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When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir

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One of "The Best Memoirs of a Generation" (Oprah's Book Club): a young woman's journey from the mango groves and barrios of Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, and eventually on to Harvard In a childhood full of tropical beauty and domestic strife, poverty and tenderness, Esmeralda Santiago learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs, the taste of morcilla, and the One of "The Best Memoirs of a Generation" (Oprah's Book Club): a young woman's journey from the mango groves and barrios of Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, and eventually on to Harvard In a childhood full of tropical beauty and domestic strife, poverty and tenderness, Esmeralda Santiago learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs, the taste of morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby's soul to heaven. But when her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually a new identity. In the first of her three acclaimed memoirs, Esmeralda brilliantly recreates her tremendous journey from the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years, to translating for her mother at the welfare office, and to high honors at Harvard.


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One of "The Best Memoirs of a Generation" (Oprah's Book Club): a young woman's journey from the mango groves and barrios of Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, and eventually on to Harvard In a childhood full of tropical beauty and domestic strife, poverty and tenderness, Esmeralda Santiago learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs, the taste of morcilla, and the One of "The Best Memoirs of a Generation" (Oprah's Book Club): a young woman's journey from the mango groves and barrios of Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, and eventually on to Harvard In a childhood full of tropical beauty and domestic strife, poverty and tenderness, Esmeralda Santiago learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs, the taste of morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby's soul to heaven. But when her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually a new identity. In the first of her three acclaimed memoirs, Esmeralda brilliantly recreates her tremendous journey from the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years, to translating for her mother at the welfare office, and to high honors at Harvard.

