When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 13. A Shot At It Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
During Negi's first week of high school, she takes tests that show that she can write and read English at the tenth grade level, so they put her in a high-achieving class. One morning, Mr. Barone, a guidance counselor, calls Negi to his office to ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. Negi think that she's wanted to be a jíbara and a cartographer, but hadn't thought about it since moving to Brooklyn. She tells Mr. Barone that she reads as a hobby, and he looks disappointed. He suggests nursing or teaching, neither of which interest Negi. He tells Negi she's smart and should try to get into an academic school so she can go to college.
The fact that Negi hasn't considered her future since moving to Brooklyn is indicative of the fact that she's been simply trying to survive and not flounder. Negi does know, however, that caring for others isn't what she wants to do—that's what she's spent her entire life doing for her siblings. She is finally identified as a high-achieving student, which continues to develop Negi's identity as one of the “smart kids.”
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Negi walks home with another Puerto Rican ninth grader who knows just as little English. They talk about Mr. Barone's "counseling," and Negi mentions that she doesn't like people much. The girl stops talking to Negi after that. Several days later, Mr. Barone calls Negi back to his office. Negi remembers watching a beauty pageant with Mami the night before and the way that Mami commented on the contestants' beauty. Negi tells Mr. Barone that she'd like to be a model, and he steers her towards training to be an actress. He sounds unimpressed, but says there's one school that trains actresses.
Negi's reasoning suggests that what she still really wants hasn't changed since her childhood: she wants Mami to notice her and be proud of her. Mr. Barone shows that he's a caring individual by agreeing to help Negi figure out where to train as an actress, his own thoughts on the matter aside.
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Mr. Barone reads the write up for the Performing Arts school, which says that Negi must audition. Negi mentions that she performed in a school show and read poetry in Puerto Rico. Mr. Barone says he'll call the school, and Negi leaves his office happy and aware that something good just happened.
Negi now has something else to work towards, which gives her a sense of purpose that mirrors the way Mami's job makes Mami feel. Negi is gaining power by setting her mind to completing this task.
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Every day, Negi walks home telling herself that she's not afraid. She decides one day that she has to get out of Brooklyn; she's done following Mami. When she cries at Mami that she hates her life, Mami yells at her to do something about it.
Negi is beginning to demand her independence from Mami and Mami's dreams and simultaneously develop her own. This is a marker of Negi's coming of age.
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Mr. Barone tells Negi how she'll prepare for her audition: he selects a monologue for her and assigns two teachers to coach her monologue and teach her how to properly dress and carry herself. The monologue is from a play set in 1905, spoken by a young married woman. The teachers drill Negi and practice asking her questions like the panel at the Performing Arts school might ask, and instruct her to buy a simple, dark dress for the audition.
The monologue is an interesting choice for a 14-year-old girl with only a tenuous grasp of spoken English. It will require Negi to code switch and take on a role that's very different from the person she actually is. Similarly, her teacher's coaching seeks to make Negi seem very American and distance her from her Puerto Rican identity and past.
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Mami buys Negi a red plaid jumper. The night before the audition, she curls Negi's hair, and Negi is allowed to wear makeup. In the morning, Negi and Mami get on a train to Manhattan and Mami grumbles about how far away the school is, though she seems proud of Negi nonetheless.
This is going to be Negi's jump into adulthood, and Mami treats it as such by allowing Negi to dress like an adult. The red jumper, however, shows that Mami is still not connected to American culture and the requirements of dark clothing.
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In the classroom where auditions are held, three women sit at a table. They greet Negi as she carefully seats herself in front of them. Suddenly flustered, Negi immediately forgets her English and struggles to answer their questions. One woman suggests that Negi start her monologue and Negi knocks her chair over standing up. Her monologue takes one minute instead of three and is barely comprehensible. Eyes wide, the interviewers ask Negi to step out for a moment.
Negi exists in a complete state of limbo throughout her audition: she tries desperately to be as American as she possibly can, but in her nervousness she's stuck seeming exceptionally Puerto Rican. The code switching is only somewhat successful, as she remains more in the middle rather than on one end or the other.
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Mami asks Negi what happened. Negi tries not to cry. She studies a bulletin board full of newspaper clippings about successful former students, and she tries to imagine herself on the board one day. An interviewer calls Negi back in and introduces her to a student who will help Negi perform a pantomime of decorating a Christmas tree. Negi becomes fully engrossed in the pantomime and remembers Papi helping her string lights on an eggplant bush in Puerto Rico. One of the interviewers thanks Negi for her audition and says they'll notify her in a few weeks. Mami keeps asking Negi what happened on the train ride home, but Negi refuses to talk about it. She feels ashamed that she failed her audition, and fears she'll never get out of Brooklyn.
Negi finally sees what her future might look like and imagines truly being an adult who's good enough to exist on the school's bulletin board. Negi begins to piece her identity back together during the pantomime, as the silence allows her to connect with and lose herself in memories of Puerto Rico. Negi's fears that she didn't get in mimic her split identity: she fears she's not good enough or American enough, though as we'll soon learn, it's actually Negi's Puerto Rican identity that made her special to the interviewers.
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