Portrait Of: Esmeralda Santiago LIVE In NYC
Bonnie got up smiled and went out. The elegant woman stretched out her hand for me to shake. We will notify your school in a few weeks. It was very nice to meet you. I shook hands all around and backed out of the room. In a fog silent as pantomime the mine had taken my voice and the urge to speak on the way home. Mommy kept asking me what happened and i kept roaming. Nothing nothing nothing happened ashamed that after all those hours of practice with mrs johnson mr garrone and mr gatty after the expense expense of new clothes shoes and after mommy had to take a day off from work to take me to manhattan after all of that act i had failed the audition and would never ever get out of brooklyn <music> <music> from n._p._r. And food media if that you know u._s._a. I'm undone yesterday he though in for monday and today a portrait of asthmas alexa jago this is less than diarra in reading from her book. When i was puerto rican i interviewed the iconic writer back in december about her life and work today. We're bringing that conversation to you and the move to brooklyn new york for puerto rico at the age of thirteen and her writing touches on the two world. You can have it at growing up in her first book. When when i was puerto rican as one of the recounts her life as a young intelligent and curious puerto rican girl who suddenly finds her world up ended when she moves to new york uh-huh i sat down with asthma for live interview at the ninety second street y on the twenty fifth adversary of the publishing of when i was puerto rican as malda kicked off our event by reading an excerpt from her book some of which we heard at the top of the show she was describing how she felt felt when she bombed an audition to get into laguardia high school a famed arts high school in manhattan but she actually got in and in this next part she returns to her high school years after graduating and runs into one of her teachers who is also one of the judges at the infamous audition. She told me that the panel had asked me to leave that day so they could laugh because it was so funny disea- a fourteen year old puerto rican girl jabbering <unk> out a monologue about a possessive mother in law at the turn of the century the words incomprehensible because she went by so fast we admired she said the courage. It took to stand in front of us and do that and do what you did so you mean. I didn't get into the school because of my talent but because i had chutzpah we both laughed. Are any of your sisters and brothers in college college. No i'm the only one so far how many of you are there by the time i graduated from high school. They were eleven of us us eleven. She looked at me for a long time until i had to look down. Do you ever think about how far oh you've come. She asked no. I answered. I never stopped to think about it. It might jinx the momentum. Let me tell you another story then. She said the first day of your first year you were absent. We called your house. You said you couldn't come to school because you had nothing to wear. I wasn't sure if you were joking. I asked to speak to your mother and you translated what she said. She needed to go somewhere with her to interpret at first. You wouldn't tell me where but then you admitted that you were going to the welfare office. You were crying and i had to assure sure do that. You were not the only student in the school whose family received public assistance the next day you were here bright right and eager and now here you are about to graduate harvard. I'm glad that you made that call. I said said and i'm glad that you came to see me but right. Now i have to teach a class. She stood up as graceful as i remember take care one of these days the as we just heard you studied performing arts but now you're a writer. So when did he become a writer. We now know about the beginnings of you're performing career. I've had so many jobs. I was constantly trying to make a living and but i never thought that i would be a writer writer. I just i think i became a writer in the process of the many jobs had so many people that i met many experiences that i lived through do and began to write really when i realized that stories like mine were hard to find in the literature in the united state and i decided i was tired of being invisible in this culture so i started to write for that reason in high school or already none i was already a an adult already had children you know i i've always been a reader but i i was always aware that didn't exist in the literature talk of the united states and i found nicolaas more. I found billy thomas but that was pretty much good find at that time and then when i had children i realized my children are going to have the same kind of questions about why aren't people who who identify with perico. Why are we not visible in this country and and i began to write about my experience as a puerto rican the united states <hes> as a way of fixing that which i thought it was broken you've lived on the u._s. Mainland for a long time for decades now and you continue you to write about puerto rico including history and if you wrote like congress talladega and if i'm not mistaken one if not both of the books you're reading now our history books why continue to write about what are the regarding the u._s. Mainland and what about history excites you well. I write about what we go because we all know what's going on here. So i want to tell a story that hasn't been told old and i think everything that i read assist because everything's in the past. I'm not writing about. What's happening right now in my life so i i'm fascinated by. I'm fascinated by how how people think. History is something that people make or do or make up we make history by existing and moving and doing things making making choices and making demands ordering or decisions so i think that if because i feel myself as a person who's creating history just by existing. That's what i write about. I write about existence and about what happens. I'm fascinated by the people who are not in in the history and like my family you. If you look the literature of puerto rico it mostly was written by quite white literate educated spain descended people. You know very very few stories. Were written like mainly like my family like my parents and grandparents. You know number one. Most of them were illiterate because they'll illiteracy was very high