30 review for When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Midway through women’s history month I gave on my original plans, and chose instead to read primarily memoirs written by remarkable women. Not all of these women may be as well known as others, but they all have the story of their lives to tell. My family immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century so I am often drawn to stories of immigrants from around the world. In her When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago contrasts her childhood in Puerto Rico and New York and the s Midway through women’s history month I gave on my original plans, and chose instead to read primarily memoirs written by remarkable women. Not all of these women may be as well known as others, but they all have the story of their lives to tell. My family immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century so I am often drawn to stories of immigrants from around the world. In her When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago contrasts her childhood in Puerto Rico and New York and the sacrifices her mother made to ensure that her children would have a better life than the one she lead. Born in 1948 in Macun, Puerto Rico, Esmeralda, called Negi, was the oldest of seven siblings. Living in primitive conditions, the family made the best of their situation. The village’s children formed an extended family and all of the barrio’s inhabitants helped each other out on a daily basis. No matter how large a family was, people were never at want for food as women learned to stretch a pot of beans and rice to provide for many people. The Santiagos and their neighbors raised livestock, planted vegetables and fruits, and everything was of an abundance. Esmeralda enjoyed foods native to the island as mangos, yucca, and plantain and enjoyed waking up to see a sparkling sky and warm climate each day. That her parents constantly fought or that there was always another baby in the house did not bother her. To Esmeralda, the barrio was all she knew and Puerto Rico was a wonderful place to call home. Unbeknownst to Esmeralda, however, was that her parents did constantly fought. Her mother often played the role of both parents, urging her children to do well in school so they could better themselves, cooking, cleaning and mending clothes, and working outside the home to provide for her family. As often occurs in machismo culture, Monin Santiago was a common law wife only as she lived under the same roof of her children’s father, yet they never married. Ramon may have loved his children, especially his oldest Esmeralda and boys Hector and Raymond, but he kept another wife and children that he not so secretly preferred to Monin and her brood. Monin always had her eye on Nueva York. Many family members had moved there including her parents and many siblings, aunts, and uncles. If only she could save enough money, she would move the entire family off of the island and into a better life. Empowering herself and leaving her husband once and for all, Monin did join her relatives in Nueva York. Yet, the Brooklyn of the 1960s is not always the wholesome environment of bygone eras. After the white flight of the 1950s, Brooklyn became home to newer immigrants and minority groups- blacks, Italians, waves of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Each group had their own gang and territory, much like that euphemistically depicted in Westside Story. Monin worked in a factory, the best job she could obtain without knowing English because during this era, Spanish speaking in New York was not as commonplace as it is today. Yet, Monin was determined to work hard and set an example for her children. Through cartoon programs, children’s books, and make believe stories, Esmeralda was the first in her family to learn English. She played the role of family translator and was exposed to a larger world, realizing that her family lived in poverty, and that English and education were her ticket to a better life. By learning English and excelling in school, Esmeralda was determined to get out of Brooklyn and live in an exotic location. At age fourteen, that was her ambition in life. Santiago ends this first memoir when she is accepted by a prestigious performing arts high school and is thrilled by the prospect of going into Manhattan each day to attend school. At the time of publication, she was the only one of eleven siblings to attend college, fulfilling her mother’s wishes that her children do not work in a factory or other low paying job. Santiago has been a television producer- in English- and written more memoirs of navigating her life’s journey. From rural Puerto Rico to the streets of Brooklyn, Esmeralda Santiago embodied the American dream. Learning English and creating a better life for herself than the one she left behind, Santiago is a true immigration success story. 3.5 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    For ME, most of this book was just OK, because most of it revolves around and is clearly written for young adults. I am not a huge fan of this genre. When I picked it up, I was not aware of it being a young adult book. The book is by no means a bad book. I judge it to be a good book for the right audience. It ends when the author has reached the age of fourteen, when she is accepted into a performing arts high school in Manhattan. Make no mistake, the book is not directed toward adolescents inte For ME, most of this book was just OK, because most of it revolves around and is clearly written for young adults. I am not a huge fan of this genre. When I picked it up, I was not aware of it being a young adult book. The book is by no means a bad book. I judge it to be a good book for the right audience. It ends when the author has reached the age of fourteen, when she is accepted into a performing arts high school in Manhattan. Make no mistake, the book is not directed toward adolescents interested in the performing arts. I will backtrack. Esmeralda, nicknamed Negi, was born in 1948 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to parents of a common law marriage, meaning the couple never formally registered their union as either a civil or religious marriage. Negi’s father was in fact married to another woman and had children by that woman. Negi is shocked when she discovers she has a half-sister a year or two older than herself! She is repeatedly upset and annoyed by all that her parents do NOT tell her, parental behavior quite typical of the 1950s and 1960s. Her father and mother have seven children together. Negi, being the oldest of the bunch, was often, even at a young age, put in charge of her siblings, with dire consequences at times. Readers follow Negi from the age of four to fourteen. When she is thirteen, he mother moves the siblings to Brooklyn. Esmeralda’s grandmother, grandfather and other relatives were already living there. Negi, is outspoken. She is no “sweet angel”, as few kids are. She could be naughty, and we are told of the mischief she gets up to. She has spunk. The book draws the life of a Puerto Rican child growing up in a rural community in the 1950s. Her parents lack education and money. The siblings must cope with an absentee father, whom the mother loves and does not have the strength or will to leave….until finally the day she decides she has had enough. Through the author’s life one learns of Puerto Rican foods, traditions, customs and religious beliefs. How Americans are viewed and little bits of history are thrown in. We are put in Negi’s and her mom’s shoes. Mother and daughter are close. A fairy tale life is not drawn—there is love and there are arguments and mistakes are made. What is drawn is real but presented from a child’s perspective. It is in how events are told that puts the book into the young adult genre. Over and over again I noted--that is written for a kid, that is written for a kid, that is written for a kid too. One example is how the Lord's Prayer is described. Adult wording, focus and perspectives are lacking. The topics focused upon are those taken from a child’s world-- sibling disputes, classmate rivalry and later budding pubescence, boys and sex. How things are explained, the language used and the topics discussed make this a young adult book. When Esmeralda is in Brooklyn, when Esmeralda has become older, the tone of the book changes. This is in the concluding chapters of the book. Relationships and problems are changed. A new lifestyle is encountered. The food the housing, the people, the neighbors, the gangs--all is different. Rudimentary language skills are a stumbling block, but Esmeralda copes with this better than the others in her family. Her mom has difficulty making herself understood and in getting a job. Esmeralda’s relationship with her mom changes. The table is turned. Esmeralda becomes the go-between in contact with the authorities. She is pushed into adulthood and she willingly grabs for it. Esmeralda has matured and life circumstances have changed her. With Esmeralda’s maturation the whole tone of the book changes. It is no longer written and directed toward kids. Suddenly it’s for adults. Suddenly the whole style changes. In my view, an author must decide for whom they are writing their book; they cannot successfully change in the middle, nor at the end, as is done here. I liked the end, but I had to sit through pages and pages written in a completely different style, a style more suited to kids. The author reads her own audiobook. Her English is never hard to understand. Having spoken Spanish from birth and in her family, I assume that the author’s Spanish pronunciation is good. I am no judge; I do not know Spanish. She captures well how kids speak to each other. The author’s narration I have given three stars. This is not a bad book, but not one for me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Joseph

    My coworker once called me a Jibaro because I have family who live in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Actually at this very moment, my parents who retired, now live there. I remember that beautiful island. Surviving a hurricane, eating mangos, guavas, arroz con gandules, tostones, getting slapped for being a wild child and just being a child growing up on the pearl of the carribean. I enjoyed this book very much, even though my opinion may be biased. Reading this made me greatful for the childhood of whi My coworker once called me a Jibaro because I have family who live in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Actually at this very moment, my parents who retired, now live there. I remember that beautiful island. Surviving a hurricane, eating mangos, guavas, arroz con gandules, tostones, getting slapped for being a wild child and just being a child growing up on the pearl of the carribean. I enjoyed this book very much, even though my opinion may be biased. Reading this made me greatful for the childhood of which I lived.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karina

    This was such a fun light read! Esmeralda Santiago has a way of writing where you feel like you are part of the scene and you are included in her crazy life in Puerto Rico. Her life was one of chaos and so much learning through culture and mostly to paying attention to her family. Her mother had 11 kids total, Negi being the oldest, but by the end of the book only mentions 7. Her father was loving but a womanizer and would leave Mami for days on end without helping her provide for the kids, alth This was such a fun light read! Esmeralda Santiago has a way of writing where you feel like you are part of the scene and you are included in her crazy life in Puerto Rico. Her life was one of chaos and so much learning through culture and mostly to paying attention to her family. Her mother had 11 kids total, Negi being the oldest, but by the end of the book only mentions 7. Her father was loving but a womanizer and would leave Mami for days on end without helping her provide for the kids, although they never went without shelter or food. When he was home he would woo Mami back and impregnate her again to fight and insult each other all over again. Santiago moved around many times in the course of her youth never staying in one school long enough to learn how to make friends, mostly when her Mami was fed up with Papi. They had a crazy insulting cycle that affected the kids until Mami went to New York and finally had the courage to leave him. The story is told through the eyes of Esmeralda, her coming of age in Macun, then having to leave everything she knew to relearn a new culture in New York. Santiago had my emotions all over the place but I mostly laughed to myself. It reminded me of myself growing up. Not from Puerto Rico but from that Latin feeling of always being in trouble for being the oldest and getting scared to get spanked from an overworked, stressed out Ama. Always respecting your elders because if I even embarrassed my Mami I knew I had crossed that line but everything was done out of love. I cried into Abuela's shoulder, the only place where I could express my loneliness, my fears. To have told Mami would have been wrong. She was overwhelmed by what she called "the sacrifices I have to endure for you kids," and my love, expressed in demands, added a greater burden. I was keenly aware that she wasn't my mother: I had to share her with Delsa, Norma, Hector, Alicia, Edna, and Raymond. But it seemed that somehow my share was smaller because I was the oldest, because I was casi senorita, because I ought to know better. (pages 180-81) I would definitely read another of her novels.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    I loved this book beyond reason, but I admit for very personal reasons. This certainly resonated with me in ways someone without a Puerto Rican background wouldn't share, although that doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate it. Just that my response to it was so personal I'm aware I didn't have an objective response to it at all. It was hard to see Esmeralda Santiago when I was constantly thinking of my own family and what we shared in our experiences and attitudes and background and what we didn I loved this book beyond reason, but I admit for very personal reasons. This certainly resonated with me in ways someone without a Puerto Rican background wouldn't share, although that doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate it. Just that my response to it was so personal I'm aware I didn't have an objective response to it at all. It was hard to see Esmeralda Santiago when I was constantly thinking of my own family and what we shared in our experiences and attitudes and background and what we didn't. I guess this is to me what A Tree Grows in Brooklyn might be for someone with an Irish background--not that I didn't love that book as a teen myself. But I've found few works about the Hispanic American experience that I could identify with and like. (I despised the celebrated House on Mango Street by Cisneros for instance.) In a lot of ways mind you Santiago and I are very different--you could say her experience is much closer to the experience of my mother than myself. It was my mother and her family that was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I'm a native New Yorker who has only spent a few brief vacations in Puerto Rico, the longest one entire summer when I was a child, even if it was an indelible experience. But when Santiago spoke of the morivivi plant and the coquis (tree frogs) and mango and coconut trees, it sure brought back memories of that magical summer. Nor did I grow up in Hispanic neighborhoods or close to our extended family--but in integrated neighborhoods and buildings. So there are times I think growing up I didn't have a full context for things that Santiago illuminated. For instance, I have called my aunt "Titi" for as long as I can remember. I thought it was my word for her. As it turns out it's what Santiago called her aunts as well. Mind you, I have to admit feeling a bit disappointed in that... And "jibaro"--it was funny how different our families saw the word. She translated it as "country person" and mostly took pride in it as an identity. In my family it was disparaging--the Puerto Rican equivalent of hillbilly or redneck and used as a comment on bad taste or a display of ignorance or "low class" behavior. And we never, ever used the word "gringo" in our household so when I first heard the word, I thought of it as something Mexicans said of Americans--not Puerto Ricans. I think that reflects another difference between us and our families. Santiago expressed at times an ambivalence, a resentment of how moving to the American mainland made her a "hybrid." My family never looked back. Not that they ever forgot where they came from or were ashamed of being Puerto Ricans--but above all we were proud of being Americans, and the opportunities that opened to us, and happy to adapt and assimilate. Well, mostly--goodness knows my aunt is not to be separated from her Puerto Rican foods or cooking. She wouldn't, like Santiago, express any ambivalence about grabbing a guava... (or avocado, mango, bacaloa, or ugh pig feet.) I'd add that even if my reaction to this felt so personal, I couldn't help but note this was "objectively" a good read. Santiago's a good, good writer. This is a memoir that read like a novel--one of those works of "creative non-fiction" I feel somewhat ambivalent about usually but was fine with here. I'd add that for all I compared this to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and is a coming of age story that follows Santiago from about ten to fourteen years old, I wouldn't call this a Young Adult work. It's frank in sexual content for one--not G-rated, I'd call this PG-13 at least--you'll even learn some Spanish curse words (if you didn't already know them)--so keep that in mind.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ivy Deluca

