We challenged When I was Puerto Rican because of language, actions and situations in it.
We initiated this countywide challenge in Hughes MS, a middle school with 6th grade. Children start 6th grade at 11-years old. At the time of our challenge this book was also in another middle school with 6th grade.
In our November 11, 2002 meeting at Hughes MS we were told that there was no rationale for this book on file and it was a “choice” book. We were told that both of the copies of this book at Hughes MS had been purchased in 2000. We were provided with a review of this book from School Library Journal. The review was in an article titled Adult Books For Young Adults. We want to note that this article was by an FCPS employee, and that the review for When I was Puerto Rican, like every book review in this article, was done by a FCPS employee. The review did not indicate if pre-teen children were considered “young adults.”
We requested in our challenge that members of the ALA and NEA not sit on this When I was Puerto Rican review committee. This was refused in the letter sent to us calling this meeting. We protest this decision. Official positions and policies of organizations are important to consider in order to achieve non-discriminatory procedures and due process. A member of the KKK, NRA or NRL would not be allowed to sit on the jury of many cases solely due to their organization’s stated and known positions about certain subjects, notwithstanding any statements about how the individuals would follow the laws or regulations. We ask that the documentation for this When I was Puerto Rican review committee include a notation as to who are members of the ALA or NEA.
Some excerpts from this book indicative of the language, actions and situations in it were attached with our challenge and were as follows:
- "..when [she] bent over.. her breasts almost tumbled
out of her blouse." [pg 41]
- "...always leaving her... only to come sniffing around her skirts... She's a slut who will spread her legs for anything in pants." [pg 41]
- "I didn't [see anything]...not going to show you mine until I do. ...seen both [baby brothers] penises.. never seen one outside the family.... I don't have to see your silly old chicken.. seen my brothers... nicer than yours.. Those are baby pollitos. I'm already big... has hair on it.. it gets so big it can already go into a woman.. get it into a woman and wiggle it around and around, like this. He wriggled his finger... wiggling his hips in figure 8's" [pg 117]
- "..can see it better if you squat.. better look at the smooth slit between my legs... I pulled up my panties.. There’s no hair on [your penis]... shriveled and small as my baby brother's.. have to rub it to make it big... It'll grow big and long... I'll touch you if you touch me.... It feels good.. rubbed his crotch as if he had an itch.. thrust his hips out... Oooh, its so good... mmmm.... closed his eyes and smacked his lips... writhing, his tongue flicking in and out of his mouth, foamy spit... eyes rolling... his hands moving faster and faster. Men are such pigs!.. lewd, ugly, humiliating smile.. tried to grab between my legs.. [I] kicked as hard as I could.. crumpled to ground, hands between his legs.." [pg 118-119]
- "A Kotex. What's that?... How old are you? 10.. hasn't told you about being a senorita? She [said] I should stop playing with boys... keep my legs closed when I sit.. Do you know where babies come from?... how they're made?... I'd seen roosters... male dogs.. climb on top of the female, ride her while she tried to shake him off, and dig his narrow penis into her backside.. seen bulls ride cows, horses hump mares...Before you can make babies... you bleed once a month" [pg 120-121]
- "..couldn't get away from the stench... water [smelled] like human waste... used a lot of garlic...could still taste shit when I ate." [pg 137]
- "..next time I went for my [piano] lesson.. skirt made it possible to sit cross-legged w/o my panties showing.. So pretty... So nice [teacher said]... I sat as far away from him as possible.. He walked behind me, bent over... pushed my arms close to my ribcage, held them there.. hovered above me, his fingers on my elbows... breath fanned my hair as he bent closer.. [I] saw how the neckline on [my dress] puffed out for a clear view.... of the slight mounds, like egg yolks that had recently begun to ache on my chest.... Filthy old man! [I screamed]... I felt soiled, as if his gaze had branded my naked chest." [pg 178-179]
- "...stopping behind lockers to kiss and fondle each other... Another group of girls...took over the .. bathroom... dragged on cigarettes as they did their hair until the air was unbreathable.. chased me out with insults and rough shoves." [pg 229]
- "I didn't know what LIKE A MOTHER FUCKER meant after someone’s name...Sometimes abbreviated: SLICK L.A.M.F. ..I had heard the kids say 'shit' ...tried it at home... Mami yelled.." [pg 232]
- "..hear [them] arguing [if] a 30 year old woman with 7 children should encourage a man in his 20's.... What kind of example are you giving [your daughters]? F. came to visit every day. One day he came for dinner.. next morning he was still there. After that, he lived with us." [pg 238]