in and in that part of the world but also nobody asked them about their lives. You know you are setting your nice suit looking at the wind river over there and in writing some romantic road to a he where they're walking across. Her hips are moving and all that the i. that he rita. I don't want that guy looking at me that way. I want him to see how hard it is to be out on that plowing field with the sun. You haven't eaten anything. That's the people i want to write about and those people didn't didn't exist in in our literature certainly not in the literature in english in the united states about puerto rican so i'm that generation that wanted to fix things you know. Also i wanna fix that too coming up on the u._s._a. My conversation with ezra la- san diego oh continues stay with us. Nothing rash us these days. Senator elizabeth warren is driving around iowa in an r._v. campaigning and on the backs. We have a huge sign that says honk if you want big structural change and according to warren it is getting attention we had truckers trucker's coming by and they were they were really on the big air horns and that was fun the n._p._r. Politics podcast hit the road to ask about all that structural changes calling for subscribe gripe to listen <music> and we're back as rather santiago join join me onstage last year for a live interview about her life and her work in addition to her most famous debut novel. When i was puerto rican she also writes historic nonfiction and and about her romantic life such as in her book the turkish lover we return to that conversation now i was rereading turkish lover and there was a sentence that i really love that was lost was a puerto rican afternoon humming with the proud cockle of a hen with chicks. The sudden loud thunder and pounding rain of a tropical squall loss was not feeling safe even in our own apartments. Your childhood was marked by hurricane season. You remember big league hurricanes. You recently went back to puerto rico after hurricane maria at what was it like to grow up with hurricanes and how did you see the island when you were just there as a child of the hurricanes of course are terrifying when it's happening not really because you're scared but because the adult are freaking out and so you don't own when you're a kid and then of course the very big one that i remember was santa clara. My brother was my my younger. Brother was like forty days old old. I remember it very particularly and i remember when we came out of our neighbor's home that there was it's nothing i mean. There was nothing left and you just can't even as a child like not even trees right there. You know like they're stunt. It used to be branches and there's no leaves and and you you can't understand what happened and then. I think the fear comes in because you're used i mean i remember you know you. Just you're hungry. You go get him and go or avocado or a banana and all of a sudden those those kinds of things were not available but also just how nervous and scared the adults were because they were supposed to take care of the children and we <unk> over sudden were very aware of the fact that they couldn't take care of us. There was something that i've never forgotten and how difficult the gold it was for them but you know that climate within a week things begin to flower it. Just the land was so fertile that very quickly as a child. I forgot that this had happened. But of course the parents are still dealing with this for months trying to recover bill the house. Get fresh water. Get food all those kinds of things that as a child so you don't really think about it it just kind of appears or you can just pick up the tree and so it's just important rico in october and now of course i i go there as an adult having a real sense of what happened there having spoken to many of my friends and it's a completely different different way of looking at the devastation because when you're a little kid. You don't think oh. I can't get mangoes anymore but then you realize when you're an adult and you realized the ecology has been devastated you know now i'm as afraid as my parents and the adults are on new work because they knew what was it's happening in a way that i didn't so you read a lot about the intimate relationships of your life and so inevitably you talk about the power dynamics between men and women i remember are in when i was puerto rican the time where you're paying teachers inappropriate with you then when you're a great uncle pinches your breasts and then gives you a dollar the the turkish lover with the entire book is about a relationship with a very controlling man. We're living right now through a moment in which women are demanding that men take greater responsibilities for their actions. I'm curious what you think about the metoo movement and if it's impacted the way that you look at your own work well. I think the metoo movement is great not a moment too soon. I think that it's really important to be able to be open about these experiences. This is because if you are woman who has who has been in some way approached in that way by predatory man you need to be able to acknowledge knowledge that that happened in your life because otherwise you carry it as a burden for the rest of your life with no understanding so i think it's really a great that women are coming forward and they're talking about this and they're giving up the shame of that experience and that's really important and for me when you talk about. I write a lot about my intimate life. Do i really do. I read your son. I'm like i can't look look at an xs facebook page. Let alone dwell on a moment like uncomfortable. I'm like when did she find the strength to write this well. You know sometimes sometimes you. I think there was a point in my life. I don't know when it happened to tell you the truth but there was a moment in my life when i just gave up shame name for a lot of things that i had no control over. How do we get there when i don't know what happened i really. I think it's maturity. I think it's age which i think it's also realizing that well you know an example. I have a twenty year old niece who's very much a young woman and she's very very very concerned about what her cohorts think about her. What she wears out she behaves or whatever you're not going to know these people in a few in years. Why are you worrying about them. They are not gonna be in your life. I can say that