Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic, Edward Rivera’s semifictional memoir, chronicles the lives of three generations of a Puerto Rican family. The bittersweet vignettes capture the drama of immigrant life in America and the struggle to achieve an identity within two cultures.
Santos Malánguez’s paternal grandfather, Xavier F. Alegría, a schoolteacher and painter, commits suicide in 1919, heartbroken by the death of his wife Sara. Three of Xavier’s children, including Gerán, Santos’ father, are adopted by the maternal grandparents Josefa and Papá Santos Malánguez. During the Depression, the three brothers split up in search of work. Gerán is hired as a field hand by the tyrannical landowner Gigante Hernández, who has a son and eight daughters.
The light-skinned Gerán marries Gigante’s oldest daughter Lilia, an Indian-looking young woman. The young couple, struggling through economic hardships, seek a better life in the United States for their sons Tego and Santos. Survival in the new home is difficult; the jobs are few and the pay low. Charity and welfare checks are insulting. The father is determined to pay for the education of the children and sends them to parochial school.
As a child growing up in Spanish Harlem, Santos experiences the turmoils of being a Hispanic student in an Irish Catholic school. He is ridiculed by teachers and peers because of his shyness and second-language problems. In the streets he is challenged by the neighborhood kids, who make racial remarks. He witnesses street violence and discrimination against black Puerto Rican friends. A sense of marginality and the need to achieve an identity lead Santos to focus on his studies; literature provides an escape.
Santos’ brother marries and returns to the island. The parents, always homesick, join their son Tego and his family. When the father dies, Santos flies to Puerto Rico for the funeral and revisits his childhood home. The relatives ask him to remain with them, but he realizes that he needs to return home, to the United States. As did his grandfather Xavier, Santos loves learning and books. His parents inspired him to continue his studies, understanding the value of an education.
Family Installments provides a heartfelt testimonial of the Puerto Rican immigrant experience and identity in terms of family, language, and education.