When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 11. Angels on the Ceiling Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mami admires the airplane stewardesses and suggests that Negi might want to be a stewardess one day and travel the world for free. Negi thinks that she'd like to go places where she can't pronounce anything, and asks Mami if planes ever fall from the sky. A woman in front of Mami tells Negi that talking like that is bad luck. The stewardesses bring dinner and after she eats, Negi falls in and out of sleep.
Mami's comment shows that she believes in the American dream that promises that Negi can be whatever she wants to be when she grows up. It's worth noting that in general, Mami's departure from her relationship with Papi is indicative of her growing independence and sense of purpose.
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In Brooklyn, Negi's plane lands. Mami gathers her children and they join the exiting passengers. Mami points them towards a tall woman in the terminal, whom Negi learns is Tata. Raymond runs to her, and Mami introduces Edna and Negi. Mami introduces the man with Tata, Don Julio, as Tata's friend. Mami collects her baggage, and Don Julio tries to hail a taxi. Several drivers turn down the group, which Don Julio says is technically illegal.
Negi is finally introduced to the extent of Mami's network of family members. Raymond has evidently already built a relationship with Tata; Negi still will have to do that. That Don Julio is a "friend" rather than a husband or a boyfriend suggests that familial relationships can take different labels in New York.
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Don Julio finally gets a taxi. The driver doesn't speak Spanish and keeps asking questions in English. Mami tells him they're from Puerto Rico, and the driver begins a long speech that Negi doesn't understand. Negi presses her face to the window and looks out while Tata and Mami tease her. Negi thought New York was going to be clean and lively, but finds that the streets are dark and empty.
Negi is already disillusioned with New York within an hour of landing. This suggests that what Negi thought would happen to her in New York will take a different path than expected as she works to create an identity in a dark and empty place.
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They arrive at a brick building and unload their belongings. Tata leads them into a hallway and into a small room. She introduces Negi to Chico, her brother. He met Negi when she was a child, but she doesn't remember him. He smells of beer. Don Julio and Chico unload Mami's belongings while Tata opens a beer and gets Negi something to eat. Don Julio and Chico return and tell Negi about Mami's apartment upstairs, her school, and the marketplace down the street. Negi is excited and afraid.
The experience of being in New York mirrors Negi's coming of age experience, in that it's entirely unknown. Negi has no idea what New York holds for her and similarly doesn't know what she'll look like or think about in the future. It's a scary proposition, though Negi's excitement suggests she's ready to move forward and learn new things.
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Negi describes waking up in their apartment on her first morning in Brooklyn. The ceiling is decorated with cherubs, and the building is the nicest Negi has ever lived in. Later, Mami takes Negi with her to the market. When Negi stares at two Jewish men in the street, Mami tells her not to. Most of the vendors in the market are Jewish too, though they speak Spanish. Mami barters for everything, and it takes them most of the day to buy half the things they need. They do the same thing the next day and buy Negi school clothes and a coat. Tata describes how cold the winters are and tells Mami how good Raymond and Edna were while Mami was at the market: they spent the day in front of the television eating chocolate.
New York introduces Negi to identities that are entirely different from her own or her idea of what Americans are like. This begins to crystallize and solidify Negi's own identity, as she seems to not identify at all with the Jewish merchants in the market. Mami seems to relish the experience of shopping and bartering; it allows her to feel competent and in charge. We also get a glimpse of Tata's childcare methods, which leave something to be desired.
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Mami takes Negi to Williamsburg. Negi wonders what "kosher" means, and Mami buys Negi pizza. She tells her that the Italians are more like the Puerto Ricans than the Jewish people are, and tells Negi about the morenos: black Americans. Mami says the morenos don't like Puerto Ricans because they think they're taking all the jobs, but Mami insists that there's enough work for everyone.
Again, Mami insists that she believes in the American dream that says that America is the land of opportunity. This is how Mami forms her own identity in New York, as she'll identify very strongly with the work she does and the fact that it allows her to support her family.
