There are books that launch you into worlds unimaginable. Others hold up a mirror that reflects back a person who is slightly recognizable. I did not expect both to be true for one book. But in Esmeralda Santiago’s 1993 memoir “When I Was Puerto Rican,” in which she traces her childhood in Puerto Rico and her family’s migration to Brooklyn, New York, from the late forties through the fifties, Santiago managed to evoke familiarity while also illuminating a place and a family dynamic I thought I already understood.
I discovered Santiago’s memoir as a senior at Binghamton University in upstate New York. Most of my friends had already graduated, and I felt completely isolated and lost, unsure of where I would land next or what to do with a bachelor’s degree in history. Battling homesickness and self-doubt, I searched for an anchor. At a thrift store in downtown Binghamton, I found it in a barely used copy of “When I Was Puerto Rican.” My last semester, I read the book countless times.
The island of Puerto Rico, where my parents came from, is displayed with beauty and poignancy by Santiago. As seen through the eyes of a young girl, a walk to school is cinematic (“guayaberas in front of a dry good stores swayed in the breeze like ghosts in daylight”) or dangerous (“the foul air was thick and oppressive, clinging to us as if anything new, clean and fresh had to be contaminated”). My mind was flooded with memories of visiting Puerto Rico as a kid, but the island Santiago described was not the one I knew. To me, Puerto Rico was an idyllic place filled with beaches, coconut candies and adventure. Santiago gave my imagined Puerto Rico depth, dimension and historical grounding.
But what makes “When I Was Puerto Rican” feel so intimate is Santiago’s depiction of her mother, Ramona Santiago, whom she calls Mami.
Santiago’s Mami is larger than life, a parent to 11 children who must contend with a roving partner who leaves her fighting to keep her family afloat. Mami is self-sufficient in an era when it was rare for women to display such independence, and Santiago is able to depict the duality of a strong woman who must contend with quiet despair: “She seemed so far away, yet I sensed the heat from her body, smelled the rosemary oil she rubbed on her hair. I didn’t want to leave her but was afraid to come closer, so I leaned against a mango tree and stared at my toes against morivivi weed.” Santiago deftly illustrates a young girl’s inability to fully understand her mother’s hurt.
There are so many scenes with Mami that stand out, like when she insists her kids strip and run out in the rain for good luck, or when a simple lesson on ironing clothes becomes a loving moment between mother and daughter. After Santiago’s family moves to the United States, her relationship with Mami shifts, as Santiago explores her newfound freedom, and her mother leans on her to help navigate the new city. In one scene, for instance, Santiago must translate for her mother at the welfare office after she is laid off from work. Barely fluent in English herself, Santiago describes being afraid to use the wrong word and causing the social workers to say no, which she knew could lead to eviction. Still, Mami retains her fierce spirit: “‘We’re not going there looking like beggars,’ she said, and while we waited she kept reminding me to sit up, to stay alert, to look as neat and dignified as the women on the other side of the partition,” wrote Santiago.
These moments in the book validated my similar childhood experiences. I too have been in the position of translating for my mother and being her guide through unwelcoming spaces. Santiago reminded me how these responsibilities weighed on me and gave me words for feelings I did not understand. I was also able to see a tiny bit of what my mother’s childhood might have been like on the island and to develop a deeper appreciation for what it took for her to survive in New York. Like Santiago’s Mami, my mother worked in factories and tried to mold this harsh, unfamiliar city into a place of possibility for her children. “When I Was Puerto Rican” became a window into understanding fearless women and the decisions they make. I mine the relationship between mothers and their daughters in my own fiction, and aim to bring my characters to life as Santiago did with Mami.
After finishing her first memoir, I was not ready to let go of Santiago’s prose. I read “Almost a Woman,” her second memoir, which digs deeper into her teenage years in New York City. Santiago’s teenagehood is defined by her struggle to break free from her mother’s protective rules. She continues — and concludes — her documentation of her life with the 2004 memoir “The Turkish Lover,” which covers her adulthood and a passionate affair with a man she calls “the Turk,” and later delves into fiction with novels like “America’s Dream” and “Conquistadora.”
