When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 3. Someone is Coming to Take Your Lap Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Negi explains that whenever Mami gets fed up with Macún or with Papi, she runs away to Santurce. Santurce is a suburb of San Juan, and though it's very urban, it’s decidedly not charming. As one of 15 children, Mami has a number of family members in the city, although by this time, her mother, Tata, had left for Brooklyn. Negi's new home in Santurce is one room, but with running water and electricity. They share a bathroom with another family and the children play in the bathroom every day.
Mami has a vast web of siblings and other family members to call on for help, which suggests that her extended family is reliable when she needs it, unlike Papi. The house in Santurce seems like an upgrade, with indoor plumbing and electricity; for once, Negi's family isn't living like jíbaros.
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The following day, Negi enrolls in first grade. Her new school is large with a real playground. Mami tells Negi to not look at or talk to anyone on her walk to or from school, but Negi notices as much as she can. Sometimes she sees Catholic schoolchildren, and she's jealous of how ordered their lives look. She wonders if those children eat or sleep the way she does, and realizes that she's different. Here in Santurce, Negi's classmates accuse her of being a “jíbara” when she appears particularly provincial or uneducated. Negi walks to and from school alone.
Even though outwardly things are looking up for Negi (she has plumbing and a real playground), her identity is experiencing whiplash in her new urban setting. Negi finally begins to understand why Mami told her to not aspire to be a jíbara when she grows up, as Negi's rural upbringing makes her an outcast among her urban classmates.
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Around Christmas, the songs Negi hears coming from jukeboxes change: they're still about women and alcohol, but they have Christmas elements added in. At home, Negi's family sings their own Christmas songs. Papi visits, and once he brings string lights and helps the children hang them. Mami spends most of her time in the kitchen cooking while relatives sit at their table. Delsa and Norma play with female cousins, while Negi runs with her male cousins.
The narrator continues to develop Negi's tomboy tendencies, which aren't yet a problem for Negi. In Santurce especially, her desire to run and roughhouse with her male cousins is in line with her love of the wild jíbaro lifestyle (as contrasted with the proper and uptight urban lifestyle, which aligns more closely with traditional feminine ideals).
Themes
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One day, Negi's uncle, Tío Cucho, comes with a woman named Rita. Rita wears a low cut dress and lots of jewelry, as well as high heels. Mami doesn't like Rita, but Negi does. Negi hears Mami talking about Rita to her friends. They say that Rita has two children that she leaves alone while she parties and "bewitches men." Mami and the friend notice Negi listening, and Mami sends Negi to check on Héctor. Negi wonders if Rita is a puta. As she gets further away Mami and her friend laugh and keep talking, and Negi feels angry and left out.
Even though Negi professes herself to be more of a tomboy, she also desperately wants to experience the female communal experiences like Mami does talking with her friends about Rita. The fact that Negi likes Rita complicates her understanding of putas, as she's been led to believe that they're all horrible women who steal money and time from good men.
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One day, Negi asks Mami about the shiny "ribbons" strung up in the neighbor's yard, and Mami explains that they're pig guts for making sausage. Negi is disgusted, and Mami explains how sausage is made and what's in it. Horrified but curious, Negi asks Mami what's in morcillas, her favorite kind of sausage. Mami says it's mostly blood. Suddenly Mami winces, and Negi asks if she's okay. Mami explains that the baby in her stomach is swimming, and she lets Negi feel the baby move.
It seems as though Mami and Negi's relationship is beginning to improve. Mami is more willing to engage with Negi in Negi's incessant questions and begins to explain her physical aches and pains to Negi in a way that she hadn't been willing to before. Negi is also more perceptive of Mami's feelings and shows that she cares for Mami by not demanding things.
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A few days later, Negi asks Papi what a sin is. He tells her it's something that makes God angry. Negi asks for an example, and he begins to explain the ten commandments to her. She asks question after question and learns that though her family is Catholic, they're not "good" ones. Papi can't explain all ten commandments because Negi asks so many questions.
