by Marisel Vera
*courtesy of the Spokane Public Library*
The first half of the book was my favorite. A young girl grows up in the highlands of Puerto Rico in extreme poverty. Her mother has a nervous breakdown. The father decides to send one of his daughters to live in the city with her uncle. There, the girl gets enough to eat and fresh clean clothes to wear, but her aunt treats her like an unpaid servant/idiot bumpkin. (Imagine, she doesn’t know how to deal with indoor plumbing!) Although the aunt is not kind and the uncle is oblivious, the cousin is neither and she and the girl become best friends.
The girl ends up marrying a handsome stranger who passes through her uncle’s bakery, just to escape her situation. (Never a good idea.) And indeed, she jumps from the loaf pan into the fire.
In the bitter cold of Chicago, the new bride tries to make her husband happy by cooking and cleaning and doing everything he says. She embroiders roses on every surface. Unfortunately, he isn’t interested. He thinks he has made a mistake. Why?
He is having an affair with a liberated, independent Puerto Rican woman named Marta. Finally his wife smartens up and leaves him, getting a job in a factory and becoming an independent woman herself. Then, his interest in her returns.\
Uniquely Puerto Rican
The indigenous coqui frogs, such a problem in Hawaii, but no problem at all in their native land.
The unique status of Puerto Ricans in the U.S.: The girl soon notices at the factory how much better her lot is than that of the illegal Mexican and El Salvadoran workers. She works 8 hours per day and gets paid breaks, because she is an American citizen. They work 10 and get no breaks, because they have no legal protection.
Men on the island say that things were much better under the Spanish (!) and that when the Americans took over, their poverty increased by leaps and bounds. Shameful if true.
Caveat: I didn’t totally buy the ending, in which he finally got tired of Marta and dumped her, but his wife wasn’t much different. She still really wanted to please him, so they got back together, which bothered me.
Meaning, I didn’t think he had really changed that much either. I could see some other tart coming along and tempting him away again, until he got tired of her. Ugh. Nonetheless, I couldn’t put the book down. An enjoyable and informative read.
Note: Although it isn’t mentioned in the book, Christopher Columbus made contact in Puerto Rico in 1492. Within 150 years of European contact, the indigenous Taino culture became extinct. 90% of the pure Taino were wiped out by smallpox and the rest by violence.