Judith Ortiz Cofer has written a book entitled Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood where she recounts stories about growing up in a bicultural environment. The book is comprised of a story followed by a poem that underscores and enhances the story’s theme. The book progresses through Cofer’s childhood to her high school years and weaves a story of a child brought up on in its both the mainland of the United States as well as the tiny island of Puerto Rico. The lessons that she learns are recounted through the lens of the adult, so the reader is treated to the story of a memory overlaid with the embellishments that seem to accompany an oral tradition.

You're lucky! Use promo "samples20"
and get a custom paper on
"Judith Ortiz Cofer"
with 20% discount!
Order Now

As Cofer relates her childhood experience, the reader is left with the impression that it was idyllic in its simplicity. The importance of her grandmother, Mama, is immediately established as Mama is the matriarchal powerhouse of the family. Mama holds court in her house everyday with the women of the family where they share oral histories that are embellished for the amusement of the audience and to make a point oftentimes. These stories are part of Cofer’s subconscious and also serve as “morality and cautionary tales” (Cofer 13). Cofer, the daughter of a career Naval man, is made to feel by her peers like the odd person out. As a result, she and her brother develop the ability to adapt to the current culture in which the live whether that be Puerto Rico (when her father is deployed) or in New Jersey (when her father is home from a current mission). Mama is central to all of her stories however because Mama gives her a sense of security and belonging.

Family is of utmost importance to the Puerto Rican culture, and Cofer’s experience follows suite. She recounts stories of sleeping in Mama’s bed and faking being sick so that she can spend time alone with Mama. She tells a story of how she and her cousin Susie love spending time together. Cofer is close to her aunts and enjoys hearing the stories they share, but nothing surpasses her relationship with Mama. She is so in awe of Mama that she will sit still when Mama braids her hair- no matter how much it pulls at her scalp. She knows that Mama is the ultimate authority and wields more power over Cofer than even Cofer’s own mother.

Cofer’s culture of origin is the Puerto Rican culture since both of her parents are Puerto Rican. Specifically, La Casa de Mama is where she learns the most about her culture and her place in it as a Puerto Rican female. The house was built too small for Mama’s taste, so when Mama would become pregnant, she would ask Papa to build a new room. He built a new room eight times for eight children. Mama’s bedroom is the heart of the casa, and in Cofer’s child’s eye, she sees it as a room for a queen. Through her adult lens though, it emerges differently as a room that is on the small side with lots of bric-a-brac and other momentos. Mama is the chief storyteller as she uses stories about family and village members to make her point about how a Puerto Rican woman must guard her virtue and be wary of giving away sex outside the confines of marriage. She sees American women as being morally lax, and this sets the stage for Cofer later in the book when she moves to New Jersey.

The importance of English language proficiency is readily seen in the stories where Cofer moves to New Jersey and has to attend school. She learns that not knowing and understanding English worsens prejudices that Americans have for Puerto Ricans. This was detailed in the story about Uncle Hernan who was a fruit picker tricked into going to the United States with an offer of a job, but because he could not read and understand the contract he was signing, he was forced to be a virtual prisoner. Cofer recounts a story of how her teacher threw a book at her because she did not understand the procedure, and her Puerto Rican classmate gave her incorrect information about the bathroom procedure. She was left feeling dejected and determined to learn English.

Cofer uses her poetry to enhance her stories. This is not surprising given the fact that she was a poet before penning her stories. Each poem comes immediately after the story it enhances, and each poem bolsters the theme of that particular story. After Mama tells the story about Maria being left at the altar, a poem that underscores Maria’s experience follows. This is consistent throughout the book and helps the reader have more insight into the story.

There are many variables that will ensure success according to Cofer. Most obviously, learning the language is the most important, but learning the culture and adapting to it follows closely behind. Additionally, a work ethic is important and someone who is an emigrant must work twice as hard as someone who is a native or has lived in the United States for any length of time.

Cofer’s emigrant experience is unique because she had one foot planted in each culture. When she was living in Puerto Rico she lived according to those customs, but when she was in New Jersey, she still lived by Puerto Rican customs. For example, while other girls in her high school were getting into cars with boys to attend social events or go to the roller rink, Cofer did not because it was deemed inappropriate.