Negi and Papi also seem to be getting closer, as he too is willing to answer her questions. The idea that Catholics can be good or bad continues to complicate Negi's formation of her identity.
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That night, Negi worries that Mami's moans will keep the Three Magi from coming and filling her shoes with candy and presents, yet the Three Magi come despite Mami's moans. Papi sits outside with Negi and her siblings that afternoon, and Mami has another baby girl. They name her Alicia. After her birth, Papi visits more often. Mami ignores him, and he plays with the children instead. Eventually Mami starts to forgive him. One night, she invites him in for dinner. Later, as Negi lies in bed, she happily listens to them sit on the porch and talk.
Times like these in Mami and Papi's relationship show Negi that it is possible for two people to love and be kind to each other in a romantic relationship. This provides Negi with a sense of security for the time being, as she feels she can trust both her parents to be there for her and care for her. But of course this sense of safety is tempered by her memories of past unreliability.
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Negi and her family return to Macún. Negi is thrilled and wants to run all over the land, but Mami pulls her back down into her seat when she stands up. When they arrive, Negi thinks that she's home and never wants to leave. She describes their home, the trees, and the farm behind their property, where Negi is forbidden from going. Just over the fence on the farmland is a grove of grapefruit trees that Negi wishes she could pick from.
Even if Negi is discouraged from identifying as a jíbara, her descriptions of her home and the land honor and consider nature in a way that's very much in line with jíbaro music, poetry, and beliefs. This suggests that this is one of the truest aspects of Negi's split identity, even if it's a forbidden aspect.
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As Mami guts a chicken one afternoon, she calls Negi to come and look at the hen's unlaid eggs. Mami says that the eggs are delicious in soup, and Negi says she believes what Mami says about food. The soup that night is delicious.
There are certain things that Negi can trust Mami on without question, food being one of them. Food then will become a way for Mami and Negi to connect and learn to trust each other, as they did previously with the sausages.
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Negi introduces the reader to her friend Juanita, who lives down the road and walks to school with Negi. Negi can tell Juanita about modern amenities in Santurce like running water, but Juanita has information about the underbelly of Macún, particularly the shortcuts through the woods to the next town where the putas live (according to the girls' mothers).
The girls deal in information. Juanita seems to be completely entranced by the non-jíbara lifestyle Negi led in Santurce, while Negi is still interested in discovering what makes putas so special. Through this exchange of information, both girls can shape their identities and attempt to figure out how putas get and keep power.
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Juanita's grandfather, Don Berto, lives behind Juanita's house. He's an ancient man and spends his time sharpening a machete. Negi and Juanita sit with him often and listen to his jíbaro stories. One morning, Mami tells Negi that Juanita won't be at school that day because Don Berto died. Negi is annoyed when Mami won't tell her how she found out this information. Many of Negi's classmates aren't in school, and Negi's teacher says that if any children weren't nice to Don Berto, they'll never get a chance to be nice to him now that he's dead. Negi can't think of a time she was rude to him.
Negi gets to work on fleshing out her jíbara identity by listening to Don Berto's stories. With the mysterious news of Don Berto's death, Negi is becoming aware that the adult world is very different from the world she inhabits as a child. Though Negi has already grown up a lot over the last several chapters, these realizations are setting herself up to begin becoming more adult herself.
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Mami spends her day at Juanita's house getting it and Don Berto's body ready for the wake. At the wake that night, Negi notes how strange it is to see Don Berto's hands holding a rosary and not his machete. When Papi arrives, he leads the gathered friends and family in a prayer. Negi falls asleep to the sounds of the prayer and wakes up next to Delsa at home the next morning. Mami snaps at Negi that she's not going to school today because she and Juanita are going to lead the procession to the cemetery.
Don Berto has a split identity too now that he's dead—he has to hold a rosary instead of his machete. Though he's almost certainly a Catholic, for Negi in particular the rosary is indicative of the fact that in death, Don Berto has become something different than what he was in life. Similarly, even if Papi isn't a good Catholic, he still leads the prayers for Don Berto. This suggests that for many of these characters Catholicism is more of a cultural identity than a personal religious conviction.
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Mami dresses Negi in her best dress and they go to Juanita's house. The adults give Negi and Juanita a heavy wreath to carry, and they lead the procession onto the highway. The walk is very long and Negi tries hard to not complain. Negi feels sad for Juanita and tries to imagine her friend's grief.
Negi practices feeling empathetic by imagining Juanita's grief, which is very similar to the way that Negi engages with Mami's physical and emotional pain.
Themes
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After dinner, Papi dresses in preparation to lead the novenas (nine days of prayer) for Don Berto. He asks Negi if she'd like to come, and Mami allows her to go with a sweater. As Negi and Papi walk, Negi asks what a soul is. Papi tries to explain what souls do. He says that souls feel and write poetry, but they don't come out of a person's body when a person is alive. Negi knows Papi is wrong about that: her soul walks beside her sometimes. At Juanita's house, Papi settles in a chair next to a picture of Don Berto. Negi wonders where Don Berto's soul is, and tries to send her soul to meet his.
Finally Negi has a simple way to conceptualize her split identity when Papi explains the soul to her—and this also allows her to reveal some of her mysterious inner life to the reader. Going forward Negi will use this idea of her soul to disassociate and avoid intense emotional situations, but for now it simply allows her to better understand how she fits into her world and make sense of her experiences. Mami shows that she cares for Negi's wellbeing by insisting on the sweater; this is one way that Mami demonstrates her reliability to the family.
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As Doña Lola cuddles Alicia one day, she tells her, "someone is coming to take your lap." Negi is at Doña Lola's house to trade foodstuffs, and says that Papi told her they'd have electricity by the time the new baby arrives. Doña Lola tells Negi that the farm behind her house is owned by an American, and soon, the American is going to build a hotel on the land. Back at home, Negi asks Mami about the hotel. Mami says that people have been talking about the hotel and electricity forever, and says that Negi's children will be teenagers before any of that happens. Later, Negi asks Mami about New York. Mami says she's never been, but maybe someday she'll go.
Doña Lola's warning to Alicia suggests that Mami is pregnant again and that Alicia will have to give up her spot as the youngest. Negi is old enough now for her world to expand beyond her family and community and begin to encompass America, and New York specifically. These questions about the future begin to foreshadow Negi's own future and coming of age, specifically the possibility that Mami will go to New York.
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Negi sits in the back yard with her siblings and listens to Mami scream as she labors. At dusk, their neighbor's daughter, Gloria, comes to get Negi and the children. The children are scared hearing Mami scream and Delsa tries to comfort everyone. Negi tells some of Don Berto's stories that night, and when she and her siblings return home the next morning, Mami is nursing the new baby, Edna, and Papi is installing a kerosene cookstove.
Even if Macún isn't getting electricity any time soon, progress isn't entirely unheard of, as represented by the new cookstove. Negi must take on a maternal role and comfort her siblings, even though Delsa tries to help in this endeavor. This is a lot of responsibility for a child, but at this point it's a one-off experience and Negi doesn't feel the strain yet.
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The first week in May, it begins to rain and Mami yells at the children to take off their clothes. Mami steps out of her dress and carries days-old Edna to the door. She leads her children outside and stands in the rain, smiling. Norma, wide eyed, remarks that Mami is taking a bath. Mami explains that it's good luck to get wet in the first May rain, and she leads Delsa and Héctor into the rain. Finally Negi and Norma join, form a circle, and sing. The children chase each other and head inside when the thunder starts. Negi explains that it rained the entire rest of the month, and Papi couldn't work. He stays inside and reads magazines. If he goes to work and then it starts raining, he's gone for days.
For the children, this is a perplexing request from their normally uptight mother. It humanizes and complicates Mami for the reader, however. Even if she is difficult and exacting, she's not above simple pleasures like warm rainstorms, and she wants her children to have these experiences as well. Though the rest of the rainy month seems fine for Negi and the other children, it seems to make Papi restless. His absences remind the reader (and likely Mami) that he has other places to be and people, possibly women, to see and stay with.
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