When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 8. Letters From New York Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Negi listens to a song about a man having trouble in love. She thinks that the man will go on loving the woman he's singing about even if he says his heart is closed, just like Mami and Papi do.
Negi finally realizes that her parents cycle through periods of good times and bad times but keep coming back to each other.
Themes
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Romantic Love and Relationships Theme Icon
After Papi found Mami and the children, he convinced Mami to forgive him and the family moved to a busy avenue in Santurce. Their home is now a two-room apartment behind a noisy bar. Mami tells the children to never go in the bar or talk to anyone. Negi again walks to school alone. At night Negi's family sleeps in the crowded space and listens to the noise from the bar. When they hear women in the bar, Mami explains that those women aren't good women. Every morning, Negi and her siblings jump over vomit and urine stains.
The fact that Papi agrees to live in Santurce suggests that he may be trying to honor Mami's desire to live anywhere but Macún. Mami shows that she cares for her children by trying to protect them from the patrons of the bar. Again, women are divided into different categories based upon their relationships to men.
Themes
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Romantic Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Raymond's foot still won't heal. He occasionally develops a fever and blisters on his foot. Doctors want to amputate his foot, but Mami won't let them. She comforts Raymond one night and vows to find a specialist for him. Negi wishes she could go back in time and never let Raymond ride Jenny's bike.
Mami is fiercely loyal to her children and shows it by protecting Raymond from amputation. Negi keeps it to herself that she feels responsible for the accident in the first place.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
One day, Mami receives a letter from Tata. She gives Negi a personal note from Tata, which is unusual. Negi takes the letter outside to read it. Tata compliments the story Negi sent, but says she had a hard time reading Negi's handwriting. Negi crumples her letter and throws it down, collapsing in Mami's lap. Héctor brings Mami the balled-up letter and Mami reads it. She comforts Negi and then tells her to print when she writes to Tata.
Negi doesn't get the same sense of security that Mami does from the extended family after receiving the letter from Tata. This shows that though Negi is undeniably a part of the family, she still has to build her own relationships with these family members. Negi’s mood swings might indicate that she’s approaching puberty.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
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Negi hears her parents murmuring in bed one night. Papi sounds angry and gets out of bed. He doesn't return for days. Mami can't work regularly since she has to care for Raymond, but she makes a deal with her landlord to do some cooking for the bar. Some days Mami leaves the house dressed nicely, and Negi says she didn't learn until years later that Mami was going to clean other people's houses.
Mami continues to build her identity as the primary caregiver and provider for her family in Papi's absence. Notice that while both she and Papi keep secrets from the rest of the family, Mami's secrets help the family while Papi's secret lovers do not.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
One day, Negi comes home to see laundry strung up in their front room. Mami explains that she's ironing for the laundry down the street, and Negi notes that ironing is Mami's least favorite chore. Negi asks to iron, and Mami incredulously agrees to teach her. She finds one of Papi's shirts and teaches her how to set the temperature and create steam. Mami guides Negi around the shirt and praises Negi's work. Negi declares that ironing is fun and Mami laughs. Mami never asks Negi to iron after that, but Negi sometimes irons to feel close to Mami.
Negi and Mami continue to bond as Negi takes more of an interest in Mami's happiness. This allows them to build a stronger mother-daughter relationship and creates a greater sense of trust. Negi's desire to do this in the first place is connected to her growing up, as she's beginning to see Mami as a whole person and not just a mother.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
In December, the landlord fences the backyard and leads a pig into the enclosure. Right before Christmas, Mami, Papi, the landlord, and the neighbors all help slaughter the pig. The entire neighborhood gathers to celebrate Christmas and eats and dances together.
Christmas dinner creates the sense that there's a real community and a sense of family among the neighbors.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Several weeks later, Mami tells Negi that she's taking her to spend a few days with her cousins, Gladys and Angie. Gladys and Angie are Negi's age, and their mother, Angelina, greets Mami and Negi. Gladys is tall and timid and Negi likes her, though she understands that Gladys will remain jamona. Angie, however, is pretty and spoiled. The cousins take Negi to show her their rooms. Gladys' room is narrow and sparse. Angie's room is pink and covered in ruffles and posters of American movie stars. Angie tells Negi that she can't come in without permission, and Negi backs out of the room. She sits with Gladys and Gladys mutters that Angie is spoiled.
