One in this ongoing series of dramas presented under the umbrella of "Masterpiece Theatre." This program is adapted from Esmeralda Santiago's 1999 memoirs about her family's emigration from Puerto Rico and her adjustment to life in the United States. The story begins in 1961 as Esmeralda, nicknamed "Negi," departs Puerto Rico with her mother, grandparents, brother and sister, leaving behind her father and four other siblings. Her father gives her a notebook in which to document her feelings, and the family settles into a small apartment in Brooklyn. Late at night, Negi overhears her mother and grandparents talking about her father's other girlfriend. Negi and her mother Ramona take her little brother Raymond to a doctor to treat his injured foot, which would have been amputated in Puerto Rico, and Negi attempts to translate for her mother, who speaks very little English. Negi seeks out books to learn the language and makes a friend, Yolanda, while at the library. With Negi's help, Ramona secures a job as a seamstress at a factory, and Negi's grandparents are impressed as she continues teaching herself English. At school, Negi is told that she must repeat seventh grade because of the language barrier, but she boldly convinces the guidance counselor to allow her into eighth. Yolanda offers to help her evade her strict mother and dress more "American," also advising her to steer clear of "gang turf" nearby.

Ramona meets a handsome suitor, Francisco, and Negi's other siblings soon arrive from Puerto Rico, though their father stays behind, and Negi's sister informs her that he has married another woman. Negi is mocked by her classmates when she reads aloud and tells Yolanda that she longs to return to Puerto Rico, though Yolanda is happy in America. Ramona catches Negi in her makeup and short skirt and chastises her for trying to appear less Puerto Rican, though Negi points out that things are "different here." Negi then assists Ramona in a meeting with a social worker, explaining that she was recently laid off and is willing to work hard for more money. Ramona eventually secures a better job and the family moves to a bigger apartment with Francisco's help, and Negi is pleased to realize that her mother is in love. The family visits a salsa club, and Ramona and Francisco are soon married. Mr. Burnett, the guidance counselor, asks Negi if she has even considered acting, and she recites a poem in Spanish, remembering when her father helped her with the memorization. Mr. Burnett suggests that she attend a special performing arts high school in Manhattan, and Francisco supports the idea. Negi studiously prepares an Edgar Allan Poe poem for the audition, though the judges worry that she will not "fit in" because of her poor English. She performs a pantomime for them, however, and is soon excited to learn that she has been accepted. The gang girls at school bully her, however, mocking her for trying to "be white," and her family consoles her.

Negi is then upset to hear that Yolanda has returned to Puerto Rico after all, admitting that she herself misses her old life. Francisco takes ill just as Ramona gives birth to their son, and he dies shortly thereafter, with Ramona promising to love him forever. The family moves again, wanting to escape the memories, and Negi begins attending the performing arts school, taking dance and practicing elocution to lose her accent. She is cast as Cleopatra, though her mother and grandmother disapprove of the costumes and makeup required, and her teachers are particularly tough on her. Mrs. Moore tells her that she is struggling academically and has not improved as an actress, saying that she is "not college material" and suggesting that she transfer. After a year and a half of mourning, Ramona returns to the salsa club with her children, and Negi encounters her handsome neighbor, Nestor, while Carlos flirts with Ramona and walks the family home. Negi returns to school and declares that she will work harder, and her relationship with Nestor deepens as she brings him home to visit her family, though she and her sisters are not thrilled with Ramona's ongoing romance with Carlos. Negi writes to her father and invites him to her graduation and Ramona gives birth to Carlos' child, though the affair quickly sours.

A social worker arrives, taken aback at Ramona's having had nine children by three fathers with no child support. Nestor tells Negi that he has been drafted to Vietnam and wants to make things "official" between them, but she refuses, wanting to avoid living her mother's life. During rehearsals as Cleopatra, Negi laments that she does not belong anywhere, saying she is "already acting" all the time by being both a spirited American teenager and an obedient Puerto Rican daughter, and her teacher reassures her of her strength. Ramona makes her a conservative dress for her graduation, though Negi declares that she wants to be both American and Puerto Rican. She is then upset to learn that her father cannot come to her graduation, but the rest of her family turns up to support her, and she shares her diploma with her mother, who expresses her pride at her daughter's accomplishments. Commercials deleted.

