Almost a Woman

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9780375705212: Almost a Woman

Book by Santiago Esmeralda

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

Extrait :

"Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu familia te apartes."

In the twenty-one years I lived with my mother, we moved at least twenty times. We stuffed our belongings into ragged suitcases, boxes with bold advertising on the sides, pillowcases, empty rice sacks, cracker tins that smelled of flour and yeast. Whatever we couldn't carry, we left behind: dressers with missing drawers, refrigerators, lumpy sofas, the fifteen canvases I painted one summer. We learned not to attach value to possessions because they were as temporary as the walls that held us for a few months, as the neighbors who lived down the street, as the sad-eyed boy who loved me when I was thirteen.

We moved from country to city to country to small town to big city to the biggest city of all. Once in New York, we moved from apartment to apartment, in search of heat, of fewer cockroaches, of more rooms, of quieter neighbors, of more privacy, of nearness to the subway or the relatives. We moved in loops around the neighborhoods we wanted to avoid, where there were no Puerto Ricans, where graffiti warned of gang turfs, where people dressed better than we did, where landlords didn't accept welfare, or didn't like Puerto Ricans, or looked at our family of three adults, eleven children and shook their heads.

We avoided the neighborhoods with too few stores, or too many stores, or the wrong kind of store, or no stores at all. We circled around our first apartment the way animals circle the place where they will sleep, and after ten years of circling, Mami returned to where we began the journey, to Mac?n, the Puerto Rican barrio where everyone knew each other and each other's business, where what we left behind was put to good use by people who moved around less.

By the time she returned to Mac?n, I'd also moved. Four days after my twenty-first birthday, I left Mami's house, the rhyme I sang as a child forgotten: "Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu familia te apartes." On a misty Tuesday, I didn't marry, but I did travel, and I did leave my family. I stuffed in the mailbox a letter addressed to Mami in which I said goodbye, because I didn't have the courage to say goodbye in person.

I went to Florida, to begin my own journey from one city to another. Each time I packed my belongings, I left a little of myself in the rooms that sheltered me, never home, always just the places I lived. I congratulated myself on how easy it was to leave them, how well I packed everything I owned into a couple of boxes and a suitcase.

Years later, when I visited Mac?n, I went to the spot where my childhood began and ended. I stepped on what was left of our blue tiled floor and looked at the wild greenness around me, at what had been a yard for games, at the corner where an eggplant bush became a Christmas tree, at the spot where I cut my foot and blood seeped into the dust. It was no longer familiar, nor beautiful, nor did it give a clue of who I'd been there, or who I might become wherever I was going next. The moriviv? weeds and the culantro choked the dirt yard, creepers had overgrown the cement floor, pinakoop climbed over what was left of the walls and turned them into soft green mounds that sheltered drab olive lizards and chameleons, coqu? and hummingbirds. There was no sign we'd ever been there, except for the hillock of blue cement tile on which I stood. It gleamed in the afternoon sun, its color so intense that I wondered if I had stepped onto the wrong floor because I didn't remember our floor being that blue.

"Something could happen to you."

We came to Brooklyn in 1961, in search of medical care for my youngest brother, Raymond, whose toes were nearly severed by a bicycle chain when he was four. In Puerto Rico, doctors wanted to amputate the often red and swollen foot, because it wouldn't heal. In New York, Mami hoped, doctors could save it.

The day we arrived, a hot, humid afternoon had splintered into thunderstorms as the last rays of the sun dipped into the rest of the United States. I was thirteen and superstitious enough to believe thunder and lightning held significance beyond the meteorological. I stored the sights and sounds of that dreary night into memory as if their meaning would someday be revealed in a flash of insight to transform my life forever. When the insight came, nothing changed, for it wasn't the weather in Brooklyn that was important, but the fact that I was there to notice it.

One hand tightly grasped by Mami, the other by six-year-old Edna, we squeezed and pushed our way through the crowd of travelers. Five-year-old Raymond clung to Mami's other hand, his unbalanced gait drawing sympathetic smiles from people who moved aside to let us walk ahead of them.

At the end of the tunnel waited Tata, Mami's mother, in black lace and high heels, a pronged rhinestone pin on her left shoulder. When she hugged me, the pin pricked my cheek, pierced subtle flower-shaped indentations that I rubbed rhythmically as our taxi hurtled through drenched streets banked by high, angular buildings.

New York was darker than I expected, and, in spite of the cleansing rain, dirtier. Used to the sensual curves of rural Puerto Rico, my eyes had to adjust to the regular, aggressive two-dimensionality of Brooklyn. Raindrops pounded the hard streets, captured the dim silver glow of street lamps, bounced against sidewalks in glistening sparks, then disappeared, like tiny ephemeral jewels, into the darkness. Mami and Tata teased that I was disillusioned because the streets were not paved with gold. But I had no such vision of New York. I was disappointed by the darkness and fixed my hopes on the promise of light deep within the sparkling raindrops.

