When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 6. Mami Gets a Job Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Negi's family and neighbors prepare for Hurricane Santa Clara, which is supposed to be the worst hurricane since 1918. Negi asks Papi why they name hurricanes after saints, but he doesn't know. Mami tells Negi to take the kids to Doña Ana's house, and the kids solemnly accept Negi's authority. Mami hands Negi baby Raymond, who is now 30 days old.
Papi is back with his family to prepare for and weather the hurricane, but Negi knows now that his presence isn't reliable. The fact that the children accept Negi's authority speaks to the power and danger of the hurricane (it was one of the deadliest in Puerto Rico) as well as to Negi's age.
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Doña Ana's cement house is reinforced with plywood and filled with food. Nearly 30 people spend the hurricane in her house. The men play dominos, the women cook and tend babies, the teens separate by gender and giggle and the kids circulate among the groups. When the eye of the hurricane passes over them, Papi and one of Doña Ana's sons step outside to inspect the damage. The barn, filled with animals, still stands. A rainbow breaks through the clouds and the women point it out to the children.
The group at Doña Ana's house shows the sense of community in Macún, as well as the age and gender divisions within that community. Notably, Negi doesn't mention where she specifically spends the hurricane; she's still adrift as she considers where she fits in and what groups she'd like to be a part of.
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After the hurricane, Mami talks with Doña Lola about the damage. Negi's family lost their kitchen shed and their latrine. Nobody in Macún died, but most families lost belongings, buildings, or animals. Papi and one of Negi's uncles repair the house and build a latrine that will one day be able to accommodate running water. For months after, people talk of little else but money. Even children look for glass bottles to exchange for pennies, and boys shine shoes. Mami tries to make school uniforms, but they're not profitable.
It's important to note here that Negi suggests that it's unfortunate but wholly socially acceptable for children to do odd jobs and for Mami to attempt to work from home as they try to support their families. Mami's decision that making uniforms isn't profitable speaks to her business sense and belief in her own worth and abilities—she knows she can do better than the school uniforms.
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One day, Mami asks Negi to help hook her into a brassiere that's nearly too small. She already squeezed herself into a girdle. Negi tries to hook the brassiere and when Mami holds her breath, she's able to close it. She zips Mami into her dress and Mami explains that a new factory opened in a nearby city, and she's going to look for work. Mami says that she already made dinner and Gloria (the neighbor’s daughter) will come to help. Mami puts on makeup, sprays her hair, and puts on high heels. Negi thinks Mami looks unnatural and is ashamed to look at her. When Negi begins to cry, Mami embraces her. Negi thinks that Mami feels unusually bony and doesn't smell right.
Mami must assume what seems to Negi like an entirely new identity once she decides to find work outside the home. Notice too that working outside the home doesn't mean that Mami will take on less at home; she's already done her evening's work. Though she might be getting some financial power by working outside the home, she's not necessarily getting any more power to dictate how her life looks at home because of it.
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Mami begins rising before Papi, cooking dinner, dressing, and giving Negi instructions before leaving for work. Negi leaves for school before the rest of her siblings. Sometimes, Negi gets to school and realizes she doesn't remember the walk. One day, Negi takes advantage of Mami's absence and goes onto the farm to harvest grapefruits. Delsa tattles when Mami asks where they came from. Mami isn't angry; she just tells Negi to not go onto the farmland again.
Things momentarily look up for Negi when Mami gets her job. It seems as though Mami feels less of a need to display her power to the children now that she has the purpose and power that comes from a job and a paycheck.
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One day, Mami gets up to go to work and gets the children off to school, but when Negi returns, Mami is at home. Mami explains that Gloria "escaped," which means she eloped. Nobody knows who she ran off with. Mami can't go to work for weeks and complains to Doña Lola that she hates sitting around and doing nothing. Negi wonders how Mami can consider housework nothing.
Mami shows Negi and the reader that her responsibility is to her family first and foremost, even before the work she loves. Mami evidently values her work outside the home far more than she values her housework. Negi's wondering suggests that she truly admires Mami for what she does at home.
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One day, Negi and Mami are at Doña Lola's house. Mami tells Doña Lola with pride that she enjoys her work in the factory. Doña Lola's son, Tato, comes in and asks for food. When he won't serve himself, Doña Lola grumbles and serves him. Negi tells the reader that Tato is a year older than she is, and is the dirtiest boy she's ever met. She and Tato are competitive friends. Mami doesn't approve of this and tells Negi that because she's almost señorita, she shouldn't play with boys.
Mami begins suggesting outright that Negi is growing up: though Negi doesn't know it yet, being senorita means a girl has begun menstruating. Negi's description of her friendship with Tato suggests that she still very much wants to be a child and play games, and therefore will resist Mami's requests for Negi to act more like a (traditionally feminine) adult.
