When I Was Puerto Rican

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.
Coming of Age Theme Icon

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 body and physical passage from child to woman. Though Negi is certainly interested in and perplexed by her changing body, she sees Mami's consistent refrains to sit with her legs closed as reductive and not useful in light of the very intense emotional coming of age that Negi undergoes.

Once Mami gets a job, Negi—as the oldest child—is tasked with caring for her siblings after school. Negi struggles with this responsibility, partially because she herself is still a child—she's around nine years old when Mami first gets a job. She's also aware of the gross unfairness that her younger siblings are allowed to act like children, while Negi must act like a much older person in order to carry out Mami's instructions and "parent" her siblings. As a result of being forced to take on an adult role so young, Negi cannot have the dependent relationship to Mami that her younger siblings do. Because she sees how hard Mami works for her family, Negi feels that it's her responsibility to not need things, even when her requests are as simple as attention or kindness. This attitude kindles an early sense of independence in Negi, though it also makes her feel unmoored and distant from the person who is supposedly raising her. Notably too, Negi experiences these realizations fully on her own, as she's unable to talk to Mami about any of them. This contrasts greatly with her physical coming of age, which is the subject of much conversation among Negi's family members.

Negi's physical coming of age is a much more public process than her internal, emotional coming of age. Beginning when she's around ten years old, adults begin to remind her that she's "casi señorita," or quickly approaching womanhood, as represented by beginning to menstruate. Negi's family watches her closely as she matures until she finally does begin menstruating at age 14. Though the adults in Negi's life make a major fuss out of Negi's impending señorita status, when Negi finally does start her period, it's a surprisingly anticlimactic event. Mami shows Negi where she keeps her Kotex hidden and agrees to get Negi a bra, but keeps her excitement mostly between herself and Tata. This suggests that the physical markers of adulthood that Negi experiences are far less important to Negi than they are to her family, drawing an even more distinct boundary between physical and emotional coming of age.

Negi's true coming of age happens in several events: first, when she realizes she's strong enough to escape Mami's physical abuse, and then when she gets accepted to the Performing Arts High School in Manhattan, thereby accomplishing her goal of getting out of Brooklyn. These events are moments in Negi's life when she gains a degree of independence and for the first time in her life, gets to dictate the course of her future, set her own goals, and work to accomplish them.

Get the entire When I Was Puerto Rican LitChart as a printable PDF.
When i was puerto rican.pdf.medium

Coming of Age ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Coming of Age appears in each Chapter of When I Was Puerto Rican. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Chapter length:

Coming of Age Quotes in When I Was Puerto Rican

Below you will find the important quotes in When I Was Puerto Rican related to the theme of Coming of Age.
1. Jíbara Quotes

Even at the tender age when I didn't yet know my real name, I was puzzled by the hypocrisy of celebrating a people everyone looked down on. But there was no arguing with Mami, who, in those days, was always right.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other When I Was Puerto Rican quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

"Does anyone call Titi Merín Esmeralda?"
"Oh, sure. People who don't know her well—the government, her boss. We all have our official names, and then our nicknames, which are like secrets that only the people who love us use."

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

2. Fighting Naked Quotes

An older sister! I'd wondered what it would be like not to be the oldest, the one who set an example for the little ones.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Papi, Margie
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chief among the sins of men was the other woman, who was always a puta, a whore. My image of these women was fuzzy, since there were none in Macún, where all the females were wives or young girls who would one day be wives.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Papi, Provi
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

3. Someone is Coming to Take Your Lap Quotes

In Santurce a jíbara was something no one wanted to be. I walked to and from school by myself, watching the jíbara girl with eyes cast down...

Related Characters: Negi (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

The doubt in his voice let me know that I knew something he didn't, because my soul traveled all the time, and it appeared that his never did. Now I knew what happened to me when I walked beside myself. It was my soul wandering.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Papi
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

5. Why Women Remain Jamona Quotes

I wondered if Mami felt the way I was feeling at this moment on those nights when she slept on their bed alone...whether the soft moans I heard coming from their side of the room were stifled sobs, like the ones that now pressed against my throat...

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Papi, Abuela
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It seemed to me then that remaining jamona could not possibly hurt this much. That a woman alone, even if ugly, could not suffer as much as my beautiful mother did.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Papi, Abuela
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

6. Mami Gets a Job Quotes

But until Gloria asked, I'd never put it together that in order for me and my four sisters and two brothers to be born, Papi had to do to Mami what roosters did to hens, bulls did to cows, horses did to mares.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Papi, Gloria
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in repreheLoLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

"I can't count on anyone from outside the family. Besides, you're old enough to be more responsible."
And with those words Mami sealed a pact she had designed, written, and signed for me.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bras
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in repr

What makes them so good and me so bad?

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

9. Casi Señorita Quotes

She was overwhelmed by what she called "the sacrifices I have to endure for you kids," and my love, expressed in demands, added a greater burden.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Abuela
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

10. Dreams of a Better Life Quotes

Each man who did a double take or pledged to love her forever, to take her home with him, to give his life for her, took her away from me. She had become public property—no longer the mother of seven children, but a woman desired by many.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

The women suffered. Frequently they were orphaned, brought up by nuns or stepmothers who made them do all the housework. In spite of this, they were cheerful and optimistic, never doubting that if they were pure of heart, life would eventually get better.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker)
Related Symbols: Armando and Ricardo
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

I called up the images of Armando or Ricardo, and with Mami and Papi's shrill fights as background, I imagined a man and woman touching one another gently, discovering beauty in a stubbled cheek or a curl of hair, whispering adoring words into each other's ear, warming one another's bodies with love.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Papi
Related Symbols: Armando and Ricardo
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It didn't seem possible that he was a good man when he wasn't fighting for her or for us. He was letting us go to New York as if it no longer mattered where we were, as if the many leavings and reconciliations had exhausted him, had burned out whatever spark had made him search for us in swamps and fetid lagoons.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Papi
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

11. Angels on the Ceiling Quotes

I hadn't done any of the things women did to get men interested. I'd been minding my own business at home...It was alarming, and at once I realized why Mami always told me to be más disimulada when I stared at people, which meant that I should pretend I wasn't interested.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

12. You Don't Want to Know Quotes

But more and more I suspected Mami's optimism was a front. No one, I thought, could get beat down so many times and still come up smiling.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

"Hit me, go ahead. You can kill me if that makes you feel better," I screamed loud enough for the world to hear. I stood in front of her, shaking all over, hands at my sides, martyrlike, fully aware of the dramatic moment that might backfire but willing to take the chance.

Related Characters: Negi (speaker), Mami, Tata
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non pro