    This isn't a full review, because I read this when it published so many years ago, but I do remember finishing it with a new appreciation for all that my parents went through when they moved from Puerto Rico to New York. A great book that I highly recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    When I Was Puerto Rican is the memoir of Esmeralda Santiago, and her journey from a poor young girl living in rural Puerto Rico, to a successful writer based in New York City. Her story begins in a tin house in Macun. Esmeralda, affectionately called Negi-a shortened version of negra, the Spanish word for black, is the eldest of three children. She has two younger sisters, Delsa and Norma. Her father is a hardworking man, who spends hours of his day outside the home. Negi's mother also works tire When I Was Puerto Rican is the memoir of Esmeralda Santiago, and her journey from a poor young girl living in rural Puerto Rico, to a successful writer based in New York City. Her story begins in a tin house in Macun. Esmeralda, affectionately called Negi-a shortened version of negra, the Spanish word for black, is the eldest of three children. She has two younger sisters, Delsa and Norma. Her father is a hardworking man, who spends hours of his day outside the home. Negi's mother also works tirelessly, in and outside the home, and is often found running after the younger girls. Negi at times finds it hard to enjoy life, because of her parents constant bickering. During one of their arguments, Negi overhears her parents discussing a woman named Provi and her daughter Margie. When she asks her father about them, she learns that Margie is her older sister. Negi is excited by the news, but when she continues to ask her mother, she orders her never to discuss neither Provi nor Margie again. The family moves to Santruce,a suburb of San Juan, because of the father's unsteady job. Shortly after the move, her mother becomes pregnant. Negi, being the eldest of the bunch, is called upon to take responsibility for the younger ones. They later move back to Macun. During this time, Negi stays with her grandmother. She learns to crochet, and attends her first church service. When she returns home, an enormous hurricane sweeps through Macun. The family's home loses electricity, and there are some major structural damages. Because of this, Negi's mother is forced to get a job to pay for the damages, which leaves Negi to watch after the children. However, the children are not well-behaved, and as a result, Negi's youngest brother, Raymond, gets his foot caught in a bicycle chain. Negi's mother travels to New York to see a specialist about Raymond's foot. She finds New York to be a place full of opportunities. Negi, her mother, and her two youngest siblings travel to New York, while the rest of the family stay in Puerto Rico until there is enough money to fly them to New York. The first winter in New York, Negi's mother falls in love with a man named Francisco. They decide to move in with him. Soon after, Francisco learns he has cancer, and at the same time, Negi's mother finds out that she is once again pregnant. Francisco, after fighting the cancer for many months, dies in the hospital. Years later, after Negi's family have all come over from Puerto Rico, she decides that she would like to be on television. She attends the Performing Arts School, and then Harvard, where she graduates with highest honors. Esmeralda Santiago is a remarkable woman, who has written and published many memoirs on her life in Puerto Rico. I truly enjoyed her story of determination, struggle, and triumph.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alysia