It’s been 26 years since “When I Was Puerto Rican” was published but the memoir is more vital than ever. After two hurricanes devastated the island in 2017, the people of Puerto Rico are dealing with crushing poverty and an administration that disputes the island’s need for more aid. But Santiago demonstrates the resilience of Puerto Rican people, even in the face of unforeseeable obstacles.
In one scene, Santiago’s family steps out right when the eye of a hurricane passes them to see a rainbow in the sky: “The women pointed and held up the smaller children to see, while those of us big enough to stand by ourselves crowded the door in awe of that magic spectacle: the figures of our fathers and brothers moving cautiously in a world with no edges, no end, and that bright slice of sun traveling across it, not once touching them.”
It is this sort of beautiful prose, both heartbreaking and joyful, and the unforgettable character of Mami that solidifies Santiago’s place alongside other great authors adept in capturing setting and creating characters who transcend their books’ pages: Horatio Alger, Jamaica Kincaid and Frank McCourt, for instance. “When I Was Puerto Rican” appeared in my life when I craved a connection to my family and their history, and it delivers a powerful American story.
‘A PUERTO RICAN STEW’
In this essay, published in The New York Times in 1994, Santiago explores her complicated relationship to her cultural identity through the seemingly mundane act of cooking with her mother. It foreshadows the style of her future memoirs.
‘ALMOST A WOMAN’
Santiago picks up where she left off in “When I was a Puerto Rican” with another memoir, this time following a teenage Santiago’s rebellions against her mother’s rigid rules.
It is in this sprawling historical novel, set in Puerto Rico in the 19th century, that Santiago truly shines. Santiago uses historically rich details to draw a portrait of a protagonist, Ana Cubillas, who is strong-willed and unforgettable.B:
【看】【得】【出】【来】【姜】【抑】【心】【情】【挺】【不】【好】【的】，【一】【直】【到】【骑】【车】【子】【回】【到】【了】【家】【他】【把】【书】【包】【丢】【给】【薛】【唐】，【然】【后】【又】【转】【身】【往】【楼】【下】【走】。 【薛】【唐】【问】【他】【去】【干】【什】【么】，【姜】【抑】【头】【也】【不】【回】【的】【就】【说】【去】【找】【物】【业】【把】【防】【盗】【门】【修】【好】。 【操】。 【这】【是】【真】【生】【气】【了】【啊】？ 【薛】【唐】【看】【他】【的】【态】【度】【很】【挺】【懵】【逼】【的】，【心】【想】【我】【都】【说】【了】【不】【是】【两】【个】【人】【见】【面】，【还】【有】【别】【人】【呢】，【而】【且】【还】【是】【约】【在】【了】【你】【兼】【职】【的】【奶】【茶】【店】【里】
