When I Was Puerto Rican


Esmeralda Santiago

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When I Was Puerto Rican Characters


The protagonist and narrator of the book. Negi's real name is Esmeralda; she was given “Negi” as a nickname as an infant because her skin was nearly black. She's the first child that Mami and… read analysis of Negi


Mami is Negi's mother. She's a light-skinned woman and in Negi's perception, is always pregnant. By the end of the memoir, Mami has 11 children. Though she and Papi love each other and spend… read analysis of Mami


Papi is Negi's father. Though he has a 14-year relationship with Mami, both Negi and Mami are aware that Papi sees other women behind Mami's back. He works in construction and often goes… read analysis of Papi


Abuela is Papi's mother and Negi's grandmother (“abuela” means grandmother in Spanish). She's an extremely religious woman and is very accomplished at crocheting. When Negi stays with Abuela, Abuela teaches her how to… read analysis of Abuela


Tata is Mami's mother. She lives in New York with her "friend," Don Julio, and her brother Chico. She's quite tall and is generally very kind and generous to Negi, Mami, and… read analysis of Tata
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Delsa is Mami and Papi's second child, and Negi’s sister. She's exceptionally beautiful and Mami and Papi refer to her as Muñequita, or "little doll." Negi says that Delsa can make perfect beans… read analysis of Delsa

Doña Andrea

When Mami moves her family to El Mangle, she moves in with Doña Andrea. Doña Andrea looks like a witch and Raymond is scared of her. Negi hates that Doña Andrea laughed at her for… read analysis of Doña Andrea

Tío Lalo

Tío Lalo is Mami's uncle. He owns a shop that sells Puerto Rican street food and is famous for his stuffed potato balls. He makes his daughter Gladys peel potatoes and when Negi stays… read analysis of Tío Lalo


Francisco is Mami's boyfriend in Brooklyn. He's ten years younger than she is and Tata doesn't like him. Negi and her siblings, however, love him because he's kind to them and to Mami. He's… read analysis of Francisco
Minor Characters
Norma is Mami and Papi's third child.
Héctor is Mami and Papi's fourth child. He's born when Negi is four years old.
Alicia is Mami and Papi's fifth child. She's born in Santruce while Mami and Papi are separated.
Edna is one of Negi's younger sisters and is Mami and Papi's sixth child.
Raymond is Mami and Papi's seventh baby. As a child he gets his foot caught in a bike chain, which does permanent damage. Mami travels to New York with him to see a specialist.
Abuelo is Negi's paternal grandfather. He sells oranges from a cart. He sleeps separately from his wife, Abuela, in a sparsely furnished room.
Tato is Doña Lola's son. He's a year older than Negi, exceptionally dirty, and skilled at making and shooting slingshots. He and Negi inspect each other's genitals, but when Negi decides she's done, Tato tries to grab her.
Doña Lola
Doña Lola is one of Negi's neighbors in Macún and is Tato's mother. She and Mami are friends and they see each other often. Negi loves how Doña Lola speaks in confusing proverbs.
Juanita is Negi's best friend in Macún when they're small children. She lives down the road from Negi's family, and they walk to and from school together.
Don Berto
Don Berto is Juanita's ancient grandfather. He spends his days sharpening his machete and tells Juanita and Negi jíbaro stories of talking animals and magical happenings. When he dies, Negi and Juanita lead the funeral procession.
Miss Jiménez
Miss Jiménez is an English teacher at Negi's school in Macún. Negi describes her as looking like a grown-up doll, and one of Negi's neighbors says that Miss Jiménez has the prettiest legs she's ever seen.
Gloria is a young woman in Macún who cares for Negi and her siblings while Mami is at work. She explains to Negi what being “señorita” entails.
According to Mami, Provi is one of Papi's “putas” (whores). She and Papi have a daughter, Margie, who is a year older than Negi. Provi eventually moves with Margie to New York.
Margie is Papi and Provi's daughter, and she's a year older than Negi. Provi takes Margie with her to New York, and Negi never gets to meet her.
Tío Cucho
Tío Cucho is one of Negi's uncles in Santurce. He sees a woman named Rita, and Mami tells him he can't bring Rita to her house.
Rita is Tío Cucho's girlfriend. Negi suspects she's a “puta” because she wears hairspray, high heels, and low cut dresses. According to Mami and her friends, Rita has two sons that she leaves at home while she parties.
Doña Ana
Doña Ana is one of Negi's neighbors in Macún. She has the strongest house in the neighborhood, and the residents of the neighborhood weather hurricanes in her house. She is Gloria's mother.
Jenny is Negi's cousin. She's an only child and is very spoiled, and Negi envies her. Jenny is responsible for Raymond's foot injury.
Senora Leona
Senora Leona is Negi's teacher in El Mangle. She insists on using Spanish only and is very mean. She regularly humiliates Negi and calls her a “jíbara” as an insult.
Gladys is one of Mami's cousins, though she's Negi's age. She's tall with watery eyes, and Negi understands that Gladys will remain “jamona” (a spinster). Gladys resents her sister Angie because Angie is spoiled while Gladys is forced to peel potatoes and is beaten for talking back.
Angie is one of Mami's cousins, though she's Negi's age. Angie is spoiled by her parents, Tío Lalo and Angelina; they don't make her help peel potatoes like her sister Gladys. Her bedroom is pink and ruffled and she doesn't allow anyone else in it.
Angelina is Mami's aunt. She and her husband, Tío Lalo, care for Negi while Mami is in New York. Negi thinks that Angelina is mousy and not a good cook. She's an Evangelical, though she doesn't try to convert Negi.
Don Luis
Don Luis is Negi's piano teacher and a school principal. He often compliments Negi on her clothing when she comes for lessons, though she realizes he likes particular tops because they allow him a view of her developing chest.
Titi Generosa
Titi Generosa stays with Negi and her siblings while Mami is in New York. The children call her Titi Avena (Auntie Oatmeal) behind her back because that's the only thing she cooks. Negi likes her because she has a foul mouth and believes whatever the children tell her.
Johannes Vélez
Johannes is Negi's first crush. His father is in the United States Navy.
Chico is Tata's brother. He doesn't live with Negi, Mami, and Tata, but he spends a lot of time at their house drinking. Though Mami deems him a harmless drunk, he asks Negi to take off her shirt for him and later pinches her nipple.
Don Julio
Don Julio is Tata's "friend." He sometimes lives with Tata, and they drink together in the afternoons.
Mr. Grant
Mr. Grant works in the office at Negi's first school in Brooklyn. He tries to assign Negi to seventh grade, but makes a deal with her that she can stay in eighth grade if she learns English by Christmas.
Miss Brown
Miss Brown is Negi's first teacher in Brooklyn. She teaches the class for students with learning disabilities. Negi loves her musical voice, and how she teaches English Composition as though everyone cares deeply about it.
The child of Mami and Francisco in Brooklyn. His father dies soon after he is born.
Mr. Barone
Mr. Barone is a guidance counselor at Negi's high school who helps her apply for the Performing Arts High School.
Negi's Mentor
Negi's mentor is one of the women who conducts Negi's audition for the Performing Arts High School. She's tall, elegant, and always seems to be trying to hide a smile.