In the chapter “Brothers under the Skin,” Piri confronts his brother José over the issue of skin color and its relationship with ethnicity and heritage. Piri urges José to accept his view that he is a “Negro” and that their family has more in common with non-Puerto Rican Black Americans than with white people. José, who has lighter skin than Piri, rejects this idea and soon grows infuriated. He tells his brother, “You ain’t no n-----.” Piri explains his brother’s discomfort, noting that if he is a Negro, so are their siblings and father. As José clings to his perspective, Piri insists that he believes that because he has been persuaded by “the white man” to think that he is different, and therefore better, than “the Negro” and all other non-white people.
Piri’s ideas about racial and ethnic identity run through the entire book. Immediately before the confrontation with his brother, as detailed in the chapter “Learning Some New ABCs,” Piri had expressed solidarity with his African American friend Brew about their similar dark skin. Piri’s curiosity about race and his bonding with Brew had inspired his decision to travel in the American South and learn more about Black experiences. He was preparing to accompany Brew to his family’s home in Virginia.