When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 5. Why Women Remain Jamona Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One Sunday, Mami dresses Negi in her best dress, packs some clothes for her, and tells her she's going to stay with Abuela for a week. She promises that Papi will retrieve her the following Sunday. Papi dresses in his best clothes and they take the bus to Santurce. They arrive at the station where they have to change buses early, so Papi leads Negi into a market to get something to eat.
Being out with Papi is a happy time for Negi and allows her to feel loved and close to him. Notice that Mami's promise that Papi will return for Negi is meant to be taken as absolute truth. This shows that for now, Mami (and Negi) believe that Papi will keep his word, as a family member should.
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Papi and Negi pass a woman arranging models of Jesus. Negi thinks the woman looks cold and horselike, and avoids walking close to her. They stop at a food stand and Papi orders them food. Negi spins on a bar stool and when she tries to stop herself with her foot, she's going too fast and falls off. Dizzy, Negi sees two of everything, including two of the cold woman who comes to investigate. The woman remarks that Jesus doesn't love children who misbehave, and the counterman yells at the woman and waves her away.
Negi recognizes that the cold woman is very different from herself and the women she knows at home in Macún, which further shows that women can hold many different roles. Before Negi even knows the particulars of this woman, she also knows that she wants nothing to do with women like her. These comparisons help Negi formulate her identity as she grows up.
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The counterman remarks that the woman is “jamona,” and he and Papi laugh. Negi asks what a jamona is later when they leave the market, and he says it's a woman who's never married and is too old to marry. He says it's an insult, as it implies ugliness. Negi says she hopes it won't happen to her, and Papi assures her she won't become jamona. After they board their bus, Negi asks what you call a man who never marries. The bus driver says that man is lucky, and Negi feels angry and insulted.
Remember that Negi believes the world of women is made up of wives, wives-to-be, and putas—all women who are defined by their relationships with men. Women who are jamona are defined by an absence of a relationship with a man, like it's a negative thing, while men who don't have a relationship with a woman are jokingly considered lucky, not defective.
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At Abuela's house, Abuela greets Negi warmly and inspects her. She then leads Negi and Papi inside her house where she lives with Negi's grandfather, Abuelo. Everything is covered in crochet. Abuela serves her guests food and then Papi gets up to leave. Negi asks him to stay longer, and he snaps at her that he has people to see on the way home. Negi doesn't hug him back when he hugs her on his way out, and feels angry and used.
Negi realizes that bringing her to Abuela's house was an excuse for Papi to see, possibly, another woman. This makes Negi complicit in Papi's infidelity. The fact that Negi is so angry at being made complicit shows that she no longer blindly idolizes Papi. Instead, she feels aligned with Mami in times like this.
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Abuela shows Negi where she'll sleep and tells her to change into comfortable clothes. Abuela settles in a rocking chair and crochets, and Negi sits on the sofa and watches. Later, Abuela goes to say her prayers and Negi sits on the porch to watch the people outside. When it begins to get dark, Negi smells the neighbors cooking dinner and listens to the radios coming from their houses. She wonders where Papi went and remembers Margie and Provi. She remembers Mami claiming that it's in a man's nature to not be faithful. Negi wonders if that's true, and if Papi doesn't love her family if he sees other women.
Whereas prior to this, Negi felt the sting of Papi's infidelity by bearing witness to Mami's pain and anger, now she feels the pain firsthand. The fact that Papi is using Negi leads Negi to question whether what she's heard Mami say about men is correct in light of this new evidence. Again though, Negi believes that the amount of love a person has to give is finite, since she fears that Papi's infidelity means he doesn't love her as much.
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Negi begins to cry, but doesn't want Abuela to think that she doesn't want to be with her. Negi can hear Abuela saying her rosary and wishes she knew how to pray so God could explain things to her. Negi decides to smash her fingers in the door so she has an excuse for her crying, but it hurts more than expected and Negi screams. Abuela comforts Negi and tends to her throbbing fingers. Later, as Negi lies in bed, she tries to distract herself from the pain. She doesn't hear Abuelo come in, eat, go to bed, and rise for work again before sunrise. She learns later that Abuelo sleeps in his own room, which is the only room that isn't covered in Abuela's crochet.
Negi tries very hard to care for her family members' feelings and shelter them from unpleasant emotions, which is a mark of her growing emotional maturity. Though Negi doesn't make any judgments about her grandparents' relationship, their sleeping arrangement suggests that Negi's parents aren't the first generation in the family to experience marital unhappiness.
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Negi describes Abuelo's sparsely furnished room and then Abuela's opulent room, decorated with Catholic imagery and crochet. One afternoon, Abuela asks Negi if she'd like to learn to crochet, and Negi is excited for the opportunity, as she'd spent the previous days entranced by watching Abuela crochet. Abuela sits Negi between her legs on the stoop so she can help position Negi's hands. Negi loves the focus and counting stitches and is amazed at what she's capable of making.
Negi begins to build her own familial relationships by allowing Abuela to share crochet with her. Crochet also allows Negi to achieve a degree of independence, as this is the first time Negi realizes that she's able to create something herself. Both of these things help push Negi closer to adulthood and closer to becoming truly her own person.
