When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 7. El Mangle Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Negi tells the reader that her new neighborhood floats on a lagoon filled with sewage. On her first morning there, Negi wakes early and tells Mami she has to use the bathroom. Mami leads Negi to the bathroom, which is a room with a bare bulb and a hole cut into the floor. Mami offers to go first and tells Negi to aim carefully. Negi is afraid to use the toilet, and Mami offers to hold Negi's shoulders to steady her. Mami tells Negi to take her panties off when she finds she can't squat over the wide hole, and Negi fears that there's a body down there that will see her genitals or possibly pull her down into the sewage. Mami tries to soothe Negi, but Negi panics, screams, and jumps back.
Once again, Mami and Negi have the potential for a bonding moment as Mami shows Negi how to use the toilet and offers to help her. Negi's reaction shows how much of a child she still truly is, as well as how unsafe she feels as a result of moving and being uprooted. The specific fear that something in the sewage might see her genitals alludes to Negi's sexual coming of age, as she's aware now that it's her duty to keep her genitals private and therefore safe.
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Doña Andrea appears at the door and asks what's going on. Mami explains that Negi is afraid of the bathroom, and she and Doña Andrea laugh. Negi cries uncontrollably and yells at them to not laugh at her. She punches Mami in the stomach, and Mami angrily grabs Negi's hands and growls at her to stop. Mami tells Negi to use the bathroom, but Negi refuses. Mami tells Negi she'll have to hold it. Negi feels far away as she urinates where she stands.
Negi's coming of age is becoming more apparent: this is the first time she acts on the anger she feels towards Mami. This plants the seed early on that Negi's true coming of age will be tied to how she deals with her relationship to Mami's violence towards her.
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Later, as Doña Andrea feeds Negi, Norma, and Delsa, she tells them that if you hit your mother, you can't be buried, because your hand will stick out in front of you and you won't fit in a coffin. Doña Andrea says that God punishes bad children this way, and though Negi fears that Doña Andrea is right, she tells Delsa and Norma that they could just build a bigger coffin.
Negi is confronted again with the possibility that she's bad. This takes Abuela's "think good thoughts" to a new extreme, as now Negi herself is bad, not just her thoughts. This contributes to Negi's fear that she's failing at being the responsible oldest sibling and being female in general.
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Negi describes Doña Andrea. She's short and round, and Raymond is scared of her. Her house floats at the end of a pier, and she makes the children stay inside so they don't fall into the lagoon. Negi is bored with nothing to do, since Mami won't sign them up for school until she finds work. Mami wants to rent the house next door. One day, Negi asks Mami when Papi is going to visit, and Mami's sharp reply makes Negi think that Papi doesn't know where they are. Negi explains that Papi hates places like this that smell so strongly.
Negi's suspicion suggests that Mami had previously told Papi where she was going, but this time is somehow different. Mami has been doing this for many years at this point and it's possible she's decided that Papi is simply too unreliable to include in her plans. This seems to be a direct result of Mami's job, as it gives her power and purpose to make these decisions alone and not rely only on Papi's income.
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When Negi finally gets to go to school, the uniform is ugly and the school is made of stone. Negi's teacher, Señora Leona, uses only Spanish and is angry and mean. Señora Leona's class is studying fractions, which Negi hasn't covered yet. One day, Señora Leona calls Negi to solve a problem on the board. Negi walks slowly to the board and tries to solve the problem in her head, but she can't make it make sense.
Even if Negi didn't have great experiences during the American "invasion" of Macún, she finds that the complete rejection of American culture is almost worse. This suggests that Negi herself inhabits some space in the middle between Puerto Rican and American cultures.
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Negi stands at the board thinking until Señora Leona asks if she needs help. Finally, Señora Leona asks if Negi learned fractions "in that school for jíbaros." The students laugh and Señora Leona calls Negi ignorant. She grabs the chalk and makes Negi stand and watch her solve the problem. Negi sends her soul outside to sit in a tree until Señora Leona sends her back to her seat.
Negi escapes Señora Leona's cruelty by engaging with the secret wandering part of her identity. This shows that Negi can code switch within herself and adopt different personas to create more comfortable situations within her own mind, not just for people around her.
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The walk home from school is very long. Negi passes cement houses and wishes she lived in one of them. She watches mothers greet their daughters, but when she gets to her own house, nobody greets Negi. She helps her sisters with their homework and draws pictures of flowers and birds.
Negi seems to deeply feel the absence of a warm relationship with Mami, particularly compared to her female classmates. She compensates by taking on more of a maternal role with Delsa and Norma.
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One day, Mami takes Negi by the hand and points out the pipe connected to the faucet. She leads Negi along the pier, following the pipe. She points out that the pipes don't ever draw water from the disgusting lagoon, and after that, Negi doesn't mind bathing or drinking the water.