    There is really only one way to describe this book. Vivid. When I was Puerto Rican was such a vivid, engaging memoir. It was one of those books where the writing was so good that the story being told became 1000% more interesting. Not to say that the story wasn’t interesting, it was just an oversaturated topic. A memoir about moving to America after living your entire adolescence in another country wasn’t new. When I read the book jacket I wasn’t that interested. I was debating putting it down an There is really only one way to describe this book. Vivid. When I was Puerto Rican was such a vivid, engaging memoir. It was one of those books where the writing was so good that the story being told became 1000% more interesting. Not to say that the story wasn’t interesting, it was just an oversaturated topic. A memoir about moving to America after living your entire adolescence in another country wasn’t new. When I read the book jacket I wasn’t that interested. I was debating putting it down and moving along when I decided to read the first page and then I couldn’t put it down. Everything in the book, I had read before in a different memoir or a fiction book about an inspiring immigrant child but it felt like I was reading it for this the first time in that book. It was writing that felt like watching a movie. The writing was the perfect blend of description and emotion. I think the one emotion I felt during my entire read of the book was longing. Esmeralda was constantly longing for something. From the start of the book, with her longer for sweet fruit native to her home country. She longed for her father, to grow up, to be alone, to be with her family, to go back to Puerto Rico, to get out of Brooklyn. It was always something, and honestly self-centered but it never grated it on me. Her longings were often just growing pains, made worse by responsibilities that she shouldn’t have had to bare. I resented Esmeralda’s parents greatly. Esmeralda wrote about them with love and wonder but, to me, they didn’t make any sense. Don’t they say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result? (This probably isn’t what they say) If so, Esmeralda’s parents were insane for many, many years. They were unfortunately vintage in the fact that they thought that having more children could fix the non-marriage they had. It didn’t work. It made everyone more miserable. I don’t know if the feeling of longing ever went away, even at the end of the book. I don’t know what Esmeralda was longing for, but somehow I felt like I was longing for it too. I would definitely recommend this book. There was really nothing I didn’t like about it. It was obviously an option for One Book, One New York for a reason.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    I really wanted to read this novel because I felt that it could teach me more about what it means to be a Puerto Rican. I read this novel from the perspective of a second generation Puerto Rican, who has never been to Puerto Rico as an adult. The perspective I read this novel from greatly impacted what I got out of this novel. What struck me more than anything about this novel was how much I could relate to Esmeralda Santiago. She, like myself, had a father who eventually faded out of her life. I really wanted to read this novel because I felt that it could teach me more about what it means to be a Puerto Rican. I read this novel from the perspective of a second generation Puerto Rican, who has never been to Puerto Rico as an adult. The perspective I read this novel from greatly impacted what I got out of this novel. What struck me more than anything about this novel was how much I could relate to Esmeralda Santiago. She, like myself, had a father who eventually faded out of her life. Despite the absence of her father Santiago does her best to work hard in school. Her motivation does not come from her racial background, but her racial background does affect how she sees the world and how the world sees her. Santiago writes, "I knew they were different or rather, I was different. Already I'd been singled out in school for my wildness, my loud voice" (39). She is referring to her exposure to the Catholic schools in Puerto Rico, but I think that the statement is relevant when discussing her exposure to America. Puerto Ricans have a reputation for being lively and energetic. Some people view this as a positive and others view it as a negative. Santiago does a superb job of telling her story without getting caught up in labeling her characteristics as good Puerto Rican traits or bad Puerto Rican traits. She is content with knowing that her heritage is Puerto Rican. I walked away from this novel contributing Santiago's success to her reverence for her heritage and her ability to contribute to what she believed it means to be a female Puerto Rican. Amazingly, her contribution was her being herself, despite what society told her she had to be.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Yvette

    This story was wonderful. I love how Esmeralda makes us see life through the eyes of that little girl she once was. Her words are so beautifully descriptive – they took me to the many places she lived and to the era. I also like how honest she was about her parents. She was able to show their tender and loving side as well as their human side, people who made mistakes, even with their children. Many times we forget that our parents are someone other than our mom and our dad. I am in awe that thi This story was wonderful. I love how Esmeralda makes us see life through the eyes of that little girl she once was. Her words are so beautifully descriptive – they took me to the many places she lived and to the era. I also like how honest she was about her parents. She was able to show their tender and loving side as well as their human side, people who made mistakes, even with their children. Many times we forget that our parents are someone other than our mom and our dad. I am in awe that this little girl who moved around so much was able to persevere despite the many obstacles that presented themselves – HARVARD GRADUATE, WOW! Esmeralda has added to the pride I feel of that beautiful island that my dad and his family come from. I am grateful to be part of such a rich culture that's filled with delicious foods, exotic fruits, romantic music and dances, and an array of diverse people. !Que viva Puerto Rico, la isla del encanto!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Myrna

    Found the characters to be interesting. The mother a strong person that seemed to run the family. Initially, I could not figure out why the father would leave for days at a time; and then found that they were not married. She was having way too many children which left the oldest to oversee them. The father seemed very nice and took time to talk and teach Esmeralda. Moving all the time was unsettling but she was able to deal with it and all the new schools. Mother was determined to see that the chil Found the characters to be interesting. The mother a strong person that seemed to run the family. Initially, I could not figure out why the father would leave for days at a time; and then found that they were not married. She was having way too many children which left the oldest to oversee them. The father seemed very nice and took time to talk and teach Esmeralda. Moving all the time was unsettling but she was able to deal with it and all the new schools. Mother was determined to see that the child with the injured foot was going to get better and finally moving part of the family to New York. Altho living conditions were not an improvement. The book left the reader up in the air about how their lives progressed. Need to read the next book!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    I absolutely loved this memoir! It was beautifully written, from the perspective of the little girl Esmerelda was, growing up in Puerto Rico.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan Morrissey

    Esmeralda went from growing up in the slums to one day going to Harvard. She kept her eyes on the prize. This book sucked me in on the first page. A page turner for sure.

