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She started by writing and producing films with her husband, a filmmaker. She then began writing essays for magazines and even though readers enjoyed them, she still didn't think of herself as an actual writer. Santiago finally developed the confidence to write more personally when she attended a writing workshop.
Merloyd Lawrence gave her the idea of writing a memoir after she saw Santiago's work from newspapers and magazines. Lawrence also decided to give her a book contract.
Esmeralda Santiago spent her early childhood in Puerto Rico, where she lived with seven younger siblings. Her parents fought frequently. When Esmeralda was thirteen, her mother moved the whole family to New York City, where four more siblings were born . She continually returned to Puerto Rico, moving back and forth between her two homes.
Although Puerto Ricans represent a large group within the United States, there is very little literature that reflects this. Santiago has left a huge impact on this branch , and influenced many Hispanic authors
Upon her return from the United States, Santiago was not widely accepted. Some questioned how much of her heritage she had kept. She eventually wrote about these issues and about her life in America and Puerto Rico.
When I was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago's first book, Is about her life starting in Puerto Rico around 1950 and ending with her graduation from Harvard University. It depicts the life changing move to New York City with her mother when she was 13.
"When I began to write about life in Puerto Rico, there were not that many books about that. So it was this desire to find myself in this culture, in this society, and since I couldn't find it there, I began to write about it so that I could read it."