Knowledge of sixteenth or seventeenth century Lima is obviously superfluous for understanding the appeal of Porres’ life for young readers. Present in Bishop’s biography are all the lurking fears familiar to most children: abandonment, rejection, misunderstanding, the taunts and cruelties of other children, physical abuse, the uncertainties linked to low or dubious status and to a family’s failed income, and, for many children, the awareness that they are stigmatized by their color. For Bishop, time and geographical distance objectify Porres’ heroic actions against these and other injustices, while at the same time sensitizing young readers to the fact that such injustices continue. Bishop’s Porres is characterized as a hero, but the author defines as heroic a peaceful life of self-denial and of unstinting service—primarily to the least fortunate.
Bishop immediately builds sympathy for Porres. When he was seven, he and his sister were publicly beaten and decried as bastards for having an unknown father and an African-American mother, despite Martín’s cries that his father was a Spanish nobleman. According to the author, they retreated to further abuse from their distraught mother, Ana Velásquez, a laundress who blamed Porres—because he was black—for her lost chances for riches with a noble husband. Martín’s sole comfort came from Juana, who was favored by her Castilian features; indeed, he drew strength from his ability to care for her.
Collecting moneys due his mother, Porres soon betrayed what proved his peculiar strength: the ability to discern an always greater need in others. He gave the money to an aged, destitute Native American—a descendant of the Incas...
(The entire section is 700 words.)