now but of course when i was her age i was freaking out over worrying the right thing and all that kind of thing but when you get a certain point in your life you realize you know those things are really not that important and that there are people who are going to be in your life for the rest of your life and those people you treasure value respect the new your with right and then there's a lot of people then oh cares what they think you know and so we got to that point where i don't care. I think a lot of the humiliations that i had when i first came to the united states i it was because i was ashamed kind of the way that people are responding to me and i wasn't realizing that wait a second the things that i'm doing a really good you know. I'm working really hard to learn english to have a job to be educated to do all these positive things and all these people are saying nasty things about me. This is not about let me there's about them because this up their problem. I'm not going to worry about but it's a process of reaching that point and and i i wish i had a i could do that and say but you have to find that place in your own life and make that decision and it really he is a decision i think because when you give up shame you also give up a lot of people because they make you feel bad but you get used to feeling bad from that person person and so after awhile you just going like why am i spending my time with this person make no sense. I don't think anyone has learned learn to read as many times as i you learn to read spanish and puerto rico in your child than you came to the united states and you learned to read read in english and then nearly ten years ago you had a stroke and you lost the ability to read and write and then regained it. I'm curious for those who don't know the story of what happened to your stroke if you could talk a little bit about that and then what have you learned about learning through this process yeah well. I just woke up one day and i couldn't understand anything that was that i tried to read one of the first things i do. In the mornings i read the paper and i realized i have no idea is written written in what languages and called my doctor of course and they discovered that i had a very size of head head head of a pin stroke and it affected only the reading and writing comprehension so i could write anything anything. I had no problems writing but i didn't know i couldn't read. It and i didn't know that what i was writing made any sense because they couldn't understand it but i did did at a very early stage. I realize that understand everything that was said to me so i said well you know i started listening to audio books and because i have to read do otherwise i would die and and so i realized that one point i kinda like the same thing happened to me. When i came to the united states i could look at a book and i didn't understand what it said. You know i have to do the same thing and my doctors told me you know. The brain is elastic and it can find other ways to to do the same thing so that's i basically started to learn how to read and write again the way i would have when i was a little kid writing with a primer and just little by little until i was able to understand simple concepts and then went on until i was able to do the whole thing but it was a process you know one of my favorite aspects of the story. You did a piece on latino u._s._a. About this that you had a friend who brought you a stack of newspapers yay yea friend yeah when i told them when where it happened he you know he called me and i told him we'll be tapping and and so i'm coming over you know and so he showed showed up with a stack of magazines like this and at the very top is something like a children's books children's stories and then tiger be and then people magazine and good housekeeping at the very bottom was a new yorker so he said you just start at the top and when you get down there you know that you are okay and i thought it was a wonderful you know and there was a point in my life. When i know way too much about britney spears and just yeah i had i really knew the culture all the affairs i read all but it was a wonderful it was a wonderful idea and he was an educator and it was very smart but he did that and that and i'm a good student so i did that and you know. What did i learn about learning. I learned that you didn't learn anything at any point. If you apply yourself and if you believe that you can do it. I think i was very fortunate. I didn't have massive massive muscular issues with my stroke so i really concentrate. How do i understand things and pitted. Thank you for joining us for our live event which marked the twenty fifth anniversary of the publication of her book. When i was puerto rican <music> this episode was produced by sarajevo and edited by sophia by car but let the u._s._a. Team includes marina maggie feeling and genesee. I'm oka- held this week from engineers stephanie lebow and julia caruso production she manager isn't that are new york. Foundation ignite fellow is one that would you guess and we also have to say a fond goodbye to our outgoing fellow just reading good luck in your next endeavor stress. We are very proud of you. Our interest lucas other jonathon got special. Thanks this week to ricky donna though for nar schwartz and frank cantor our theme music was composed by santa. We know if you'd like the music you heard on this episode. Stop by latino u._s._a. Dot o._r._g. And chuck our weekly spotify playlist our executive producer or is my dina hosa. I'm your host this week. Dunst joins again next time in the meantime. You can find us on social media. Ios latino u._s._a. Is made possible in part by the annie e. Casey foundation creates a brighter future for the nations children by strengthening being families building greater economic opportunity and transforming communities the new york women's foundation funding women leaders that build solutions in their communities entities and celebrating thirty years of radical generosity and housing simon's foundation unlocking knowledge opportunity and impossibilities more at h. S. foundation dot org how many new yorkers are in the audience. I'm danica city. He them next time on the u._s._a. We entered the united states senate chamber and follow the senators as they try to reform our immigration system the twist they're all in fourth grade. That's next time on latino u._s._a.