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Mami takes Negi to school on her first day. Negi has her report card and Mami has Negi's birth certificate. They fill out forms and Mr. Grant writes on the top that Negi will go into seventh grade. Negi asks Mr. Grant about this and insists she belongs in eighth grade. Mami is suspicious about Negi's backtalk, but Negi tells Mami that she's not stupid and won't go back to seventh grade. Negi negotiates a deal with Mr. Grant that says that if she learns English by Christmas, she can stay in eighth grade.
Negi takes a page out of Mami's book here and barters with Mr. Grant. Negi has been learning English in school in Puerto Rico, though obviously not enough to be considered fluent. Mami's unwillingness to check Negi's backtalk suggests that she's seeing Negi as a competent quasi-adult in this situation, in part because of Negi's grasp of the English language.
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Mami is impressed with Negi. Negi proudly tells Mami that she can walk home from school by herself later, but is nervous as she leaves Mami in the school hallway. Negi is placed in Miss Brown's class, which she quickly learns is the class for students with learning disabilities and is possibly the equivalent of sixth or seventh grade. Unlike her classmates, Negi desperately wants to learn, and she loves the way Miss Brown teaches.
Though Negi has consistently implied that she was good at school and liked it, this is the first time that the person she is at school truly becomes an intrinsic part of her identity. Negi knows that her success in New York depends on her ability to learn the language and impress the adults in charge at school.
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Negi's school is huge and loud, with a confusing social structure. There are Americanos, who are the smart kids; the Italian students who dress provocatively and smoke; and the black girls (morenas) who wear short skirts and heavy boots. The fights between the different groups are brutal, and Negi avoids any involvement. There are two kinds of Puerto Rican students as well: those who were born in America and those who arrived recently. Negi feels disloyal for wanting to learn English and wanting to look like the Italians or the morenas, and she doesn't feel comfortable with either group of Puerto Ricans either.
Even though Negi still definitely identifies herself as being Puerto Rican, she feels alienated from the other Puerto Rican students because of her desire to understand and experience the other groups at school. This is a product of Negi's split identity as well as her lifelong curiosity. It recalls her assertion that the move to New York created a hybrid; we begin to see how this happens.
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Negi comes home from school one day to find Mami packed and waiting. Tata helps Mami and Negi load their things into a cab to move to a larger apartment, as Negi's remaining siblings are going to come to New York. The new apartment is across the projects, and Tata is going to live with them. The children arrive in October. Negi notices that Delsa, whom Papi had put in charge, looks like a tired adult woman.
Negi's family is reunited thanks to Mami's hard work and her newfound independence. Negi suggests that in her absence, Delsa had to come of age and parent the younger children just like Negi used to have to do. She sees that it's hard on anyone, not just on her.
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The children are all sent back a grade in school to learn English, so Negi is the only one attending junior high. She disobeys Mami once and cuts across the projects to get there and doesn't understand all the graffiti. When she tries out bad words at home, Mami scolds her.
Negi continues to experiment with different identities and elements she experiences in New York. Mami tries to keep Negi on the straight and narrow path by checking Negi's language, even if Negi doesn't understand what it means.
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One day, Negi asks Mami for a bra. Mami laughs and says she can have one when she's señorita. A few weeks later, Negi tells Mami that she started her period. Mami is disappointed that Negi already had a class in school that taught her how to handle it, but shows her where she keeps her Kotex hidden. Mami tells Tata and they celebrate. The next day, Mami brings Negi white bras from the factory where she works.
The American school system robbed Mami of the chance to truly bond with Negi by explaining menstruation to her. Mami rewards Negi's adulthood with the bras, which are symbolic of Negi's new status as an adult. Negi is also symbolically independent now, though she's definitely still dependent on Mami and Tata for practical matters.
