From Puerto Rico con valentía-with spirit!
In 1961 Esmeralda Santiago moved to New York City from rural Puerto Rico with her mother and six siblings. Her determined struggle from a Brooklyn tenement to the threshold of a successful artistic career comes poignantly to life in Almost a Woman, based on her prize-winning memoir, on Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theatre’s American Collection, Sunday, September 15, 2002 at 8 pm ET, on PBS .
PBS has scheduled the film an hour earlier than the American Collection’s usual slot to allow younger viewers to see its inspiring story of a teenage girl who overcomes language and cultural barriers to achieve her dream.
New actress Ana Maria Lagasca stars as Esmeralda, nicknamed “Negi.” At thirteen she is the oldest child, shouldering the responsibility of learning English as her mother’s interpreter and guide through the challenges of their new life in America.
Wanda De Jesus (Blood Work, Once in the Life) is Mami, Negi’s passionate, beautiful mother, who moves the family to the US seeking medical care for her son’s chronically infected foot, which doctors in Puerto Rico want to amputate.
Revered actress Miriam Colón (One-Eyed Jacks, All the Pretty Horses) plays Negi’s stoical grandmother, Tata, matriarch of the American branch of the family. Published in 1998, Almost a Woman is a sequel to Santiago’s highly acclaimed When I Was Puerto Rican, about her joyful, anarchic upbringing in Puerto Rico.
Almost a Woman covers her crisis of identify as a new immigrant, learning that she is lumped into a vague category called “Hispanic” that ignores the rich cultural distinctions of Puerto rican, Cuban, Mexican, and other Latino traditions.
In her mother’s eyes she is also casi una mujer almost a woman an uncertain status that requires Mami’s constant vigilance to keep away overeager suitors.
Though Negi is gripped with typical teenage anxieties about appearance and dating, she is still more obsessed with escaping the only existence she has ever known: poverty.
Fortunately, a junior high guidance counselor recognizes her potential and encourages her to apply to Manhattan’s prestigious High School of Performing Arts.
Given Negi’s heavily accented English, it is a leap of faith for the counselorand also for the audition judges at Performing Arts, who dispense with Negi’s painfully prepared monologue and ask her to let herself go in a pantomime of Christmas tree decorating.
Though she has never had a Christmas tree, she is enchantingly convincing and is admitted.
As Negi struggles through school, Mami works as a seamstress. Always in search of better living conditions, she moves her large family from apartment to apartment.
The film ends with Negi’s proud graduation from Performing Arts, but Santiago’s story continues with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Today, aside from her many writing projects, Santiago runs an award-winning film and media production company with her husband.
Almost a Woman was adapted by Esmeralda Santiago from her novel of the same title.