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When I Was Puerto Rican

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4.02  ·  Rating details ·  9,836 ratings  ·  665 reviews
Esmeralda Santiago's story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. Growing up, she learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night, the taste of the delectable sausage called morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead ...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published October 11th 1994 by Vintage Books USA (first published September 20th 1993)
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Zoe Some used it, some trashed it. Back then there was a lot of ignorance, a lot of people were illiterate and most likely couldn't really understand…moreSome used it, some trashed it. Back then there was a lot of ignorance, a lot of people were illiterate and most likely couldn't really understand (read or write) English. Hope this helps. (less)

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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  9,836 ratings  ·  665 reviews


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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 ...more
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
...more
Gabriel Joseph
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Karina
Jun 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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,
...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone--but Especially Anyone with a Puerto Rican Background
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 ...more
Ivy Deluca
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
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.
Kerry
Nov 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys the story of a remarkable woman.
Shelves: 08-09, kerry-s-books
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
...more
Alysia
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Myrna
Mar 14, 2014 rated it liked it
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
...more
Susan Morrissey
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jasmine
Apr 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: My mother
Recommended to Jasmine by: LACS 256, Professor Barnett
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. ...more
Yvette
Oct 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, latin
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
...more
Karen
Aug 13, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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?,
...more
Farha Hasan
Aug 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Alena
Oct 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Mellisa
Jul 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Jenna
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this memoir! It was beautifully written, from the perspective of the little girl Esmerelda was, growing up in Puerto Rico.
Heidi
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2018, favorites
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
...more
Diana.veras
Oct 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jennifer Varela
Apr 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: tl-307
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 ...more
Rochelle
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Alexandra Fernandez
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Risheilly
Oct 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Yari
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Amy
Dec 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: latino
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
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 ...more
Osvaldo
Jan 20, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latino-lit
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
...more
A. Casey
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Donna Lewis
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
An enormously interesting book. Ms. Santiago’s descriptive and lyrical writing depicts a highly talented young woman growing up poor in Puerto Rico, but surrounded by a caring family, plenty of good food, and unaware of her poverty. A move to Brooklyn in the turbulent 60s gives her a chance to grow and develop into the talent she is today. A rewarding look at the hardships and achievements of a beautiful woman.
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Esmeralda Santiago (born 1948 in San Juan, Puerto Rico). Is a renowned Puerto Rican author In 1961, she came to the United States when she was thirteen years old, the eldest in a family that would eventually include eleven children. Ms. Santiago attended New York City's Performing Arts High School, where she majored in drama and dance. After eight years of part-time study at community colleges, ...more
“For me, the person I was becoming when we left was erased, and another one was created.” 27 likes
“What doesn't kill you, makes you fat.” 20 likes
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