  14. 4 out of 5

    oshizu

    2.5 stars and I almost DNF'ed.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Negi (as the author was called as a child) was born in Puerto Rico in 1948, and most of the book recalls her childhood on the island. She was the oldest of seven children born to her parents, who had a contentious relationship that often meant the children were uprooted. I truly empathized with Negi's childhood experiences: going to a new school, being separated from family, and the big transition that comes when she's 13: moving to Brooklyn with her mother and siblings. She paints a vivid portr Negi (as the author was called as a child) was born in Puerto Rico in 1948, and most of the book recalls her childhood on the island. She was the oldest of seven children born to her parents, who had a contentious relationship that often meant the children were uprooted. I truly empathized with Negi's childhood experiences: going to a new school, being separated from family, and the big transition that comes when she's 13: moving to Brooklyn with her mother and siblings. She paints a vivid portrait of life in Puerto Rico in the 1950s and the efforts and roadblocks to assimilation once she arrived in New York.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cynda

    The local library has the sequel to this book in English and in Spanish. I read the sequel in English. But this, the original, they have only in Spanish. So I bought and read this book later. Esmeralda tells her story respectfully and yet with enough honesty to hold my attention. Emeralda used to entertain her family with stories from at least the time she was a very young woman. Her uncle even paid her a dime once to tell another story :-) In my reading thread: What does in mean to be hispanic?, The local library has the sequel to this book in English and in Spanish. I read the sequel in English. But this, the original, they have only in Spanish. So I bought and read this book later. Esmeralda tells her story respectfully and yet with enough honesty to hold my attention. Emeralda used to entertain her family with stories from at least the time she was a very young woman. Her uncle even paid her a dime once to tell another story :-) In my reading thread: What does in mean to be hispanic?, I will be discussing this book in more depth.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Farha Hasan

    I love immigrant stories and this was very inspirational. Most of the book focuses on the author's early years in Puerto Rico. It would have been nice to have some back story on her parents and their relationship, but she may not have had that information. The book ends when she gets accepted into the School of Arts in Manhattan which is when I think her life would have just started getting interesting. We know later on she gets a scholarship to Harvard.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alena

    3.5 stars. This is an interesting memoir, but it does feel old school. Most memoirs I read are much more in-your-face, even graphic. This tale of poverty and immigration is more subtle and slow moving. I loved the descriptions of Puerto Rico and her confusion about her parents' love-hate relationship. Glad I read it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mellisa

    First book I've read that accurately captures what it's like to move from the Caribbean to the East Coast. I nearly jumped out of my chair shouting 'Say is sister, that's exactly what it was like!' while reading her description of driving from the airport to her new home in the States.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    My sister insisted that I read this book pretty much nagging me, so I picked it up and couldn't put it down, I absolutely loved the story, I would have like to learn more about Negi's parents and how their relationship started. This story is raw and I felt a lot of emotions reading it. I could relate to how strict her mother was in raising all those kids as both my grandmother and mother were the same way. Her mother was a very strong women who loved her children fiercely, she did what ever she h My sister insisted that I read this book pretty much nagging me, so I picked it up and couldn't put it down, I absolutely loved the story, I would have like to learn more about Negi's parents and how their relationship started. This story is raw and I felt a lot of emotions reading it. I could relate to how strict her mother was in raising all those kids as both my grandmother and mother were the same way. Her mother was a very strong women who loved her children fiercely, she did what ever she had to do to provide for them and even seek out medical help outside of Puerto Rico in an effort to save her son from having his foot amputated. Which was very common in Puerto Rico, doctors often assumed it was best to remove a limb if they couldn't find a cure. Her mother did put a lot of responsibility on Negi it was almost unfair that her other siblings didn't seem to have half the responsibilities as she did. She was relied upon heavily to do a lot for such a young girl always having to take care of her siblings, the fact that she blames herself for her brother's accident was surprising because she was a child herself and there wasn't much she could have done to prevent that from happening. Her father turned out to be a disappointment to her and her siblings by getting married as soon as her mom moved to NY. I can't wait to read her next book to continue where When I was Puerto Rican left off. I'm very intrigued by her story and want to know more about her and her family.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diana.veras

