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  • When I Was Puertorican

    2 posts, 2 voices, 460 views, started Jan 30, 2009

    Posted on Friday, January 30, 2009


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      A note to the reader:
      “When I began writing this book, I had no idea it would result in a dialogue about cultural identity. But as I’ve traveled around the country talking about it, people tell me that, while the culture I’m describing may not be the same as the one they grew up in, the feelings and experiences are familiar, and some of the events could have been taken from their own lives. It has been particularly poignant to speak to immigrants who have returned to their countries, only to discover how much they have changed by immersion in North American culture. They accept and understand the irony of the past tense in the title, the feeling that, while at one time they could not identify themselves as anything but the nationality to which they were born, once they’ve lived in the U.S. their “cultural purity” has been compromised, and they no longer fit as well in their native countries, nor do they feel one hundred percent comfortable as Americans.

      When I returned to Puerto Rico after living in New York for seven years, I was told I was no longer Puerto Rican because my Spanish was rusty, my gaze too direct, my personality too assertive for a Puerto Rican woman, and I refused to eat some of the traditional foods like morcilla and tripe stew. I felt as Puerto Rican as when I left the island, but to those who had never left, I was contaminated by Americanisms, and therefore, had become less than Puerto Rican. Yet, in the United States, my darkness, my accented speech, my frequent lapses into the confused silence between English and Spanish identified me as foreign, non-American. In writing the book I wanted to get back to that feeling of Puertoricanness I had before I came here. Its title reflects who I was then, and asks, who am I today?”

      Esmeralda Santiago is the eldest of eleven children. She spent her childhood in Puerto Rico, moving back and forth between a tiny village and Santurce, a suburb of San Juan. With her mother and siblings she moved to New York in 1961, at the age of thirteen. She attended junior high school in Brooklyn, and Performing Arts High School in Manhattan. After the extraordinary years described in her two memoirs, When I Was Puerto Rican and Almost a Woman, she graduated from Harvard University and received a master’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Santiago is also the author of América’s Dream and is coeditor, with Joie Davidow, of Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories. Santiago lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and two children.


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