Also featured on this asset is a behind-the-scenes look at "The Forsyte Saga," a forthcoming eight-part miniseries based on the books by John Galsworthy about the tempestuous marriage between controlling solicitor Soames Forsyte and the strong-willed Irene Heron in early twentieth-century Britain. The program features interviews with producer Sita Williams, make-up artist Sue Milton, designer Stephen Fineren, and cast members Gina McKee (Irene Heron/Forsyte) and Damian Lewis (Soames Forsyte), discussing the characters and their relationships as well as the construction of the central Robin Hill house, built from scratch on location.


  • DATE: September 15, 2002 8:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:00:00
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:76796
  • GENRE: Drama
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Biography
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV, 2002
  • COMMERCIALS: TV - Promos - "Almost A Woman" home video and book^TV - Promos - "Mystery!: Skinwalkers"


    • Marian Rees … Executive Producer
    • Anne Hopkins … Executive Producer
    • Stephen Kulczycki … Executive Producer
    • Rebecca Eaton … Executive Producer
    • Steven Ashley … Senior Producer
    • Ronald Colby … Producer
    • Tim Leary Swan … Co-Producer
    • Helene Mulholland … Associate Producer
    • Esmeralda Santiago … Writer, Based on the memoir by
    • Betty Kaplan … Director
    • John Williams … Theme Music by
    • Yo-Yo Ma … Theme Music by
    • Lee Holdridge … Music by
    • Kim Blank … Choreographer
    • Wanda de Jesus … Cast, Mami
    • Miriam Colon … Cast, Tata
    • Cliff DeYoung … Cast, Mr. Burnett
    • Francesco Quinn … Cast, Don Carlos
    • Luis Garcia … Cast, Francisco Cortez
    • Ismael East Carlo … Cast, Don Julio
    • Alexis Cruz … Cast, Nestor
    • Angelo Pagan … Cast, Papi
    • George Wyner … Cast, Dr. Fishbeck
    • Christine Healy … Cast, Mrs. Parsons
    • Diane Salinger … Cast, Mrs. Moore
    • Anne DeSalvo … Cast, Miss Narayan
    • Ana Maria Lagasca … Cast, Negi
    • Evangelina Martinez … Cast, Delsa Santiago
    • Stacy Gallardo … Cast, Norma Santiago
    • Gabriel A. Flores … Cast, Hector Santiago
    • Yanniva Mendoza … Cast, Alicia Santiago
    • Marisabel Garcia … Cast, Edna Santiago
    • Austin Marques … Cast, Raymond Santiago
    • Carmen Moreno … Cast, Yolanda
    • Robinne Lee … Cast, Miss Brown
    • Peter Jason … Cast, Mr. Fuller
    • Justin Williams … Cast, Office Social Worker
    • Dawn Didawick … Cast, Field Social Worker
    • Sara Rivas … Cast, Laura
    • Jacob Hobbs … Cast, Harvey
    • Patrice Fisher … Cast, Gang Girl
    • Johanna Denis … Cast, Gang Girl
    • Amy Correa … Cast, Gang Girl
    • Achilles Aiken … Cast, Older Raymond
    • Alicia Kaplan … Cast, Dr. Fishbeck's Nurse
    • Sarah Zinsser … Cast, Librarian
    • Bob Prest … Cast, Jacob
    • Son y Clave … Cast, Salsa Band
    • For "Behind the Scenes on "The Forsyte Saga'"
    • Gina McKee … Interviewee
    • Damian Lewis … Interviewee
    • Sita Williams … Interviewee
    • Sue Milton … Interviewee
    • Stephen Fineren … Interviewee
    • John Galsworthy