From Memoir to Film: Activities
You may also want to direct students to the comparison of the book, screenplay, and film at Memoir to Film.
- Compare the scope of the books When I Was Puerto Rican and Almost a Woman to that of the film. How are they different? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to end the film at Negi's graduation? Would you have made the same choices? Why or why not? What other title might you have chosen for the film?
- Esmeralda Santiago wrote the screenplay for the film based on her own book. What do you think was the hardest part of the task? What was the easiest? After making notes about the process, write a letter to Esmeralda Santiago. (You may want to e-mail her at www.esmeraldasantiago.com.) Include two questions relating to the adaptation of her memoir to the film.
- Choose a short scene from the film, such as when Negi enters her grandmother's apartment soon after coming to Brooklyn. Analyze the use of lighting, sound, and camera angles. What does the viewer learn from these filmmaking techniques? Now choose a scene from a favorite film. What techniques were used to make the scene memorable? Create a chart comparing the two scenes.
- Trace the use of music throughout the film, for example, when Tata and Don Julio dance in the kitchen, the dance where Mami meets Francisco, Mami singing to Francisco when he is ill, and during Negi's pantomime at the Performing Arts High School audition. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to use music instead of dialogue or a voiceover? What information is conveyed by the use of music? Ask students to think about the musical "themes" in their lives. Have volunteers act out a scene from their own lives using music.
- In the film, Esmeralda's struggles in school often involve her ability to speak English fluently. "In my head the words just don't sound right," she says. "I keep wanting to say them in Spanish." When writing, Santiago notes, "Any word that's in Spanish in my English text is not there by accident, or because I couldn't figure out how to translate it, but rather because it has a resonance in Spanish that it doesn't have in English."
- The poem "Learning English" by Luis Alberto Ambroggio addresses the same issue. Ask students or teachers who are bilingual to comment on Esmeralda's struggles and Ambroggio's poem. Were their experiences similar? If so, how? Have students, if they speak another language, or in partnership with someone who does, write a bilingual poem or recite something in both languages. What are the challenges? What is lost? What is gained?
Essays + Interviews | Puerto Rico: A Timeline
Memoir to Film | Story Synopsis | Cast + Credits
Links + Bibliography | Teacher's Guide | The Forum
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