Big Books & Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller

Author Jamie Figueroa on reclaiming an identity her mother tried to shed

side by side of a woman and a book
Jamie Figueroa reclaims her identity as a Puerto Rican in her new memoir, “Mother Island.”
Photo by Sandra Dufton | Book cover courtesy Penguin Random House

Jamie Figueroa’s new memoir, “Mother Island” is stylistically unique. She combines prose and creative nonfiction, myth and short stories to explore her memories.

But the heart of the book — her push-pull relationship with her mother and her process of uncovering a true self — is as old as time.

Figueroa’s mother was taken from Puerto Rico as a young child and raised in a New York City orphanage, separated from her native language, culture and ancestry. As many immigrants before her, she learned to keep her heritage distant, as a way to assimilate into a new country.

But Figueroa chafed at the disconnect — “my mother did not know how to define herself on her own terms” — and set out to remember.

As she tells Kerri Miller on this week’s Big Books and Bold Ideas, “[My mother] was concerned about how we were seen. She wanted to be included. Anything she could do to get closer to ‘white identity’ made it easier for her.”

“As a daughter, I respect those were the choices she was forced to make — and I feel like my life is lived in opposition to that.”


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