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Esmeralda Santiago – A Talented, Insightful Writer

Puerto Rico has been home to many talented and well known people who have excelled in fields such as sport, writing and music. One of the most celebrated writers, of our time, was born in 1949 in the city of San Juan, by the name of Esmeralda Santiago. The eldest child in the family, Esmeralda welcomed ten siblings into the world. She moved with her mother to New York in 1961, at the age of thirteen. After returning to visit Puerto Rico seven years later, Esmeralda Santiago became aware of issues that plagued many Puerto Rican Americans, and decided to put her experiences on paper.

When her novel, “When I was Puerto Rican”, hit the bookshelves, she managed to bring to life the emotions and questions that had been on the minds of every Puerto Rican living in America and many immigrants in other countries. In the book, Esmeralda Santiago describes her childhood in Puerto Rico and the challenges she faced socially and culturally when moving to New York. Within her family and her heart she felt like a Puerto Rican, but on visiting her home country she was shocked by the realization that the locals viewed her as American.

Even with a heavy accent and the odd occasion of hesitation, searching for the correct English word, made no difference in Puerto Rico. Her Spanish was not fluent enough, her personality was too confident for a Puerto Rican woman and her distaste for certain cultural and traditional dishes highlighted the changes that she underwent while living in America. However, in America, she was viewed too white to be black and too black to be white. She was seen as a foreigner. Even though she never set out to write about cultural and identity issues faced by immigrants, her book has touched the hearts of everyone facing the same crisis, not specifically Puerto Rican Americans. “When I was Puerto Rican”, explores the emotions and difficulties faced by Esmeralda Santiago and others like her, and her cultural heritage that she is proud of. As a Puerto Rican writer, she was able to write a heartfelt and moving story about her life and the love for her home country.

After her success as a writer with “When I was Puerto Rican” in 1996, Esmeralda Santiago released other bestsellers such as “Almost a Woman” in 1999, “America’s Dream” in 1997, “Las Mamis” in 2000 and “Turkish Lover” in 2004. She has also become a legendary editor and together with her husband, Frank Cantor, they established a production company called CANTOMEDIA, which has received awards and high praise for it magnificent films and documentaries. Esmeralda Santiago is one of the greatest writers to have come from Puerto Rico. She is also fortunate to have explored her culture and is able to enjoy and hold onto her roots and homeland in her heart.


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