"Oh, how long is the road I travel."
Esmeralda, reciting a poem by her father
Almost a Woman is a film adaptation of Esmeralda Santiago's second memoir. It tells the story of Esmeralda (nicknamed Negi), who moves when she is 13 years old from a rural town in Macún, Puerto Rico, to Brooklyn, along with her mother, sister, and brother. Initially, they come to visit Tata, Negi's maternal grandmother, so that her brother, who has injured his foot riding a bicycle, can get medical attention. The father, Papi, stays in Puerto Rico with Negi's four other brothers and sisters. Soon the rest of Negi's siblings join the family in New York, but without Papi. It becomes clear that Negi's parents have separated. Mami finds a job sewing piecework in a factory and Negi enrolls in the 8th grade.
Most of the film deals with Negi's entry into American life in the big city: learning English; adjusting to school; dealing with losing both her father and her rural culture; assuming a divided identity; coming into her own as a woman; and acting as a translator and mediator between Mami and American ways. Negi is forced to negotiate between two ways of behaving: as Negi, the subservient Puerto Rican daughter who serves as a role model for her many siblings, and as Esmeralda, who strives to become an American teenager and to graduate from the prestigious Performing Arts High School. She is encouraged to succeed in her new environment by a series of mentors and friends, including her junior high school principal, Mr. Burnett.
Esmeralda and her mother both understand that in the United States, an education will allow Negi to move from the low-paying, dead-end jobs her mother is forced to take, to being able to determine her own future. This concerted effort between Mami, who works hard so that her oldest may succeed, and Negi, who learns to achieve in a challenging, urban environment, reinforces a strong bond between them -- a bond that is often tested by conflict and rebellion. Although Esmeralda's father is important in her life, it is her relationships with her mother and grandmother that define Esmeralda's development as a young woman assimilating into a new culture. Despite poverty and prejudice, Esmeralda's remarkable combination of intelligence, perseverance, and hard work enable her to successfully define and pursue her goals.
About the Book
Almost a Woman, published in 1998, is the second of two memoirs by Esmeralda Santiago, following the best-selling When I Was Puerto Rican (1993). Santiago was inspired to write her story in order to fill a gap: "The more I read," she explained, "the more I realized that people like me didn't exist in the English language." The Orlando Sentinel commented: "Santiago writes with a flair for detail, humor and complex emotion that draws readers into a delightful, if sometimes heartbreaking, personal journey." Santiago's memoirs emphasize her search for identity, as a child, a student, and then as a woman. By the end, she has achieved an integration of self, with dignidad.
About the Film
Almost a Woman was adapted by Esmeralda Santiago from her book of the same title. A production of ALT Films for Masterpiece Theatre's American Collection, the film stars Ana Maria Lagasca (Esmeralda/Negi), Wanda De Jesus (Mami), and Miriam Colón (Tata). For more information about the cast, check out the Cast + Credits.
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