LaGuardia Community College 2002-03 Common Reading
Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican

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Study Questions for the "You Don't Want to Know" Chapter

  1. Chapter Preview: Before you start the chapter, looking at the title, what do you expect Esmeralda to write about?

  2. Esmeralda found out that Papi had left them permanently, and she had a very difficult time accepting this. Mami also gave her instructions as to how to handle the situation. Summarize the emotional conflicts that Esmeralda and Mami were gong through.

  3. Mami's feelings about Papi, and her insistence on how the children should treat Papi, are quite typical of how society looks at men and women. Discuss if you agree or disagree with Mami's position.

  4. Mami provided a great deal of pushing and motivatiing to Esmeralda and her siblings.

    "I am not working this hard so that you kids can end up working in factories all your lives. You study, get good grades, and graduate from high school so that you can have a profession, not just a job... That's what you have to do in this country, ... Anyone willing to work hard can get ahead." (246)

    This statement is often called the American Dream. Discuss if this is a common notion among immigrant families, and find evidence in our society to show that if this dream can be achieved by most.


  5. Esmeralda Santiago later wrote a novel titled "America's Dream." Go on the internet and find out what the book is about. Is that a sequel to her memoir here?


  6. Esmeralda was sexually molested by Tata's brother Chico. She described this traumatic experience in the following section:

    "I collapsd on the bed, holding myself against the pain and humiliation, but I didn't scream. On his way back he threw a dollar at me. It was wrinkled and dirty, its edges ragged. I stretched it out and flattened it with my palm. George Washington, I had just learned, was the Father of our country. I put him inside my thick history book. The next day, on the way home from school, I ate my first sundae with three kinds of ice cream, pineapples, nuts, chocolate sauce, and marshmallows." (p. 248)

    • She had very mixed emotions about that dollar bill. It symbolized the shame and pain that came from the assault. But why did she pay so much attention to George Washington?
    • Why did she choose to put it in her history book?
    • Why did she not report the incident to Mami or Tata?
    • Why did she spend it on a sundae, rather than throwing it away?
    • Why did she recall the sundae with such precision in details?

  7. Esmeralda commented on the social and cultural transition that her family was going through, from living in Puerto Rico to New York City:

    "We lived separated by thick doors with several bolts, windows with iron grates, peepholes. No one dropped in unannounced to chat. An unexpected knock would set our hearts thumping, and we look at one another with questions in our eyes before peeping through the pinhole on the door, or opening it a crack, with the chain secured across the narrow gap." (p. 254)

    Discuss how a person migrating from a rural area to a highly urbanized area can find such transition hard to handle. What other problems exist?

  8. Chapter Review: After reading the chapter, can you understand why Esmeralda named this chapter "You Don't Want to Know?" What were the things that she probably would not have told us? Why did she say "You don't want to know," and then she told us all about them, anyway?

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