Two days later, I leaned against the wall of our apartment building on McKibbin Street wondering where New York ended and the rest of the world began. It was hard to tell. There was no horizon in Brooklyn. Everywhere I looked, my eyes met a vertical maze of gray and brown straight-edged buildings with sharp corners and deep shadows. Every few blocks there was a cement playground surrounded by chain-link fence. And in between, weedy lots mounded with garbage and rusting cars.

A girl came out of the building next door, a jump rope in her hand. She appraised me shyly; I pretended to ignore her. She stepped on the rope, stretched the ends overhead as if to measure their length, and then began to skip, slowly, grunting each time she came down on the sidewalk. Swish splat grunt swish, she turned her back to me; swish splat grunt swish, she faced me again and smiled. I smiled back, and she hopped over.

"?T? eres hispana?" she asked, as she whirled the rope in lazy arcs.

"No, I'm Puerto Rican."

"Same thing. Puerto Rican, Hispanic. That's what we are here." She skipped a tight circle, stopped abruptly, and shoved the rope in my direction. "Want a turn?"

"Sure." I hopped on one leg, then the other. "So, if you're Puerto Rican, they call you Hispanic?"

"Yeah. Anybody who speaks Spanish."

I jumped a circle, as she had done, but faster. "You mean, if you speak Spanish, you're Hispanic?"

"Well, yeah. No . . . I mean your parents have to be Puerto Rican or Cuban or something."

I whirled the rope to the right, then the left, like a boxer. "Okay, your parents are Cuban, let's say, and you're born here, but you don't speak Spanish. Are you Hispanic?"

She bit her lower lip. "I guess so," she finally said. "It has to do with being from a Spanish country. I mean, you or your parents, like, even if you don't speak Spanish, you're Hispanic, you know?" She looked at me uncertainly. I nodded and returned her rope.

But I didn't know. I'd always been Puerto Rican, and it hadn't occurred to me that in Brooklyn I'd be someone else.

Later, I asked. "Are we Hispanics, Mami?"

"Yes, because we speak Spanish."

"But a girl said you don't have to speak the language to be Hispanic."

She scrunched her eyes. "What girl? Where did you meet a girl?"

"Outside. She lives in the next building."

"Who said you could go out to the sidewalk? This isn't Puerto Rico. Algo te puede suceder."

"Something could happen to you" was a variety of dangers outside the locked doors of our apartment. I could be mugged. I could be dragged into any of the dark, abandoned buildings on the way to or from school and be raped and murdered. I could be accosted by gang members into whose turf I strayed. I could be seduced by men who preyed on unchaperoned girls too willing to talk to strangers. I listened to Mami's lecture with downcast eyes and the necessary, respectful expression of humility. But inside, I quaked. Two days in New York, and I'd already become someone else. It wasn't hard to imagine that greater dangers lay ahead.

Our apartment on McKibbin Street was more substantial than any of our houses in Puerto Rico. Its marble staircase, plaster walls, and tiled floors were bound to the earth, unlike the wood and zinc rooms on stilts where I'd grown up. Chubby angels with bare buttocks danced around plaster wreaths on the ceiling. There was a bathtub in the kitchen with hot and cold running water, and a toilet inside a closet with a sink and a medicine chest.

An alley between our bedroom window and the wall of the next building was so narrow that I stretched over to touch the bricks and left my mark on the greasy soot that covered them. Above, a sliver of sky forced vague yellow light into the ground below, filled with empty detergent boxes, tattered clothes, unpaired shoes, bottles, broken glass.

Mami had to go look for work, so Edna, Raymond, and I went downstairs to stay with Tata in her apartment. When we knocked on her door, she was just waking up. I sat at the small table near the cooking counter to read the newspapers that Don Julio, Tata's boyfrien...

Présentation de l'éditeur :

"Not only for readers who share [Santiago's] experiences but for North Americans who seek to understand what it means to be the other."-- The Boston Globe

In her new memoir, the acclaimed author of When I Was Puerto Rican continues the riveting chronicle of her emergence from the barrios of Brooklyn to the theaters of Manhattan.

"Negi," as Santiago's family affectionately calls her, leaves rural Macún in 1961 to live in a three-room tenement apartment with seven young siblings, an inquisitive grandmother, and a strict mother who won't allow her to date. At thirteen, Negi yearns for her own bed, privacy, and a life with her father, who remains in Puerto Rico. Translating for Mami at the welfare office in the morning, starring as Cleopatra at New York's prestigious Performing Arts High School in the afternoons, and dancing salsa all night, she yearns to find balance between being American and being Puerto Rican. When Negi defies her mother by going on a series of hilarious dates, she finds that independence brings its own set of challenges.

At once a universally poignant coming-of-age tale and a brave and heartfelt immigrant's story, Almost a Woman is Santiago's triumphant journey into womanhood.  

"A universal tale familiar to thousands of immigrants to this country, but made special by Santiago's simplicity and honesty."
-- The Miami Herald

"A courageous memoir. . . . One witnesses. . .the blessings, contradictions and restraints of Puerto Rican culture."
-- The Washington Post Book World

Les informations fournies dans la section « A propos du livre » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

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