- "..truck pulled up.. [driver] waved at me.. dove his hand into his crotch.. pulled out what looked like a pale salami. I couldn’t take my eyes off it as his hand pumped rhythmically.. He.. was at it a long time and I lost interest, closed the.. blind.. after a while I was curious, so I went back...his hand now toyed around his crotch as if he’d lost something. He saw me and began rubbing again, a grimace on his face. I [knew] what happened if a boy was touched a certain way, but this man, touching himself and only coming to life if I watched, added a new dimension to my scanty knowledge of sex... fact that his penis had grown when I was looking meant something.... Men only want one thing... females gaze was enough to send them groping for their huevos.. Men only want one thing, and until then, I thought it was up to me to give it up. But that’s not the way it was. ..little girl leaning out window... fulfilled promises Marilyn Monroe made with her eyes... confusing as the rock and roll lyrics accompanying the trucker’s hand pumping up and down... What’s the matter [mom] ..asked. Why do you look so scared? Nothing I said.... had been all my fault ..went back, opened blinds.. watched openly... He was having a great time... I was having my first sexual experience... I smiled at him... smiling brazenly while inside I quaked in terror, and him, flustered... I wondered what I’d done, why he stuffed his now limp penis back in his pants, zipped himself... Whatever he’d wanted he didn’t want anymore.... I was certain it was because I’d been too willing to give it to him.” [pg 239-240]
- “C. was coming in from his night job to sleep on our couch. Show me and I’ll give you a quarter... Open your blouse.. let me see. I’ll pay you.... I won’t touch you. I just want to look.. He smacked his lips... The next day I was brushing my hair... noticed his eyes fixed on me.. as he passed behind me, [he] pinched my left nipple. Don’t tell anyone he mumbled into my ear. I collapsed on the bed, holding myself against the pain and humiliation, but I didn’t scream... he threw $1 at me.. I put [the father of our country] inside my history book. The next day.. I ate my first sundae with 3 kinds of ice cream..”[pg 248]
We don’t feel that the material in When I was Puerto Rican is necessary or appropriate for MS.
There was a choice - a choice to purchase this book and place it in some MS libraries. Most middle schools chose not to have this book. Why did some schools choose differently? What makes them different? Our challenge to When I was Puerto Rican requested that the names of the people who made the choice to be identified.
Parents don’t have a choice that their child picks a book off their school library shelf and reads it at school or at home. We, and the public have a right to know who is making these choices with our tax dollars for us. As stated in our challenge Virginia Law says the entire scheme of instruction in the public schools shall emphasize moral education through lessons given by teachers and imparted by appropriate reading selections.
This committee will obviously do what it wants to do. In numerous past challenges that almost always has been a 100% vote against the challenger. We ask that you consider that it is possible that FCPS has made a mistake on this book.
If 6th grade school children are going to read about a man waving at a young girl, how his penis grew when she was looking at him, him pulling out his pale salami, him pumping it rhythmically up and down, and finally him stuffing his limp penis back in his pants and zipping himself up, the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support this.
If 6th grade school children are going to read about a pedophilia and masturbation, the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support this.
So what are some of the things an 11-year old 6th grader could learn about young Puerto Rican girls from this book? That a young Puerto Rican girl’s piano teacher [and school principal] might be a dirty old man who wants to touch her and get a look at her just growing breasts? That their adult male relatives pay to look at their breasts and pinch their nipples and they won’t even tell their mom or grandmother? That although humiliated by this they might eat an ice cream with the money they were paid to not tell anyone? That a young Puerto Rican girl’s first “sexual experience” might be looking at an adult male masturbating to her? That a young Puerto Rican girl might smile at a man masturbating to her? That a young Puerto Rican girl wouldn’t tell their mother that these things were going on, even when directly asked about the masturbating man?
We don’t know what parents, if any, were involved in choosing this book for MS. We don’t know who chose it and why. Parents don’t have a choice if this book is in their child’s school library. The book is available to their child, like every other book in the library, when their children are there.
There are many books that have not been chosen for some or any FCPS libraries. FCPS has made a choice to place this book in some MS libraries. We don’t think this was a wise choice.
If When I was Puerto Rican is not available to students at school, it will still be available to them and their parents in public bookstores and the public library - the same as the millions of other books not “chosen” for our schools.
We know that FCPS thinks that When I was Puerto Rican is so good, that it’s not only in libraries, but it’s on the FCPS Suggested Summer Reading List for rising 11th and 12th graders. We also disagree with that choice but that is not part of this formal challenge. This challenge is for middle schools, some with 11-year old children.
29 January 2003