Saturday, October 30, 2010

Well stated

I just finished a great book called, "When I was Puerto Rican" by Esmeralda Santiago. It's an incredible memoir of growing up in rural Puerto Rico in the 50s/60s (read: one-room hut, dirt floors, no water/bathrooms, etc) and went on to move to New York with her mom and 10 siblings, get accepted into the Academy of Performing Arts, and later to Harvard!

There is a part in the book that I sticky-noted and later read-aloud to those of us who would understand just how accurate it is. It talks about Esmeralda's observation of her culture's expectations of dignified behavior, and how different those expectations are for men and women. Anyone who has spent time in Latin America is probably familiar with this view. Here's the passage:

"I started school in the middle of hurricane season, and the world grew suddenly bigger, a vast place of other adults and children whose lives were similar, but whose shadings I couldn't really explore out of respect and dignidad. Dignidad was something you conferred on other people, and they, in turn, gave it back to you. It meant you never swore at people, never showed anger in front of strangers, never stared, never stood to close to people you'd just met, never addressed people by the familiar until they gave you permission. It meant adults had to be referred to as Don so-and-so, and Doña so-and-so, except for teachers, who you should call Mister or Missis so-and-so. It meant, if you were a child, you did not speak until spoken to, did not look an adult in the eye, did not raise your voice nor enter or leave a room without permission. It meant adults were always right, especially if they were old. It meant men could look at women any way they liked but women could never look at men directly, only in sidelong glances, unless they were putas, in which case they could do what they pleased since people would talk about them anyway. It meant you didn't gossip, tattle, or tease. It meant men could say things to women as they walked down the street, but women couldn't say anything to men, not even to tell them to go jump in the harbor and leave them alone."
(page 30)

You should read the book.