rican Literature, September 28, 2002
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
This book belongs in every Puerto Riquenios library. If you where raised in Las montanias of Puerto Rico, or went to visit Abuela or los tios during Summer vacation from school, this book will hit a personal mark. I have given this book to so many of my friends for Christmas and for birthdays, and so many have related to the story in some form or the other.
Esmeralda Santiago is a genius, my mother is not a big reader of books, but I got her the spanish edition, and she was moved into tears, in parts such as the out house, and school lunch in la escuelita, she said that this is the way it was. As she read it she could not help but be transported back into time, to the days of her childhood.
I love this book so much, and have given it to a few of my white friends, it helps them understand us and to see where we come from. This book is a mirror into the soul of every boriqua. My cousin a 7th grade teacher in Puerto Rico uses this book with her students. It is a must read, and every Puerto Riquenio, no every Latino should read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When I Was Puerto Rican: Awesome Book!, April 30, 2003
By 
Jesus Salas (Florida State University - Tallahasse, Florida) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When I Was Puerto Rican (Paperback)
This book was great to read! I enjoyed it so much that I have read it twice. It transported me back to youth in Puerto Rico and reminded me of so many things I forgot about my country. It is a great book to read even if you are not Puerto Rican or of Hispanic-descent. There are some words in Spanish in the book. For those of you who do not dominate the language, don't worry. Santiago does a great job explaining these words in the context. I promise you will not get lost. People often think that it is not important to include these words in books, but they are. It is these words that give readers, like myself, a way to relate to the author in every way possible. This book will keep you hooked! Great book! I recommend it to anyone. My grandmother recommended it to me and I never found it interesting to read until I had to read it for my History class my freshman year. Don't wait for that! Just read it and I am sure you will like it as much as I did!
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When I Was Puerto Rican
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (Paperback - October 11, 1994)
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