【敌】【人】【英】【雄】【重】【返】**【后】，【尽】【管】【他】【们】【看】【到】【梦】【之】【队】【的】【普】【朗】【克】【船】【长】【不】【断】【地】【使】【用】【炮】【弹】【攻】【击】【敌】【人】【英】【雄】，【可】【敌】【人】【英】【雄】【并】【没】【有】【理】【会】，【而】【是】【选】【择】【回】【到】【血】【池】【里】。 【这】【样】，【小】【明】【就】【更】【加】【安】【心】【操】【控】【普】【朗】【克】【船】【长】【攻】【击】【敌】【人】【的】【三】【路】【小】【兵】，【同】【时】【还】【使】【用】【炮】【弹】【压】【制】【敌】【人】【英】【雄】，【监】【视】【敌】【人】【英】【雄】【的】【一】【举】【一】【动】。 【至】【于】【梦】【之】【队】【的】【其】【他】【英】【雄】，【他】【们】【则】【继】【续】【反】【补】【梦】【之】
【日】【本】【虚】【拟】【经】【济】。【在】【上】【次】【的】【打】【击】【下】【一】【热】【没】【有】【恢】【复】。【不】【少】【的】【日】【本】【北】【百】【姓】。【让】【我】【给】【上】【次】【战】【争】【中】【啊】。【所】【受】【到】【的】【损】【伤】。【他】【们】【高】【喊】【着】【我】【们】【也】【是】【中】【国】【人】。【不】【要】【在】【打】【仗】【了】。【我】【们】【也】【是】【中】【国】【人】。【这】【样】【的】【口】【号】【在】【游】【行】【队】【伍】【中】【不】【断】【高】【喊】。 【我】【们】【老】【祖】【宗】【徐】【福】。【我】【们】【是】【中】【国】【人】。【我】【们】【要】【回】【归】【祖】【国】。【老】【祖】【宗】【是】【徐】【福】。【这】【样】【的】【口】【号】【哇】【时】【时】【想】【起】。【我】【们】【是】香港总彩五行【饭】【后】，【绛】【汐】【邀】【请】【梦】【隐】【在】【这】【座】【院】【子】【里】【住】【下】。 【有】【瓦】【遮】【头】，【不】【愁】【温】【饱】，【对】【真】【正】【的】【小】【乞】【丐】【来】【说】【是】【一】【个】【不】【小】【的】【诱】【惑】，【梦】【隐】【懒】【得】【去】【另】【外】【寻】【落】【脚】【处】，【便】【应】【承】【了】【下】【来】。 【接】【下】【来】【的】【几】【日】，【绛】【汐】【都】【会】【在】【幕】【钟】【过】【后】【到】【来】，【给】【院】【子】【里】【的】【孩】【子】【送】【吃】【食】。【她】【自】【己】【不】【吃】，【只】【等】【孩】【子】【们】【吃】【好】【了】，【将】【碟】【子】【收】【回】【便】【匆】【匆】【离】【开】。 【每】【次】【绛】【汐】【回】【来】，【都】【会】【亲】
【韩】【浞】【也】【不】【甚】【清】【楚】，【是】【不】【是】【自】【己】【的】【师】【父】【真】【有】【那】【么】【大】【本】【事】，【能】【够】【把】【别】【人】【家】【的】【真】【传】【弟】【子】，【拐】【回】【来】【当】【了】【自】【己】【的】【徒】【弟】【媳】【妇】。 【但】【仔】【细】【又】【一】【想】，【以】【自】【己】【师】【父】【的】【为】【人】【口】【碑】…… “【似】【乎】【这】【事】【情】，【也】【是】【做】【得】【出】【来】【啊】！” 【韩】【浞】【也】【是】【随】【意】【一】【个】【回】【忆】，【就】【想】【到】【师】【父】【许】【玄】【龄】【真】【人】，【似】【乎】【总】【是】【能】【出】【其】【不】【意】【地】，【就】【给】【了】【些】【惊】【喜】【自】【己】。 【而】【且】【也】
“【你】【可】【以】【闭】【嘴】【了】。” “【你】【不】【是】【我】【女】【朋】【友】【吗】？” 【谢】【遥】【转】【过】【身】，【堵】【住】【他】【的】【嘴】。 【两】【人】【都】【没】【发】【现】，【车】【子】【在】【这】【时】【停】【了】【下】【来】。 【温】【澜】【从】【外】【面】【打】【开】【车】【门】，【看】【到】【车】【内】【的】【一】【切】。 “【嘭】”【他】【大】【力】【的】【把】【车】【门】【关】【上】。 “【我】【什】【么】【都】【没】【看】【到】。”【一】【会】【后】，【温】【澜】【脸】【红】【红】【的】【上】【车】。 【谢】【遥】【的】【脸】【比】【他】【更】【红】。 【她】【恨】【不】【得】【时】【光】【倒】【流】，
【江】【西】【九】【江】【府】，【逍】【遥】【山】【庄】【内】！ 【鬼】【狐】【子】【一】【脸】【阴】【沉】【的】【坐】【在】【大】【殿】【上】【座】，【两】【侧】【的】【树】【煞】、【夜】【叉】、【痴】【恶】【三】【个】【护】【法】【也】【同】【样】【是】【面】【色】【严】【峻】、【一】【声】【不】【吭】。 “【消】【息】【可】【靠】【吗】？”【鬼】【狐】【子】【冷】【冷】【的】【朝】【着】【大】【殿】【中】【央】【的】【一】【个】【黑】【衣】【人】【问】【道】。 “【回】【禀】【掌】【门】，【消】【息】【千】【真】【万】【确】。【我】【鬼】【狐】【门】【派】【去】【湖】【广】【的】【杀】【手】【不】【是】【死】【在】【了】【三】【道】【宗】【的】【手】【下】【就】【是】【消】【失】【的】【无】【影】【无】【踪】，【就】