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When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) Paperback – February 28, 2006
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From Publishers 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, $11 *-75677-9
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrio to Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to receiving high honors at Harvard. Santiago's story is one of the American dream both realized and deferred."
"[Santiago] portrays impoverished people as people, not statistics, and we see her pride in her heritage, as well as the inevitable culture clashes. She eventually graduated with honors from Harvard University, wrote her best-selling memoir (the first in a trilogy) and became a critically acclaimed novelist-a stylist with the grace to inspire others."―Oprah's Book Club, "The Best Memoirs of a Generation"
"Will speak to anyone whose parents loved and hated each other, to anyone who recalls a child's bittersweet loss of innocence, and to anyone who simply enjoys good writing."―Miami Herald
"Stylistically fluid and finely detailed."―Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A powerful tribute to the island of her childhood."―Washington Post Book World
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I feel like I know Esmeralda, and of course like everyone who has read your books WE LOVE YOU!
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.