Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago. Specifically, it will answer five questions about the book, based on the reading and sociological principles. Esmeralda Santiago's autobiography "When I was Puerto Rican" is a compelling story about the culture, mores, and societal influences that all rained down on a young girl torn between two worlds. Negi, a young Esmeralda, searches for her identity in the book, and as she does she paints a graphic sociological picture of two cultures in two different places that eventually meld into one coherent and strong young woman.
When I was Puerto Rican
Discuss how each theoretical perspective is reflected in this book. 1B. Discuss the theoretical perspective that you believe is predominant and support your answer. There are several theoretical perspectives in the book, including interactionism, feminism, post-structuralism and postmodernism, and rational choice theory. Interactionism plays a role in the novel in the relationships between the family, and how they adapt (or do not adapt) to each other, and what these relationships ultimately mean to the family as a whole and individually. Each member of the family has a specific role, and plays it out throughout the book. Rational choice theory is observed throughout the book as the family makes living and social choices not based simply on rational thought, but based on their economic level and what is available to them, such as the house made out of lard cans in the beginning of the story. "Our home was a giant version of the lard cans used to haul water from the public fountain" (Santiago 7). Post-structuralism and/or postmodernism affects the family when they move to New York, and encounter a culture far different from the one they are used to. In New York, everything moves at a different pace, and people are much more concerned with things that did not concern the family in Macun, and so, they are caught up in the whirlwind of postmodernism, and its general influence on society. "They call Americanos imperialists, which means they want to change our country and our culture to be like theirs" (Santiago 73). Finally, feminism plays the most important theoretical perspective in the book, for the book is not only written from the feminine perspective, Negi's feminine perspective has been forged over the love-hate relationship of her parents, and she has made decisions about her own feminism because of their relationship and the culture around her.
2. Compare Esmeralda's perception of culture in Puerto Rico with that in New York. In your response, identify at least four points of comparison. Esmeralda's perception of culture in New York was more closely tied to that of the culture in Santurce, but far removed from rural Macun. When Negi arrived in Santurce, it was a large city, with many of the societal problems she would encounter in New York. Her mother warned her not to speak with strangers, and she was ridiculed in school because she did not know how to use the pencil sharpener or who Santa Claus was. Her first introduction to a new culture was her life in Santurce, but it changed even more so when she moved to New York. In New York, she was not only from the country, she was from another country, and she could not even speak the language. Her perception of culture in New York is one of an outsider, and one who must conform to a new culture or be banned from it. "Mami pushed me into the plane, down a long aisle with seats dead-ending against a wall - my first glimpse of what New York would be like" (Santiago 209). She has another an inkling of what she is in for when the box of clothing arrives from New York. "Our cousins must be rich to give up these things!' Norma said as she tried on a girl's cotton slip with embroidered flowers across the chest. 'Things like this are not that expensive in New York,' Mami said. 'Anyone can afford them'" (Santiago 79). Clearly, New York is going to present real culture shock, because the people take so much for granted that the Santiago's see as riches. Negi mentions that New York is much dirtier than Puerto Rico, which is another difference in culture she must get used to. "New York was darker than I expected, and, in spite of the cleansing rain, dirtier" (Santiago Back Matter 5). Probably the most important difference in cultures however, was the culture in New York without her father. She was truly "daddy's girl," and leaving her father behind in Puerto Rico certainly affected her the rest of her life, and affected how she looked at male/female relationships. "For me, the person I was becoming when we left was erased, and another one was created" (Santiago 209). The postmodernism has begun, and Negi has left her rural childhood behind, to make quite a different life for herself in New York. Certainly, she has more opportunities in New York than she ever would in Puerto Rico, and yet, she left an indelible part of herself behind with her father.
3. How was it evident that gender roles and age were quite prevalent in both Puerto Rican culture and Esmeralda's family? Age and gender were quite important in the Puerto Rican culture and in Esmeralda's family in many ways. Esmeralda was the oldest child, the casi senoriti, and so, she was expected to look after the younger children at a young age herself, and take on many of the responsibilities of an older woman. Her mother simply expected her to step in and take over when necessary, and this continued in New York, when she was often kept out of school so she could translate for her mother at the local welfare or aid office. As one critic noted, "As the oldest child, she is constantly being given too many responsibilities for her age and she sometimes resents it" (Augenbraum and Fernandez 136). These same responsibilities did not extend to males in the family, and it is here where gender plays an important part of the story, and in Puerto Rican culture. The men in the family were not nearly as productive as the women in the family. Mami took in laundry, did just about anything for work, and expected Negi to help her. Papi often did not work, and when he did not, he listened to his battery powered radio to romantic songs, and while he did work around the house, he did not have the responsibilities of the women, and this continued throughout the culture, even as to when he basically abandoned the family when Mami moved to New York. The culture treated males and females quite differently, and this difference certainly influenced Negi later in her life, when she became a strong and determined woman, and took her fate into her own hands. As the critics continue, "She will learn not to trust men, yet to accept their foibles. Gender roles are clearly defined early in the narration: men are natural flirts whose freedom is not to be challenged; women stay at home to raise the children and do not question their subordination" (Augenbraum and Fernandez 137).
4. Discuss the role that education and religion played in Esmeralda's development. Education meant everything to Esmeralda's development, and helped her acculturate to New York and her new surroundings. She began to write in English, and began to publish material in school publications. Her mother understands the need for an education in America, and encourages all her children to work hard in school, but Negi is an excellent student, and excels at her studies. Her mother says, "I'm not working this hard so that you kids can end up working in factories all your lives. You study, get good grades, and graduate from high school so that you can have a profession, not just a job" (Santiago 246). She also had the courage to apply for admission to the High School for Performing Arts, and gains admission there, even after a disastrous audition. She writes, "[A]shamed that, after all the hours of practice... after the expense of new clothes and shoes, after Mami had to take a day off from work to take me into Manhattan, after all that. I had failed the audition and would never, ever, get out of Brooklyn" (Santiago 266). Eventually, she graduated from the School, and graduated cum laude from Harvard (Augenbraum and Fernandez 136), so she did indeed get out of Brooklyn, and of course, it altered her life. She married, and formed a film company with her husband, and she has written several books in addition to "When I was Puerto Rican." Moving to New York certainly changed her life, but education gave her wings, and allowed her to rise to her full potential.
5. How did the economy of Puerto Rico affect the lifestyle of Esmeralda's family? The economy of Puerto Rico was the lifestyle of the family. Most of the…