When I Was Puerto Rican


Esmeralda Santiago

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When I Was Puerto Rican Themes

Themes and Colors
Identity Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Romantic Love and Relationships Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in When I Was Puerto Rican, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Negi is constantly questioning her identity, even before the move from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn causes her to have a full identity crisis. She wonders how or where she fits into her world, since her world is constantly changing, undefined, or uncertain, and she struggles to construct her identity when parts of her identity are unreliable or don't make sense.

When Negi is seven or eight, she begins to question Papi about what a soul…

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Coming of Age

When I Was Puerto Rican follows Negi from age 4 to 14, from early childhood to the beginnings of puberty. As the oldest sibling, Negi is required by Mami to grow up and mature much faster than her younger siblings, male or female. Because of this, Negi is acutely aware of how she mentally and emotionally develops. Her family members, however, seem to care little for Negi's emotional development and instead fixate on Negi's developing…

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Women, Sex, and Power

Though much of Negi's coming of age is linked to her physical development and the responsibilities she's asked to shoulder since she's the oldest child, Negi's developing understanding of sex and the female experience deserves special consideration. Her world is one in which there are clear differences between men and women, and also between the roles they're expected to play in society. She's also acutely aware that there's a double standard when it comes…

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When I Was Puerto Rican is a study of family dynamics, structure, and culture. Negi's family, both nuclear and extended, is large, ever-changing, and at times fiercely loyal. However, family isn't always perfectly defined or straightforward: particularly during times when Negi lives with various extended family members, she struggles to understand what it really means to be family, and seeks to define what family means for herself. In this way, Negi questions who's family…

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Romantic Love and Relationships

Negi's interest in and interpretation of love and relationships changes over the course of the memoir. As a child, Negi believes that her parents' relationship is normal; she's raised to believe that all men are indiscriminately sexual and therefore have affairs. However, as Mami and Papi's relationship grows more fraught as a result of Papi's continued infidelity, Negi begins to escape the unpleasantness of watching her parents fight by daydreaming about fantasy boyfriends…

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