I’d been wanting to read When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago for a long time. I’m so glad I finally got around to it!
This was such a fun, short read. Especially good for young teens who need a biography project. Young Esmeralda aka Negi, grows up in very poor, rural Puerto Rico. She’s so poor they rarely have running water or full-time electricity. But none of that really bothers her. She lives with her parents and siblings and has a full, busy, eventful, and often funny life. It’s so great that the author can laugh at her own upbringing and at how poor her English was. If you’ve ever lived near Spanish speakers (I lived in Texas for 10 years) you may be familiar with Spanglish. Well, Negi’s English wasn’t even Spanglish. The few times she spoke English in Puerto Rico, she spoke it phonetically, as did her teachers, which I’m assuming is how we sound when we try to speak Spanish! It’s good for a laugh and also very eye-opening.
Life in Puerto Rico was not easy. But not for the want of things. This was in the early 60s when much of Puerto Rico was still rural and many of the ways of life of its inhabitants were hindered by well-meaning Americans, like the new health system or the food that they tried to get the families to feed their children. Why would Puerto Rican mothers feed their children canned milk and cereal when the children were used to eating fresh fruit and other local traditional foods? Negi touches on the subject that perhaps these notions were politically motivated.
Great selection to add to your Diversity Reading Challenge!