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Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch Reader Response: Keith Gilyard and Mourning Dove Inquiry: Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin Inquiry: Tomás Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón Cultural Studies: N. Scott Momaday and Russell Leong Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Abiodun Oyewole Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada
Theory Overview Teaching Strategies Authors and Literary Works Resources
Session 4 Inquiry: Tom?s Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago - Authors and Literary Works
Author: Tomás Rivera
Work: ...y no se lo tragó la tierra (...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him)

Author: Esmeralda Santiago
Work: When I Was Puerto Rican


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Esmeralda Santiago

Born in rural Puerto Rico in 1948, Esmeralda Santiago was the eldest of 11 children raised by a single mother. When she was 13, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Santiago quickly learned English. Accepted into the prestigious Performing Arts High School in Manhattan, she then spent eight years in community colleges before eventually winning a full scholarship to Harvard University. After graduating from a master's program at Sarah Lawrence College, she and her husband, Frank Cantor, together founded Cantomedia, a film and media production company. Her writing career grew from her work there as a producer and writer of documentaries and educational films.

Santiago's first book, the memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, was published in 1993 and received great critical praise. Her first novel, America's Dream, followed in 1997. A year later, she published Almost a Woman, a second memoir that took up her life story at the point at which When I Was Puerto Rican ended.

Santiago writes: "I suppose that my life today is about looking at and trying to come to terms with ifs. Human beings are obsessed with the question of 'who am I'? For someone like me, issues of identity are weighted and complicated by the event that has defined who I have become, because it was the migration from Puerto Rico to the United States that made me who I am.

"I was born in one place (Villa Palmeras) at a specific historical time (1948). I was raised in a rural environment (Macún, Toa Baja) that was becoming urbanized and developed to improve the island's infrastructure (a highway destroyed most of our barrio). My first words were in Spanish, a language that, in Puerto Rico, was degrading into Spanglish. I was raised to conform to a culturally specific behavior of a time, a place, a language. It all changed in less than a day, and has had repercussions for the rest of my life.

"I was a different person in Puerto Rico from the one I became in the United States. Not better, not worse -- different."

In addition to her writing, Santiago is an active volunteer for public libraries, for arts programs for adolescents, and for battered women and their children. She lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and two children.

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