    This has been one of the best books I have ever read. It has to do with a thirteen year old named Esmeralda she has to move to New York after her little brother gets in a bicycle accident and finds out that her father was cheating on her mother. Her brother was riding a bicycle down the street in Puerto Rico when he was 3-4 yrs old his little foot got stuck on the chain and his foot opened up. He had an infection from the grease of the chain and he and his mother had to go to New York to check This has been one of the best books I have ever read. It has to do with a thirteen year old named Esmeralda she has to move to New York after her little brother gets in a bicycle accident and finds out that her father was cheating on her mother. Her brother was riding a bicycle down the street in Puerto Rico when he was 3-4 yrs old his little foot got stuck on the chain and his foot opened up. He had an infection from the grease of the chain and he and his mother had to go to New York to check it out with a more professional doctor. When they got there they had to move to New York because they couldn't afford to keep going so they bought flights of 4 of the kids (there were 8) and Esmeralda was one of the kids that went to New York. My favorite part of the book is when Esmeralda plays in the wood when her father is building the house in Puerto Rico and she gets termites all over her. She had to get in the tub and get a bath while her mother scratched the termites off her.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Varela

    This book concentrates on the life of a young Puerto Rican girl, Esmeralda. Her family, especially her mother, struggles a lot with money and family problems especially after it’s confirmed that Esmeralda’s father is cheating on her mother. By the end of the book, Esmeralda has 11 siblings and her mom is single. They move countless times and Esmeralda is forced to grow up and mature sooner than expected. There are several explicit events in this book that really shocked me because no one as youn This book concentrates on the life of a young Puerto Rican girl, Esmeralda. Her family, especially her mother, struggles a lot with money and family problems especially after it’s confirmed that Esmeralda’s father is cheating on her mother. By the end of the book, Esmeralda has 11 siblings and her mom is single. They move countless times and Esmeralda is forced to grow up and mature sooner than expected. There are several explicit events in this book that really shocked me because no one as young as 12 should’ve experienced the cruel and devastating things that Esmeralda went through. This book would be good to introduce to a classroom of high schoolers who are learning about different cultures. I personally didn’t like the ending of this book because it left me with so many questions. One moment the book is at a certain point and two pages later the whole plot is completely different and the book is over.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    Ms. Santiago does a splendid job showing her readers the turmoil in her life. This honest memoir tells the struggle "Negi" and her sibling have while her parents love and fight constantly. She portrays the serene beauty of the Puerto Rican landscape and describes the delicious food available on the island. Negi must develop responsibility for her siblings long before she is ready as her mother struggles to provide a safe environment for her children and her transient father moves in and out of t Ms. Santiago does a splendid job showing her readers the turmoil in her life. This honest memoir tells the struggle "Negi" and her sibling have while her parents love and fight constantly. She portrays the serene beauty of the Puerto Rican landscape and describes the delicious food available on the island. Negi must develop responsibility for her siblings long before she is ready as her mother struggles to provide a safe environment for her children and her transient father moves in and out of their lives. Exasperated, Negi's mother finally decides to move her children to New York. Here Negi continues her struggle and determination to find her identity as she learns English and navigates American culture. I know there are two other books, Almost a Woman and The Turkish Lover Ms. Santiago has written about her life. I am anxious to find out more about her quest to explore her potential.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle

    Like many mainstream Americans, I knew little about Puerto Rican life before reading Santiago's memoir. She doesn't minimize the pain of growing up in a poor, rural family where her parents had different views of marriage but she is the opposite of a whiner. Still by the end of the book her mother's decision to return to the island from New York did not surprise me because Santiago had also described the pleasures of growing up in the countryside, including the network of neighbors who kept their Like many mainstream Americans, I knew little about Puerto Rican life before reading Santiago's memoir. She doesn't minimize the pain of growing up in a poor, rural family where her parents had different views of marriage but she is the opposite of a whiner. Still by the end of the book her mother's decision to return to the island from New York did not surprise me because Santiago had also described the pleasures of growing up in the countryside, including the network of neighbors who kept their doors open for visitors. After the family (sans father) moves to New York, what an adjustment to long hallways with locked doors. For me, though, the strength of this well-written book lies in its going behind the stereotypes to show real people. And the child Esmeralda, through whose eyes we look, is delightful.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Risheilly

    This book was a very interesting book to read. It's a true story about the life of Esmeralda Santiago who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She was a liitle girl who went through a hard time growing up. Her family was really poor and she had a lot of siblings. She sometimes had to cook for her family and even takae care of her siblings. Her father cheated on her mother and soon Esmeralda found out that she had a sister from her dad's side who was close to the same age as her and livesd with he This book was a very interesting book to read. It's a true story about the life of Esmeralda Santiago who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She was a liitle girl who went through a hard time growing up. Her family was really poor and she had a lot of siblings. She sometimes had to cook for her family and even takae care of her siblings. Her father cheated on her mother and soon Esmeralda found out that she had a sister from her dad's side who was close to the same age as her and livesd with her mother in New York City. Esmeralda sometimes felt that her parents sometimes didn't care about her and she felt that every time a new sibling was born the further away she was getting from being loved by her parents. Her life goes on and she becomes a writer.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Fernandez

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. When I Was Puerto Rican is a story about the Puerto Rican culture and how it influenced the life of a girl named Esmeralda, even after she left Puerto Rico. When her little brother Raymond is injured and needs medical attention in New York, Esmeralda is forced to move there and adapt to it's environment. In New York, she was viewed as less than everyone else and this bothered her, so she strived for more, and the outcome was amazing. I personally enjoyed this book because my mother's family is P When I Was Puerto Rican is a story about the Puerto Rican culture and how it influenced the life of a girl named Esmeralda, even after she left Puerto Rico. When her little brother Raymond is injured and needs medical attention in New York, Esmeralda is forced to move there and adapt to it's environment. In New York, she was viewed as less than everyone else and this bothered her, so she strived for more, and the outcome was amazing. I personally enjoyed this book because my mother's family is Puerto Rican and I have heard stories about Puerto Rico and what it is like, so this book reminded me of that. The way that Esmeralda described Puerto Rico and her memories there was very similar to how my family described Puerto Rico and their memories.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yari

    I found this gem in a stack of discarded books. The title intrigued me, When I was.. why past tense? And the photo in the front with the full eyebrows- my brows as a teenager. Each chapter opens up with a spanish saying, most of which I recognize from my mami. Even though I was born and raised in New York, Esmeralda's memoir was still so familiar - the food, the large family, the superstitions, the having to serve as your mom's interpreter, the fights between your parents... Thank you Esmeralda I found this gem in a stack of discarded books. The title intrigued me, When I was.. why past tense? And the photo in the front with the full eyebrows- my brows as a teenager. Each chapter opens up with a spanish saying, most of which I recognize from my mami. Even though I was born and raised in New York, Esmeralda's memoir was still so familiar - the food, the large family, the superstitions, the having to serve as your mom's interpreter, the fights between your parents... Thank you Esmeralda for your courage and your honesty. I felt at home in your pages and lost in your beautifully crafted words.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I enjoyed reading Santiago's memoir about growing up in Puerto Rico. The book was full of anecdotes that paint a picture of what it's like to come of age in both rural and urban Puerto Rico. Towards the end of the book Santiago's family moves to New York - I would have liked to have read more about her story as an immigrant. Although some difficult things happened to her, the overall tone of the book was light and optimistic, perhaps because it was told from the point of the view of a child and, I enjoyed reading Santiago's memoir about growing up in Puerto Rico. The book was full of anecdotes that paint a picture of what it's like to come of age in both rural and urban Puerto Rico. Towards the end of the book Santiago's family moves to New York - I would have liked to have read more about her story as an immigrant. Although some difficult things happened to her, the overall tone of the book was light and optimistic, perhaps because it was told from the point of the view of a child and, more importantly, since it was a memoir things did really work out well in the end.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Osvaldo

    I have nothing good to say about this book and can only think about how much I ended up detesting it. Written with blancitos in mind it portrays the typical and uncomplicated uplift narrative of immigration to the United States and the prose moves along with clunky use and immediate translation of Spanish words and Puerto Rican cultural aspects rather than letting them stand on their own and letting the reader make sense of it (or not). Even the title sticks in my craw. . . when you were Puerto Ri I have nothing good to say about this book and can only think about how much I ended up detesting it. Written with blancitos in mind it portrays the typical and uncomplicated uplift narrative of immigration to the United States and the prose moves along with clunky use and immediate translation of Spanish words and Puerto Rican cultural aspects rather than letting them stand on their own and letting the reader make sense of it (or not). Even the title sticks in my craw. . . when you were Puerto Rican? What are you now? ¡Basta con esta vaina!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    When I Was Puerto Rican is a memoir of Esmeralda Santiago's life from the time she was about four years old, in Puerto Rico, to when she was about fourteen, after she had been in New York for about an year and a half, give or take. While not the best book I've ever read, WIWPR is a great coming of age story. I think I might have liked it more if my teacher had us reading it faster than we were. As it is, I liked the book but it's not a favorite. However, I think that it's definitely worth at lea When I Was Puerto Rican is a memoir of Esmeralda Santiago's life from the time she was about four years old, in Puerto Rico, to when she was about fourteen, after she had been in New York for about an year and a half, give or take. While not the best book I've ever read, WIWPR is a great coming of age story. I think I might have liked it more if my teacher had us reading it faster than we were. As it is, I liked the book but it's not a favorite. However, I think that it's definitely worth at least three stars.

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