When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican 9. Casi Señorita Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Negi begins babysitting, but stops quickly: an old lady looking in the window catches her sliding nickels out of a baby's piggy bank. Negi is angry that nobody asked why the lady was snooping. A neighbor suggests that Mami send the children to church, and Mami agrees. She bathes everyone and buttons them into their best clothes as she reminds them of their manners.
Negi has a very distinct sense of justice here and feels that she was wrongly accused. Beginning to babysit other people's children for money is a marker of Negi's impending entry into adulthood, though here she shows she's not yet ready to handle the responsibility.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
The church is up the street from the house. Though it was once a private home, it was refurbished with pews. When Negi and her siblings enter the churchyard, the ladies declare that Negi is old enough to attend the service. Negi sits in the back with other older children. The preacher works himself into a frenzy and the congregation joins him in rapture and frantic prayer. Negi is entranced and wants to join in, but she's too afraid.
Even if Negi isn't truly coming of age yet, she's old enough for some people to consider her an adult. Negi is unwilling to allow her soul to take part in the religious devotion she sees during the service. This begins to suggest that Negi's soul is staying inside her body more as she gets older.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Negi mentions her dreams of playing piano to Papi. He and Mami fight over whether she should—Mami objects to the cost and Negi's prospective teacher, Don Luis. Negi begins lessons on a Sunday afternoon. Don Luis greets Negi and Papi and sits Negi at the piano while Papi works on his porch to pay for the lesson. At the end of the hour, Don Luis suggests that Negi come when Papi isn't working, since Papi's hammering interferes with Negi's timing.
Papi wins this argument and asserts his power and dominance over Mami and the family. Papi evidently wants to connect with Negi over something, hence the emotional and financial support for the lessons. Mami's concerns about Don Luis, however, indicate that Negi is becoming precariously mature (at least physically) and is at risk because of that.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Mami begins walking Negi to her lessons. She only insists that Negi wear clean clothes, but Don Luis often compliments Negi on particular pieces of clothing. When Negi tells Mami about it, Mami mutters to Papi about Don Luis being a "dirty old man." Negi finds the whole thing exciting and likes that her teacher sees her as more than a student, so one day she wears a dress he'd previously complimented.
Negi continues to suggest that Mami was right to worry about Negi's lessons with Don Luis. Though Negi finds the attention interesting at this point, the reader is led to agree with Mami that Don Luis's attentions are likely inappropriate. Negi's reaction to her teacher's interest shows that she's becoming more curious and less afraid of relationships of a sexual nature.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
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Don Luis compliments Negi's dress and Negi begins her scales. Don Luis puts his arms around Negi to reposition her hands. Negi pretends to accidentally bump him and he moves away, but minutes later he slaps her fingers for making a mistake. Negi jumps away, surprised and humiliated. She sits back down as far away from Don Luis as possible, but he stands behind her and holds her elbows in the correct position. Negi realizes that this stance affords him a view down the front of her dress. She jumps up and yells at him. Feeling ashamed, angry, and dirty, Negi runs home. When she tells Mami and Papi, they stop the lessons immediately. Mami goes to speak with Don Luis herself, and he avoids Negi for the rest of the school year.
This experience makes it clear to the reader, Negi, and Negi's parents that Negi is undeniably growing up and becoming an object of male attention. Negi's instinct to protect herself from unwanted male attention still exists, though unlike with Tato, Negi feels fear here rather than just a sense of righteousness and anger—Don Luis is not a peer, but is in a position of power over her. As she comes of age and deals with these unwanted sexual advances, Negi has to balance dignidad and the necessity of remaining respectful with her desire to protect her body.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Negi's new home is minutes away from Abuela's house. Negi often visits to eat guanimes, a food that Mami refuses to make because they're labor intensive. Abuelo died the year before, and one day Negi stands in Abuelo's room. Abuela comes up behind Negi and leads her back to the kitchen, where she tells her that Mami is going to New York again. Negi thinks that Raymond's pain means that he gets to spend more time with Mami than anyone else. Negi begins crying on Abuela's shoulder, saying that she hates it when Mami leaves. She tells the reader that she couldn't say something like that to Mami, as it would put an even bigger burden on her. Negi feels as though she's wrapped in a blanket of responsibility.
Some things have changed very little for Negi: she still desires Mami's love more than anything. However, it shows that Negi is coming of age when she understands that she shouldn't burden Mami by asking her to stay. She understands now that Mami is only human and this can't be easy for her either. This means that in Mami's absence, Negi will again have to take on more responsibility than she's prepared to handle at her maturity level. Coming of age is a long and messy process.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
After Mami leaves, Titi Generosa comes to stay with Negi and her siblings. Negi likes her a lot: she speaks openly about taboo subjects with a foul mouth and allows the children to do as they please. They call her "Titi Avena" (Auntie Oatmeal) behind her back because that's all she ever feeds the children. Papi is suspicious of this, and one day tells the children that they have to behave or Titi Generosa won't watch them anymore. Negi and her siblings take this to mean that if they make Titi Generosa miserable, Mami will return from New York to watch them herself.
The logic that Negi and her siblings use shows just how young they really are, as it's apparent to the reader that this logic is exceptionally flawed. Note though that Papi doesn't seem particularly interested in making things easier for the person taking care of his children. This suggests that this situation is also hard for him, though it also indicates that he's unwilling to perform Mami's role in her absence.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Papi allows this to go on for a while, but one morning he takes Negi to Tío Lalo's house to stay. When Negi asks when Mami is coming home, Papi answers as if he doesn't care when she returns. Negi falls into the same rhythm as she did previously in her cousins' house. She peels potatoes every morning with Gladys and silently seethes.
Papi seems totally disengaged from his family when he drops off Negi. This is terrifying for Negi and brings up her prior questions of whether or not Papi truly loves her and her family. This attitude foreshadows the family's impending breakup.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Romantic Love and Relationships Theme Icon