This autobiographical piece of literature focuses on Julia Alvarez’s experiences. While her purpose in writing this personal essay was to entertain, it was also meant to be informative.
Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez Tavares Perello Espaillat Julia Perez Rochet Gonzalez is her full name, which, according to Dominican custom, includes her middle names, Mother’s and Father’s surnames for four generations back. Julia learned to deal with people mispronouncing and shortening her Spanish name. Her mother argued that it didn’t matter and quoted Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
1. Explain what Shakespeare meant by, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Julia loved to write poetry as a child. Her Mami always thought that her daughter would be famous. In How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Julia writes about herself and family through a fictitious character named Yolanda, nicknamed Yo or YoYo. Her Mami always praised and boasted about her daughter’s natural talent for poetry. Even when she was three, she could draw a crowd and recite poetry.
Read pages 46-50 aloud to students.
2. Who was Mami boasting to at the poetry reading?
3. Describe Yolanda’s trip to New York when she was three.
When I Was Puerto Rican
Students will look up the meaning of prologue in the dictionary
Students will read the introduction
Students will listen to appreciate literature
Students will pantomime their reactions to eating a sour or ripe guava
Read and discuss the prologue of When I Was Puerto Rican in class. Esmeralda writes about a memory and how to eat guava. Julia Alvarez also writes about her antojos (craving) for guava. Teacher reads page eight of How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents aloud in class. Teachers can bring in guavas and do a lesson on pantomime (an expression by bodily or facial movement). A green guava is sour, hard, and can make a person grimace while a ripe guava is yellow and tasty.
Esmeralda was nicknamed Negi, and her story begins when she is four years old.
Students will look up the meaning of jibara in the Glossary and discuss its meaning.
1. How does being a jibara make Negi feel?
2. Do you have a nickname? If so, how did you acquire it and who gave it to you?
3. Describe how Esmeralda‘s mother treats her when she is covered with termites.
Mami and Papi argued mostly when he came back home after disappearing for days at a time.
1. Who is Margie?
2. If you just found out that you had a step-brother or sister, would you want to meet him or her? Why or why not?
Someone is Coming to Take Your Lap
Social Studies Link
Students will locate and highlight San Juan, Puerto Rico using their own maps.
Students will define the following terms:
1. suburb – residential area adjacent to a city
2. metropolis – major city
3. finca – Spanish term for farm
4. capital – seat of government
Mami moved the family to Santurce, a suburb of San Juan.
1. If you closed your eyes with them crossed and then opened them, what would happen?
2. How did you feel when Negi was teased for being a jibara and not knowing Santa Claus?
3. Who were the Three Magi, and what did they bring the children?
4. Who is Alicia?
The American Invasion of Macun
According to Papi it was an insult to call any American a gringo. In school the children were vaccinated, given toothpaste and brushes, and fed.
1. Do you think Negi was disrespectful when she shouted, “My Mami and Papi can feed us without your disgusting gringo imperialist food?”
2. How do you feel about the way she acted and lied to avoid punishment at home?
Why Women Remain Jamona
Negi was sent to visit her grandmother, and her father forgot to pick her up. Mami who was pregnant at the time with her sixth child came instead.
1. Do you think Negi enjoyed visiting her grandmother, Abuela?
2. What does a women remaining jamona mean?
3. After Negi realized how her mother must have suffered in Papi’s absence, how did she feel about remaining jamona?
Mami Gets A Job
1. How did the Santiago family prepare for the storm?
2. Why do you think the hurricane was named after a saint?
3. Who is Raymond?
4. How did Negi feel when her mother had to get a job sewing to support the family?
5. Do you think Mami depended on Negi too much? Why or why not?
6. What does it mean when Negi’s eyes turned green with envy?
7. Have you ever felt envy toward someone else and how did it feel inside?
8. Who was hurt in this chapter?
9. Describe how it happened?
1. Why do you think Mami packed the children and moved them from Macun to El Mangle?
2. Describe the bathroom situation in El Mangle.
3. Do you think it was appropriate how Esmerald’s teacher treated her in class? How did this make you feel?
4. Would you have felt the same way as Esmeralda if you had to shut the eyes of a deceased infant baby for spiritual reasons?
Letters From New York
Papi wooed Mami back, and the family moved to one of Santruce’s busiest avenues. It was a two bedroom apartment in the back of a building with a bar facing the street. Mami visited her mother, Tata, in New York and brought Raymond with her to have his foot looked at by a specialist.
woo – try to gain the love or favor of
avenue – broad street
dulce – in Spanish it means something sweet
1. How do you think Negi felt having to stay with her aunt in her mother’s absence?
2. What did Mami discover after she returned to Puerto Rico?
3. Describe the Santiago’s Christmas Celebration?
4. How did Papi decorate the egg plant tree?
Students will describe a family tradition that they are proud of sharing.
1. Did Don Luis have good intentions, and did he act appropriately during the piano lessons?
2. Describe Negi’s relationship with her grandmother, Abuela. (page 179-181)
3. Why do you think the Santiago children acted badly when under the care of Generosa?
4. At this point how did Negi feel toward her mother?
Dreams Of A Better Life
After reading pages 189 –195, ask the students to predict what might happen next in the story.
1. (girls) Can you identify with Negi’s anxieties of becoming a senorita?
2. (boys) Can you identify with the character, Johannes Velez, and his having to approach Negi and visiting her at home?
Esmeralda wrote, “The Puerto Rican jibara who longed for the green quiet of a tropical afternoon was to become a hybrid who would never forgive the uprooting.”
What does the above quote mean?
Angels On The Ceiling
In this chapter Esmeralda describes her first experiences in New York and her knew school. Before reading the remaining few chapters of this book, follow the lesson plan below.
How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents By: Julia Alvarez
Students will answer and discuss critical thinking questions
Students will compare and contrast two pieces of literature
“The Blood of the Conquistadores”
In this Chapter the Garcia Family escapes from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Compare and Contrast Esmerald’s and Yolanda’s immigrant experiences in New York City. How were their experiences in having to leave their lives behind different? Were there any similarities?
Yolanda was educated in a Catholic school taught by the Sisters of Charity. Compare and Contrast Esmerald’s and Yolanda’s first school experiences. How were their experiences different? Were there any similarities?
When I Was Puerto Rican By: Esmeralda Santiago
You Don’t Want To Know
Papi never married Mami who gave birth to his seven children. Shortly after Mami left Puerto Rico, he married another woman. She still, however, reminded the children not to forget their father especially on Christmas, Father’s Day and his birthday. Mami finally found love and had another baby, but soon after, lost Francisco to cancer and got laid off from her job.
1. Do you think Mami was a good Mother? Why or why not?
2. How did the children view Mami since their father was no longer with them?
A Shot At It
1. Where did the family move after Francisco’s death?
2. What did their moving again mean for the children?
3. Describe Negi’s desire to be accepted at the High School for the Performing Arts.
A decade after her highschool graduation, Esmeralda visited the school and spoke to her mentor. She mentioned that it was Esmeralda’s courage to recite a monologue (speech) with such little English speaking ability that got her accepted.
Students will translate the meaning of the author’s phrases
1. Same jibaro, different horse.
2. “P.A. ’66,” I said to no one in particular. “One of these days.” (page 270)