When I Was Puerto Rican Study Guide

When I Was Puerto Rican By Esmeralda Santago

In rural Puerto Rico, where tropical beauty and tender family affection blend quixotically with domestic strife and crushing poverty, young Esmeralda Santiago made her childhood. As she came of age in this paradoxical setting, she learned lessons ranging from how to eat a guava to how to identify the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night; from the preparation of the delectable morcilla sausage to the magical formula for ushering a dead baby's soul on to heaven.

When Esmeralda was finally of school-going age, she began to work her way into the world of the white man, and witnessed first-hand the hilarious but fierce culture clash between Yankee and Puerto Rican cultures. Just when she started to get a grip on this complex situation and come into her own, her mother decided to move.

Seven children already, one day to be eleven total, made their way from Puerto Rico to New York City. As the eldest, it was up to Esmeralda to guide the others. In that role, she forced herself to learn entirely new rules, a new language, and eventually an entirely new identity emerged.

When I was Puerto Rican is the first in a highly-praised, bestselling trilogy by Esmeralda Santiago. In it's pages, she brilliantly recreates the edenic lanscape and unstable family life of the Santiago clan, and it's titanic journey from the barrio to Brooklyn. She delicately explores her many roles in these varied lives, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to receiving high honors in front of a crowd of thousands at Harvard University.

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Esmeralda Santiago spent a great deal of effort to show that she is an expert in guava. Why did she have such an obsession about guava?

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