Negi finally gets to experience a nuclear family other than hers up close. Gladys and Angie's family shows Negi that it's possible for children to still be deeply unhappy even when they're afforded the things that financial privilege can buy, like a room of one's own. It also allows Negi to begin building her own familial relationships with Gladys, who is much more pleasant even if she probably is going to be jamona.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Romantic Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Negi asks Gladys if she has a radio, and Gladys explains that her mother is Evangelical and doesn't like the radio. Negi is concerned that her aunt and uncle are going to convert her to be dull like other Evangelicals she's met. Negi goes downstairs and asks Mami if they can leave, and Mami reminds Negi that she's staying for a few days. Angelina then leads Negi into Tío Lalo's store to choose a dessert for dinner. The store is evidently Tío Lalo's domain, and Negi hurriedly chooses a candy bar and runs back into the house.
Negi is very afraid that religion has exceptional power to change her identity. Her fear of Angelina converting her to be Evangelical also suggests that Negi now identifies with being a "bad" and non-practicing Catholic, even if the identification is in name only. This shows that parts of Negi's identity are beginning to solidify into one and not be quite so fragmented.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
They pray before dinner and then Tío Lalo asks Mami how long she'll be in New York. Negi is in disbelief that Mami didn't tell her she was going to New York. Mami explains that Tata made Raymond an appointment to see a foot specialist. She promises to come back for Negi as soon as she returns, but won't give Negi an exact day. Finally, she tells Negi she'll return in two Sundays in the afternoon.
Though Mami is doing something to help her family by taking Raymond to specialists, Negi sees her departure as a betrayal. Mami's unwillingness to tell Negi exactly when she's returning creates even more tension, as it's suggested that Mami is only giving Negi a date to make her stop asking.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
As Negi lies in bed with Gladys that night, Gladys tells Negi about how her parents beat her, but Negi won't engage. She wonders where her siblings are, and figures that Mami has probably moved to New York permanently and given Negi away. Finally when Gladys starts talking about potatoes, Negi takes interest. Gladys explains that Negi is here to peel potatoes for Tío Lalo's famous stuffed potato balls. Negi cries and thinks that this is an intense punishment for letting Raymond get hurt.
Negi is still fixated on her belief that this whole situation is her fault. In her anger and pain she feels Mami's betrayal even more deeply, but she doesn't recognize yet that by staying with family members, she's still reaping the rewards of Mami's well-connected extended family.
Themes
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When Negi and Gladys finish eating the next morning, Tío Lalo presents them with boiled potatoes and Gladys shows Negi how to properly peel them. Two weeks later, on Sunday, Negi wakes up, peels her potatoes, and then dresses nicely. She sits in the living room and reads a religious magazine while she waits for Mami. Mami never comes. When Tío Lalo closes his store and comes inside, he tells her that Mami sent a letter and isn't coming until the following Friday. Negi knows he's lying and feels humiliated.
Negi takes Mami at her word and makes preparations to leave with her. Tío Lalo then makes the betrayal even worse for Negi by not telling her sooner that Mami wasn't going to come today. He doesn't behave as Negi believes a family member should; he allows her to feel betrayed and alone even though she's technically surrounded by family.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Mami finally returns with presents. Negi gets a yellow handbag with a mirror. Mami gives Angie, Gladys, and their parents presents and goes on about New York and the doctors who saw Raymond. Negi and Mami finally leave and get on a bus. When Mami pulls Negi off at a different stop than usual, she explains that they've moved.
Negi doesn't say when Mami returns, and therefore never confirms if Tío Lalo was indeed lying. However, the fact that Mami does return shows that Negi was dramatizing her departure; Mami still cares for all her children and will always return for them.
Themes
Family Theme Icon