Recommended Reads: ‘When I was Puerto Rican’ a touching memoir


when I was puerto ricanWhen I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago

April 23 is William Shakespeare’s celebrated birthday, and it’s World Book Night. Each year on that night, World Book Givers across the U.S. give away books that are donated by the authors and publishers. The books are given to those who don’t regularly read or don’t have access to printed books. In 2013 Givers across the country handed out half a million printed books in 6,200 towns and cities, including Edmonds.

“When I was Puerto Rican” is the memoir I chose to give away from this year’s selection of books. Copies will be given to adult students at an ESL (English Second Language) class that is taught by a volunteer teacher.

This is a beautifully written memoir. The author tells tales of growing up in Puerto Rico during the 1950s. She freely shares her feelings about her island home, her parents’ loving/battling relationship, her many siblings, and her native culture. I appreciated the frank descriptions of the life, and the poverty, contrasted with the open-hearted appreciation of the wild and open nature surrounding her in Puerto Rico. It was so interesting learning about it all.

In her mother’s desire to find another life, eventually she moved with all her children to New York. Esmeralda, or Negi as her nickname, is 13 years old when she is suddenly uprooted to a new and sometimes puzzling new life. She is the oldest of her seven — and eventually 11 — siblings. She barely speaks English, and has many new things to learn about the culture and logistics of her new home. This brave young girl is never a victim; she takes on her new challenges head on. Her memoir becomes an immigration story that touches the heart, and one that I think so many immigrant families can empathize with. After finishing this book, you can read more about her life in the Barrios of Brooklyn, and her later years of education in her second memoir “Almost a Woman.” Her story is truly inspiring.

I was excited to share her story on World Book Night. How fortunate that Edmonds has the wonderful Edmonds Bookshop, where owner Mary Kay Sneeringer is a big supporter of World Book Night. The books for the Edmonds Givers were received at the Edmonds Bookshop, and we joined for a party there to share stories and celebrate reading.

If you’re interested in finding out more about World Book Night, you can visit the link at and maybe we’ll see you next year.

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

– By Wendy Kendall

wendy kendallWendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.


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