In the chapter “Brothers under the Skin,” Piri Thomas discusses racial identity with his brother. In your essay address the following questions: What is Grillo or Thomas’s understanding of their racial identity expressed in this specific passage and in the context of the larger work? How does it dialogue (explicitly or implicitly) with discourses of race in the United States and the Hispanophone Caribbean? In negotiating these discourses of identity does the subject address, circumvent, or suppress possible tensions?

In “Brothers under the Skin,” Piri and his brother José verbally and physically fight over racial identity. Piri asserts that he is “a Negro,” but José insists that Puerto Ricans are “different.” Piri counters that the light-skinned members of his family have been co-opted and are only passing as white.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial