Esmeralda Santiago's Memoirs3 books in series
When I Was Puerto Rican Publisher's Summary
“The jíbaro can never wash away the stain of the plantain,” declares Esmeralda “Negi” Santiago as she begins telling her story. In this poignant audiobook, the first volume of her memoirs, she explores what it means to be Puerto Rican in the United States.
Esmeralda Santiago reminisces about her childhood in Puerto Rico and her early years in Brooklyn as the oldest of seven (soon to be 11) children. Her upbringing is turbulent on account of her parents’ relentless fighting, which only ever seems to stop when they decide to have another baby. When her youngest brother has an accident, her mother decides to move to New York with her children to seek medical treatment. Arriving in the United States, 13-year-old Santiago experiences uprooting and a loss of identity while she tries to adapt to a culture and language that are foreign to her.
The author herself narrates the memoir, which provides an additional emotional element to the story. Hearing her talk about the taste, color and smell of guavas makes the listener almost feel the texture of the fruit on their lips. It’s inspiring to hear a female perspective of what it’s like to be an immigrant pursuing the American dream.
When I was Puerto Rican is not only the literary debut of an extraordinary author and an entertaining autobiography sprinkled with touches of humor, but it is also a cultural text. This listen’s themes are so relevant that many schools across the country include it in the curriculum. It has also been adapted for the stage on several occasions.