Perhaps the best story with which to begin is “Little Things are Big,” a very short story by Jesús Colón, in which, in a version adapted by the nonprofit educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves, for Internet video, the protagonist and narrator actually begins the story by saying, “I’ve been thinking; you know, sometimes one thing happens to change your life, how you look at things, how you look at yourself.” (www.facinghumanity.org.) The narrator examines his action in the story, which leaves him profoundly disappointed in himself. He describes his Puerto Rican culture, and how it played a part in what happened to change his life that night in the New York subway.
In “Little Things are Big” the narrator, “a Negro and a Puerto Rican,” says he was faced with a dilemma on a deserted New York subway after midnight many years ago. (Colón uses the word Negro because it commonly was used in the early and middle years of the last century to refer to an African American.) A young, white mother with two small children, a baby in her arms, and a small suitcase is getting off at the same stop as he, and he is torn as to whether to help her. He reminds himself how important courtesy is to Puerto Ricans, but he also realizes that she may be prejudiced and misinterpret his approach to help her.
What would she say? What would be the first reaction of this white American
woman . . . Would she say: “Yes, of course, you may help me.” Or would she think
that I was just trying to get too familiar? Or would she think worse than that
perhaps? What would I do if she let out a scream as I went toward her to offer my
Anticipating how he may be seen, he simply hurries past her, and runs up the long flight of stairs to the street, only to regret his lack of courtesy and rude behavior. He is humiliated and deeply disappointed in his actions, and promises himself that the next time he has an opportunity to help, he will make the offer, no matter what happens.
It is very interesting that, out of fear, the narrator in the subway changes first, in spite of his culture, and then, setting fear aside, changes again,
of it. His allegiance to his culture seems to be greater than his fear of how he may be perceived.
This story, adapted by Facing History and Ourselves, is also available at a Website on-line where students can read it silently while a narrator reads it aloud, or they can view it as a three minute video at the same Website. Students will also read the original story.