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Tato suggests that he and Negi go play outside. Mami suspiciously allows Negi to go, and Negi fears that Mami knows what they're actually going to do. Outside, they run a few circles and then sneak into the oregano bush. They decide that Tato will go first: he pulls his shorts down and back up again extremely fast and tells Negi it's her turn. She insists she didn't see anything, but tells the reader that she'd seen her little brothers' penises when she changed their diapers. She says that Tato has no sisters, and she's certain he's never seen a girl's private parts.
Negi is becoming curious about sex, but note that these first experiences with Tato are relatively consensual. Negi also feels that she has a leg up on Tato when it comes to knowledge of anatomy, which allows her to feel more adult and more in control despite the fact that she's younger. This turns this experience into something that has much lower stakes for Negi, as she doesn't conceptualize seeing Tato's penis as a major "first."
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Tato refuses to pull his shorts down again. Negi insists she's seen enough of her brothers' penises and therefore doesn't need to see Tato's, but Tato insists that his is already big and hairy. Negi is disbelieving and Tato says his penis "can already go into a woman," and continues to taunt Negi. Negi calls him sick and runs away. She runs into Mami coming out of Doña Lola's house, and they head home. Mami asks what Negi and Tato were doing. Negi says they were playing, and takes a shortcut home.
Negi doesn't begin to feel uncomfortable until Tato starts taunting her with what his penis can do, not just what it looks like. Negi's not yet fully aware of the mechanics of human sex, but this begins to create a sense of fear and apprehension in her regarding men and sexual encounters.
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On another day, Negi and Tato are behind a latrine, Tato crouched in front of Negi trying to get a good look at her genitals. Negi decides she's had enough and pulls her panties up, which Tato deems unfair. Negi tells Tato he lied about his penis being big and hairy, and he says that his penis gets big when you rub it. Negi says she doesn't want to touch Tato, and Tato starts rubbing his crotch and thrusting his hips at Negi. Negi thinks that men are pigs and calls Tato a pig. Tato looks shocked and then smiles and tries to grab at Negi. Angry, Negi kicks Tato between the legs and he crumples to the ground.
Finally, Negi and Tato's activities turn negative and Tato tries to use the power he has as a male and an older child to take what he wants without consent. This makes it clear to Negi that her body is vulnerable and something she needs to protect from male attention and advances, even if that male is a child and her friend. Notably, Negi's tomboy identity and tendencies give her the wherewithal to kick Tato and defend herself.
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Doña Lola and Mami run to see what the fuss is about, and Tato tells them that Negi kicked him for no reason. Negi tries to explain what happened, but Mami drags Negi home and won't listen. Negi breaks free and runs into the house, Mami chasing her. Mami grabs a frying pan and begins to hit Negi with it, yelling at Negi to never do what she did again. Negi isn't sure if she's not supposed to kick a boy or isn't supposed to let a boy see her private parts. Negi's siblings watch the beating.
The disturbing beating from Mami and particularly the fact that Mami doesn't confirm what exactly the beating is for only heightens Negi's sense that her body is vulnerable, and not just to the advances of neighbor boys. Negi is learning that she has little power to protect her body from harm, either before or during the violence.
Themes
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Gloria returns and lives with her new husband behind her mother's house. Mami goes back to work, and Negi and her siblings spend their days at Gloria's house. One day, Gloria hands Negi a small paper bag and asks her to throw it in the latrine. When Negi asks what it is, Gloria won't tell. Gloria finally agrees to tell Negi what's in the bag after it makes it into the latrine. Gloria explains that the bag contained a Kotex. Negi doesn't know what that is, and Gloria confirms Negi's age (ten) and asks if Mami hasn't yet told Negi about being a señorita. Negi says that Mami has said only to stop playing with boys and keep her legs closed when she sits. Gloria laughs.
It's possible that Mami is trying to protect Negi and keep up the façade that Negi is still a child by keeping this information from her, but in this situation Negi's lack of knowledge is embarrassing for her. This suggests that there are consequences for trying to stall the process of growing up, regardless of what the reason might be.
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Gloria asks Negi if she knows where babies come from and how they're made. Negi thinks that she's seen plenty of animals have sex and give birth, but she's never realized that humans have to do the same thing in order to have babies. She shudders and tells Gloria she knows how babies are made. Gloria explains menstruation, and Negi seems scared. Gloria tries to comfort her, but Negi thinks that she's not scared about starting her period—she's disturbed imagining Papi performing sex on Mami, and thinks about Tato's comment about being able to stick his penis in a woman.
Notice the language Negi uses to talk about sex here: it's something that men do to women, not something that men and women do together. Negi has the firsthand evidence of Tato trying to grab her to support this theory, which gives Negi the sense that she's again not in control of what happens to her body, and especially her sexual body. Tato too talks about sex as though it's something he'll do to women, rather than something he'll do with them.
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Related Quotes
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As one of the first mothers in Macún to get a job outside the home, Mami's family begins to attract gossip and resentment. Negi understands that Mami is breaking a taboo, but she doesn't understand it. Mami says that other people are jealous and tells Negi to ignore it, but Negi's friends abandon her and she can't ignore this. Papi seems to feel the same way as the rest of the neighbors, but Mami insists that the family needs the money she earns.