Even if Negi fears that Mami isn't there for her, this experience shows that Mami does indeed care about Negi's emotional wellbeing and is willing to help Negi understand that she's safe.
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Sometimes Mami lets Negi sit on a boat beside Doña Andrea's house. Negi sits in the boat and watches the water and the faraway mountains. She thinks of sitting with Papi and starts to cry, but knows that Mami would be angry if she knew why she was crying. Negi swallows her pain.
Negi still hopes to have a good relationship with Papi, but is learning from Mami that such a thing probably won't happen. It's a mark of Negi's growing maturity that she's learning to swallow her pain, just as Mami does when Papi hurts her.
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One day, Mami asks Negi to do something very special. She tells Negi that a woman's baby boy died, and when he died, his eyes didn't close. She explains that he can't be buried with his eyes open, and asks Negi if she'd close the baby's eyes. Negi refuses but Mami offers her ice cream. Negi wonders if Mami already said that she'd do it. They argue a little more, and Negi finally agrees. Mami pulls out Negi's good white dress, and Negi wonders if she'll be able to see the baby's soul trapped in its head.
It's obvious that Mami has already offered Negi for this task. This shows that Mami still has the power to control Negi, and Negi agrees in part because she's aware of this power dynamic. Negi's curiosity about other people's souls continues; she construes this as an opportunity for her to learn more about how souls function.
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Negi gets dressed and comments that she looks like she's going to make communion. Mami chuckles, and Negi wonders if the Virgin Mary won't protect her like she does Catholic children. Mami ignores Negi's questions, fixes Negi's bow, and leads her out of the house. They walk too quickly for Negi, but when Negi asks to slow down, Mami only tells her she looks pretty. Mami points out the house and gets down to straighten Negi's dress. Negi sees that Mami is scared.
It's unclear exactly why Negi must perform this task, but it's possibly connected to Mami's attempts to create a community for herself in El Mangle (or the belief that only another child can close a dead child’s eyes). Negi continues to consider how and where she exists as a sub-par Catholic as she works on piecing together her identity.
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Negi is so scared she feels like she's floating when they reach the house. Two women greet them, and one gets down on Negi's level and introduces herself and the baby's mother. The woman blesses Negi and gives her a rosary to hold. They stand over the baby's coffin. The woman dips Negi's fingers in holy water and tells Negi what to do. When she's told, Negi puts her fingers on the baby's eyelids to close them while the women pray. Then Negi takes her hand away and rubs her fingers against her dress. She runs to Mami and tells her she wants to go home.
Negi's separates her soul from her body in this highly emotional, fantastical, and frightening situation. This gives Negi two separate identities: one that's capable of leaving the house, and one that's good and follows directions. Negi gets none of the satisfaction of seeing the baby's soul, which suggests that Negi's conception of the soul is very personal and not shared by others.
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Mami speaks to the women for a minute as Negi keeps saying she wants to go home. Negi then hallucinates that a seagull tells her to leave. Negi backs out of the house and Mami soon joins her. They walk quickly back to their house where Negi desperately rips off her dress and pulls off her shoes and undergarments. She runs into the shower and scrubs herself, particularly the fingers that touched the dead baby.
Negi is so afraid she truly begins to disassociate from herself, though the hallucination can also be seen as an attempt by Negi's mind to protect her from trauma. This entire experience shows Negi yet again that she doesn't have control or power over her body and what she does with it.
Themes
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Negi tells the reader that she'd never hated going to school before, but she and Señora Leona hate each other and everyone makes fun of her. One day, Señora Leona assigns the class to write a composition using as many vocabulary words as possible. Negi thinks the assignment is stupid, and Señora Leona tells Negi to use neater handwriting. Negi vows to use all ten words, just because Señora Leona said using all ten would be impossible. Señora Leona continues to call attention to Negi and tells her to stop thinking. Negi laughs. When Señora Leona raps her pointer it breaks, and the entire class bursts out laughing. Finally, she curses at her class and, embarrassed, turns to the door.
Negi tries very hard to use the appropriate code of conduct with Señora Leona, but she recognizes the ridiculousness of being told to not think in school. The class's reaction suggests that they might have similar problems with Señora Leona even if they're not from rural hometowns. This robs Señora Leona of her power and gives the children a win when she tries to leave.
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Papi appears at the door and Negi runs into his arms. They sit outside and Negi tells him about how mean Señora Leona is. Papi goes inside and talks to Señora Leona. She hears them both laugh. Papi leads Negi away, and as Negi looks back, Señora Leona pretends to spit at her.
Papi comes, though it wasn't expected. This shows that even though Papi does care for Negi and will save her at times, a rescue by him isn't something to count on, even if it's successful when it happens.
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