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While Mami works in Manhattan, Tata watches the children after school. Tata begins drinking wine or beer early in the day, though she still cooks supper and makes the children eat. When it gets colder, Tata begins lighting the oven and leaving the door open. One evening, Negi tells a story as she sits by the oven with her siblings, Tata, Mami, and Don Julio. It's fantastical and absurd, and when she's done, the children demand another. Don Julio offers Negi a dime to tell another, and Mami starts some hot chocolate. Every night that winter, Negi tells her family stories that star characters named after her siblings.
Negi's night of storytelling recalls the stories she told her siblings while Mami was in labor in Puerto Rico. It allows Negi to assume the identity of a storyteller, which gives her a great deal of power and foreshadows her role as the writer of this memoir. The fact that she uses her siblings' names shows that Negi cares deeply for them and their happiness. Using their names allows Negi to continue to develop a sense of family and positive dependency in New York.
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After school, Negi goes to the library and checks out children's books to teach herself to read. She soon moves from picture books to chapter books. By her fourth month in Brooklyn, Negi has learned enough English to score well on her school tests. In January, Mr. Grant calls Negi's name during an assembly to announce the students who did particularly well on their midterms.
Negi fully steps into her identity as a stellar student, which gives her pride and purpose. Mr. Grant recognizes Negi's independence and hard work. All of this makes Negi feel powerful and competent and helps her see herself as a person who belongs in New York.
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Mami falls in love with Francisco, a younger man who lives across the street. He buys Mami flowers and brings the children candy, but Tata doesn't like him. Mami visits Francisco nightly and always comes home happy. One night, when Tata and Don Julio had spent the afternoon drinking, Francisco comes to visit. When Tata sees Francisco, she starts insulting him. Mami shows Francisco out and ignores her distraught mother. Tata continues to berate Mami for not setting a good example, and a week later, Mami moves her children to an apartment down the street. Francisco comes to live with them.
Finally Negi sees Mami in a happy romantic relationship. Tata's reaction perhaps explains where Mami learned to behave as she has in the past, though in the present, Mami asserts her independence by moving. This suggests that New York is having a similar effect on Mami as it is on Negi. Mami is becoming more independent and self-sufficient.
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Marilyn Monroe kills herself that summer. One day Negi sits at her window, watching the activity at the soft drink warehouse across the street and listening to the radio talk about Marilyn. A truck pulls up across the street. The driver waves at Negi and when she looks, he begins masturbating openly. Wide-eyed, Negi watches for a while and then moves away, but soon returns to the window. The man starts masturbating again and smiles at her. Negi is confused: she hadn't acted provocatively, dressed up, or even smiled, but now she understands why Mami always tells her to pretend she isn't interested when people approach her.
This experience teaches Negi that she's truly not in control of how men use her body. Further, it shows that Negi isn't even safe when there's distance between her and the man who wants her; this man gets satisfaction from her from several stories and a brick building away. Negi is still extremely curious as to how this happened, as it goes against what she's been taught to do when confronted with a man who wants her sexually.
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Negi thinks that she's grown up knowing that men want one thing, and it's up to Negi to give it to them. She thinks that what happened with the truck driver happened even though she didn't mean to give him anything. Negi goes to find Mami, who asks Negi what's wrong. Negi doesn't tell Mami what happened but feels like it was her fault. She goes back to the window and openly watches the man, simultaneously scared, curious, and embarrassed. Negi suddenly smiles at the man, who looks immediately suspicious, stops masturbating, and ignores Negi. Negi thinks he stopped because she'd been too willing to play along.
Negi struggles to understand that there's nothing she could've done to truly stop the man from taking advantage of her except to move away where he can't see her. The man's reaction when Negi smiles suggests he was excited by the knowledge that Negi certainly didn't want his advances. This shows that he feels powerful by making women feel completely powerless. Like many victims of some sort of sexual violation, Negi unfortunately feels that she is to blame, and so she doesn’t share her experience with Mami.
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