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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood is Judith Ortiz Cofer’s collection of fourteen essays and accompanying poems looking back on her childhood and adolescence in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, and Paterson, New Jersey. Her father joined the Navy before she was born, and two years later he moved them to Paterson, where he was stationed. When he went to sea for months at a time, he sent his wife and children back to Puerto Rico until he returned to New Jersey.

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While her father urged the family to assimilate into the American melting pot and even moved them outside the Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New Jersey, her mother remained loyal to her own mother’s home on the island. Her mother’s quiet sadness emerges throughout the book, such as the voice of the poem “El Olvido” that warns that to forget one’s heritage is to “die/ of loneliness and exposure.”

The memoir chronicles significant moments, beginning with her birth (“They Say”). “Quinceañera” tells of the custom of a girl’s coming-of-age party (at age fifteen). Her grandmother prepares her for Puerto Rican womanhood. The adult narrator also explores her and her mother’s memories of the yearly trips to Puerto Rico in “Marina” and “The Last Word.”

The central theme in the book is the traditional Puerto Rican “script of our lives,” which circumscribes “everyone in their places.” The narrator struggles with her family’s expectations for her to become a traditional Puerto Rican woman: domestic, married, and fertile. This script allows little room for individual identity, so the maturing narrator focuses on those characters who rewrite the script and extemporize their own lives (“Some of the Characters”).

The embodiment of Puerto Rican tradition...

(The entire section contains 464 words.)

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Critical Essays