When the community ostracizes Mami, it stands in stark contrast to the way that they weathered the hurricane together. This shows that in many ways, Mami has a split identity like Negi does. Though she wants to be a part of her community, she also wants to support her family and take on the identity of a working woman.
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At first, Mami working outside the home makes things easier: Mami is proud and happy with her work, though her days are very long. Eventually, Mami tells Negi that she's old enough to help out and be responsible. Negi tries to get her siblings to help with chores, but they don't want to do them. Negi doesn't want to do them either, but only Negi gets in trouble when the chores are undone at the end of the day. Negi wonders why she's so bad and listens to Mami tell her nightly how she's failing at being female.
Mami seems to find more fulfillment in her identity as a woman with a job than as just another wife in the community. Because Negi is still very much a child, Mami's request is a lot to ask. Negi doesn't yet have the emotional maturity to exert the kind of power and control over the children that Mami does, and further, Negi's relationship with them is not necessarily one that afforded her power in the first place.
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Related Quotes
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Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Negi wishes she could trade places with Jenny, a cousin who's an only child and therefore spoiled. Jenny is so badly behaved that Negi and her siblings aren't allowed to play with her. Even though Jenny is a year younger, Negi hears that Jenny is already señorita. She envies Jenny for having no chores or siblings, and parents who don't beat her for misbehaving. Negi wants desperately to beat Jenny up so that Jenny will know what it's like to hurt.
Negi feels the pain and injustice of her current lot in life very deeply. For now, this is her identity: the oldest child with far too much responsibility for her maturity level. However, Negi dreams of a life where she's not in as much emotional pain; this is one way that she thinks about and considers positive family relationships.
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One day, Delsa comes home and says that Jenny got a bike and is giving everyone a ride. Negi drops her mop and runs after Delsa. Jenny is showing off her bike as Negi tries to gather her siblings to go home. Jenny accuses Negi of acting like an adult who thinks she can control the younger kids, and Negi's siblings join in this cry. Negi wants to cry at the unfairness of it: she wants to ride the bike and definitely doesn't think she's a grownup. Finally, Negi yells to Delsa and Norma that they can ride, but Raymond wails that he wants to ride too.
Though Negi is trying very hard to behave in a way that will make Mami happy, she betrays her youth when she's just as excited to ride the bike as her younger siblings. In this situation, Negi's family isn't particularly helpful or reliable; her siblings are in no way making this easier for Negi, even if they know that they should. They fear Mami's power, not Negi's.
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Jenny lifts Raymond onto the handlebars. Negi tries to tell Jenny that Raymond is too young, but Jenny insists. Negi yells at Delsa and Norma that they should know better, but they laugh and chase after Jenny and Raymond. Negi goes home alone and cries. When Negi reaches her yard, she hears a scream and knows that Jenny and Raymond fell. The screams are screams of terror and pain though, and Negi runs back to the bike. Raymond's toes are caught in the chain and his foot is twisted.
Giving up on being an adult has disastrous consequences for Negi's family, though it could also be said that Negi's lack of power in the first place created the situation. Even if the family needs the money that Mami earns working outside the home, and even if Mami feels she can only count on family members, this shows that even family isn't foolproof.
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Two women shoo the crowd away from Raymond and Negi gathers the rest of her siblings. Someone tears the bike apart and pulls out Raymond's foot, and others take Raymond to the hospital and fetch Mami and Papi. Negi feeds her siblings dinner and fears what will happen when Mami returns. Mami does nothing however; she believes Jenny is to blame. Negi is furious that Jenny gets so much attention, even though it's actually Negi's fault. Mami quits her job to care for Raymond, whose foot refuses to heal. Papi becomes distant, the fighting gets worse, and soon Negi starts to think that anything would be better than living with her hateful parents.
The community shows that it's still willing to help when crisis strikes, even if they don't approve of Mami's job. Negi suggests that what she truly wants from her parents is attention, and that even negative attention is better than no attention. This is indicative of Negi's status as the oldest child, as she's asked to put her needs and desires aside for the sake of her younger siblings.
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After school one day, Negi tries to take shelter from the rain under a tree. Negi finally runs home, but runs into Mami and the children at the public car stop. Mami says she almost left Negi behind, and that they're moving to Santurce. Negi is scared as she sits with her siblings in the back seat of the car. It takes them three hours to get to Santurce. The air is foul. They reach Doña Andrea's house and Mami, Negi, and the children fall asleep immediately upon getting into bed.
Once again, Mami takes matters into her own hands and moves the children without Papi's help or, it seems, input. The fact that Mami considered leaving Negi shows that Mami very much views Negi as almost an adult who doesn't need constant maternal care. Negi never clearly says who Doña Andrea is, but she's evidently one of Mami's network of friends and family members.
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