|“Little Things Are Big”
"I’ve been thinking; you know, sometimes one thing happens to change your life, how you look at things, how you look at yourself. I remember one particular event. It was when? 1955 or '56...a long time ago. Anyway, I had been working at night. I wrote for the newspaper and, you know, we had deadlines. It was late after midnight on the night before Memorial Day. I had to catch the train back to Brooklyn; the West side IRT. This lady got on to the subway at 34th and Penn Station, a nice looking white lady in her early twenties. Somehow she managed to push herself in with a baby on her right arm and a big suitcase in her left hand. Two children, a boy and a girl about three and five years old trailed after her.
Anyway, at Nevins Street I saw her preparing to get off at the next station, Atlantic Avenue. That’s where I was getting off too. It was going to be a problem for her to get off; two small children, a baby in her arm, and a suitcase in her hand. And there I was also preparing to get off at Atlantic Avenue. I couldn’t help but imagine the steep, long concrete stairs going down to the Long Island Railroad and up to the street. Should I offer my help? Should I take care of the girl and the boy, take them by their hands until they reach the end of that steep long concrete stairs?
Courtesy is important to us Puerto Ricans. And here I was, hours past midnight, and the white lady with the baby in her arm, a suitcase and two white children badly needing someone to help her.
I remember thinking; I’m a Negro and a Puerto Rican. Suppose I approach this white lady in this deserted subway station late at night? What would she say? What would be the first reaction of this white American woman? Would she say: 'Yes, of course you may help me,' or would she think I was trying to get too familiar or would she think worse? What do I do if she screamed when I went to offer my help? I hesitated. And then I pushed by her like I saw nothing as if I were insensitive to her needs. I was like a rude animal walking on two legs just moving on, half running along the long the subway platform, leaving the children and the suitcase and the woman with the baby in her arms. I ran up the steps of that long concrete stairs in twos and when I reached the street, the cold air slapped my warm face.
Perhaps the lady was not prejudiced after all. If you were not that prejudiced, I failed you, dear lady. If you were not that prejudiced I failed you; I failed you too, children. I failed myself. I buried my courtesy early on Memorial Day morning.
So, here is the promise I made to myself back then: if I am ever faced with an occasion like that again, I am going to offer my help regardless of how the offer is going to be received. Then I will have my courtesy with me again."
Jesus Colon Background Information and Reading Directions
Jesús Colón was born on January 20, 1901 in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Before leaving for the U.S., Colón, at 16 years of age, assumed the role of editor for a newspaper named Adelante at the Central Grammar School in San Juan. It is said that this is how his passionate writing career began. Colón had received little schooling in Puerto Rico and was considered to be a self-educated man. It was not until his arrival in the U.S. that he finished his secondary level of schooling as an adult.
Outside his writing, Colón worked several menial jobs during different times of his life as a dishwasher, postal clerk, messenger, and waiter in order to earn a living. Because of his political affiliations at the time and his involvement with the socialist labor movement, the Puerto Rican pro-independence groups, and with the Communist Parties, Colón was held under investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the McCarthy Era. Colón did not allow this to stop him; he continued fighting for his beliefs and writing about them as well. His literary work continued to flourish in publications like: The Daily Worker, The Worker, The Daily World and Mainstream.
Colón was a political activist who pushed for social change through his writing as well as through his active role within the community. Before his death in 1974, he published his first and only book called “A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches" (1961). Colón had intentions on producing another book, but died before he could accomplish this. Upon his death, his collections of papers were donated to the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College. Later some of these works were compiled by Edna Acosta-Belén and Virginia Sánchez Korrol to form a book called "The Way It Was and Other Writings" (1993).
Condensed version of a biography on http://www.angelfire.com/pa5/jessemoli/JesusColon.bio.html
Annotation Directions (individual silent work)
Focus on Style, Voice, Tone, Purpose-
1. First select 2 places in the essay to create a response journal. Include things like your personal reaction to selected text, commentary on the style, connections to what constitutes this type of genre, signs of purpose, tone, voice, etc.
2. Select 2 paragraphs (1 could be isolated but with 2 you should begin to see patterns or commonalities) to really break down (not 3 sentence only paragraphs). Mark the paragraph on the paper. Make a list of types of sentences-simple, complex, compound, compound-complex. See how many of each is in the paragraphs. Evaluate the diction and vocabulary (does he use elevated, simple, assessable, wordy, colloquial, etc. vocabulary). What affect do the sentence and vocabulary choices made by the author have on the essay?
3. Read his bio above. What conclusions can you draw from his bio that might have an influence on the author’s style?
4. Is this a personal essay or narrative essay? Why do you belief this?
5. What do you think Colon’s purpose was for writing this piece?
6. Who is his intended audience?
Finish for homework if needed but try to finish in class.
Create four discussion questions about this and/or “Only Daughter,” and/or “Caramelo.” No level one questions. You may draw from the above questions and observations you made as well as the work yesterday. Due Monday after break