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Fronteras: 'When I Was Puerto Rican' — A Conversation With Writer Esmeralda Santiago

Driven by curiosity, shaped by the streets of her native town of Macún, Puerto Rico, and grounded by the responsibility of being the eldest of 11 children, Esmeralda Santiago’s childhood on the island was abruptly uprooted when her mother moved her and her siblings to New York. 

Santiago caught up with Fronteras earlier this month when she was in town to mark the 35th anniversary of the Puerto Rican Heritage Society. Her three memoirs — “When I Was Puerto Rican” (1993), “Almost a Woman” (1999) and “The Turkish Lover” (2004) — and her other work remains wildly popular today. 

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Esmeralda Santiago

As an inquisitive young girl, Santiago was unknowingly laying the foundation upon which she would build her writing career on. Her parents’ failing marriage led her mother and 10 younger siblings to make to move the Brooklyn at age 13, while her father and the life she knew stayed behind.

Santiago wrote about her childhood in Puerto Rico and her life transition to New York in her debut memoir, “When I was Puerto Rican.” It was a book, she said, written in English but lived in Spanish, as it chronicled the formation of her new multicultural identity.

The conversation spans from her youthful inquisitiveness, the current struggles of Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, and the incorrect usage of the word “America.”

Her novels include “América’s Dream,” and “Conquistadora.”

Santiago’s books are author-read and unabridged on Audible.

Hear Esmeralda Santiago read an excerpt from her memoir, 'When I was Puerto Rican.'

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1