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Abuelo speaks in the jíbaro dialect and sells oranges on a street corner every day. In the evenings when he comes home, Negi runs outside to meet him and he peels her an orange.
Negi develops her own relationship with her grandfather too, continuing the process of creating her own family web.
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On Sunday morning, Abuela hands Negi her good dress and says that they're going to Mass. She hands Negi a veil and denies her breakfast. As they leave the house, Abuela tells Negi to think of nothing but good thoughts. Negi tries to look holy, but the veil tickles her neck. She thinks of all the people she loves and counts squares on the sidewalk, but has a "bad thought" when she purposefully bumps into a boy who bumped into her first. When they enter the church, Negi tastes the holy water and Abuela looks horrified. They settle into a pew.
Negi's lack of religious education means that she has to come up with her own idea of what it means to "look holy." This is another time when an adult authority figure's high expectations set Negi up to fail. She's never been in a church before and has certainly never encountered a fountain of water that's not potable or otherwise useable.
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Negi thinks the stained glass windows are beautiful and feels envious of the boys helping the priest. She tries to count things, but decides counting is a bad thought. Her foot begins to itch, and Negi pulls her shoe off to scratch it while she's kneeling. The congregation gets up and begins walking to the priest for communion, kicking Negi's shoe down the pew. Abuela tells Negi to stay put, and Negi begins to search for her shoe. She crawls under the pew and ends up a pew behind when Abuela returns. Abuela seems confused but accepts that she made a mistake, and Negi prays to Jesus for Abuela to not find out she moved (another bad thought).
This thought exercise forces Negi to consider the different parts of her identity and make value judgments about them. It doesn't seem particularly helpful, however, since Negi classifies most of her thoughts as possibly bad, therefore developing an overwhelmingly negative view of herself despite her attempts to be good.
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That afternoon, Negi packs her bag and she and Abuela eat lunch. Abuela tells Negi to not change out of her dress in case Papi is in a hurry, but Papi doesn't come. They eat dinner and it gets dark. Finally, Abuela tells Negi to change. They sit together and crochet, unwilling to admit that Papi isn't coming. Negi thinks of all the nights that Mami kept food warm for Papi in case he arrived, washed his clothes, and ironed them. Negi wonders if Mami feels like Negi does now when Papi doesn't come home, and wonders if the moans she hears on those nights are actually Mami sobbing.
Abuela doesn't seem surprised, which makes it appear as though Papi's absence is possibly something she expected. Her lack of emotion adds more credence to this possibility, and also adds to Mami's suggestion that men are expected to do things like this. Negi again shifts her sympathies from Papi to Mami now that she's better able to empathize with Mami's pain.
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Abuela teaches Negi to pray and explains bits of the Lord's Prayer to her. She then teaches Negi to cross herself properly using her right hand, since the left hand is the hand of the devil. Negi wonders, but doesn't ask, if the devil has two left hands. Negi recites the entirety of the Lord's Prayer and crosses herself.
Even if Negi is doing a lot of growing up on this visit, she maintains her childlike curiosity and penchant for asking many questions. She is developing a filter for her questions, however. She's certainly not grown up yet, but she's definitely on her way.
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Finally, days later, Mami arrives at Abuela's house. Mami is so pregnant Negi can barely hug her. Abuela greets Mami and offers her a chair and lemonade. Mami says that she's come to get Negi, since she missed her. Abuela mentions that she was expecting Papi on Sunday. Mami's face flashes in anger, but then she tells Negi that they have electricity now. Negi leans into Mami and listens to her talk with Abuela, wondering how they sound like such good friends when they seldom see each other.
Even though Abuela isn't Mami's blood (or even a relation through marriage, as we'll later find out), she still makes up a part of Mami's family network. Mami's anger shows that she's just as betrayed by Papi's absence as Negi is. The fact that Mami expects Papi to not come through doesn't change the fact that it still hurts.
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Mami rubs her belly and mentions that it's hard with Papi gone all the time. Abuela sternly tells Negi to shower and change. Negi doesn't want to leave Mami and Abuela. She tries to listen to the adults' conversation from the bathroom, but they raise their voices and ask why the water isn't running. After her shower, Negi notices that Mami and Abuela look sad and Mami has been crying.
Abuela reminds Negi that she's still a child by sending her away, even though Negi very much wants to be treated like an adult now that she's experienced pain and betrayal from Papi.
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Negi wonders if men ever talk about their sorrows like Mami and Abuela are doing now. The sadness and pain is tangible, and Negi thinks that remaining jamona must hurt less than this. She thinks that she hates Papi and wishes he'd die, but slaps herself for thinking it. When Negi comes into the kitchen where Mami and Abuela are sitting, she thinks they must all be thinking the same thing: that Negi would rather remain jamona than cry over a man.
Even if Negi is extremely angry with Papi, she knows that it's still improper to wish he'd die. This shows the results of Abuela's lessons on good and bad thoughts: Negi continues to classify her thoughts as such. By realizing that she'd rather be jamona than cry over a man, Negi makes the mature and independent decision to trust herself for her happiness rather than someone else—no matter what society tells her to do.
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