13 March 2013
Life of Esmeralda Santiago
When I was Puerto Rican is a memoir of Esmeralda Santiago’s (referred to as Negi in the book) childhood and how she overcame her struggles after moving from her home country of Puerto Rico to The United States. She lived a poor life in Santurce, Puerto Rico for 13 years before her mother decided to move Negi and her seven siblings to Brooklyn, New York in 1961, in hopes of a better life. When the family arrived in Brooklyn they did not know English making life hard for them. Santiago’s mother managed to find a job but it was not anything permanent and she was unable to gain economic stability which forced her to seek welfare from time to time when work was not available for her. As she enters school we see the clash of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Negi, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually takes on a new identity. She attended New York City’s Performing Arts High School, where she majored in drama and dance. After eight years of part time study at community colleges, she transferred to Harvard University on a scholarship. This book highlights Esmeralda’s struggles of being a Puerto Rican native in New York and what it’s like for a Puerto Rican to return to her home country after many years and no longer being accepted because she acts to American.
“Guavas. The taste brings you back to the time and place when you first had it. You can sense the surroundings, the scent of the air, trees, people passing by, laughing, taking and tasting with you the rich flavor of guava” (Santiago 1) In the book, Esmeralda often compares her life to eating guavas. Her comparison of the two was not one of preference, but rather the experience of being one fruit wrapped into worlds. What she enjoyed she could no longer accept. The time was the 1950’s, where the second great Puerto Rican migration took place. This migration greatly increased the population of Puerto Rican communities and helped promote the concept of a cultural citizenship and equality. Many Puerto Ricans settled in other states besides New York, such as New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Illinois. These people did not want to leave their home of Puerto Rico but the country’s condition was not safe so many moved to The United States in hopes of a safer, happy life. When Esmeralda and her family moved to Brooklyn, New York, things were hard because they did not speak English. Her family suffered poverty and discrimination from Americans. In New York her darkness, accented speech, frequent lapses into the confused silence between English and Spanish identified her as foreign, non-American. Her culture was different from Americans so it was easy for people to know she was not American. Life in New York was a struggle for Esmeralda because for thirteen years of her life she grew up in Puerto Rico and it was all she knew, moving to a foreign country, having to adapt to their customs, and learn their language was rough. After two years of living in New York she could finally speak English and life got better. This allowed to her to attend a Performing Arts High School. She then attended community colleges for eight years and received a scholarship to Harvard University. Life was going well for Esmeralda and she prospered. After seven years of living in a foreign country, Esmeralda decided to visit her home country of Puerto Rico. Looking out of the airplane window as she landed it was not the same (Santiago 218). Things in Puerto Rico were much different from what they were when she left. Being in America for seven years she adapted their culture and lost some of her own. People of Puerto Rico no longer considered her Puerto Rican; she was told she was no longer Puerto Rican because her Spanish was rusty, her gaze too direct, and her personality too assertive for a Puerto...
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