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"We just are who we are": Teach a Puerto Rican story of identity

Posted on September 28, 2021

Two street signs in Puerto Rico: "Paseo De La Princesa" & "No Entre." By Gabriela Maldonado (cropped.) License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Set among Puerto Rican teens dealing with gender identity and sexual confusion, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro's short story "Bruises" offers an unflinching, yet deeply sympathetic, look at growing up Latinx. As an added bonus that makes the story especially relevant to Hispanic Heritage Month, Lawrence Schimel's translation preserves some of the original Spanish. 

The story is narrated by Elena, an unforgettable character equally capable of dreaming about her classmate Johana, taking part in a beat-down of a boy, and obsessing over her burgeoning chin-hairs. In a pivotal scene, the boy Elena once bullied offers her some timely advice: 

There's nothing to give up, Elena. We just are the way we are. 

Following up our live event with the author**, we're sharing resources to help you bring this lively story to your students. 

Context for "Bruises"
Puerto Rican author and "artivist" Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro. 

To get to know the author, read an interview that may point to a real-life inspiration for "Bruises:" 

When I was fifteen years old, I met the person [with] whom I had one of the most important relationships. I fell in love with this girl in my class. [. . . more]

Then, watch some clips from the first moon landing, which Elena also watches in the story (the astronauts were more frightened than she may have imagined!) 

Classroom Activities & Assignments 

In class, you might ask students to:    

  • Make inferences about the story's secondary characters, like "El Cano," Ricardo, or Elena's mother. Students might work in small groups, each focused on a different character's journey through the story. 
  • Make inferences about the story's ending: "What is the connection between the ferry captain, the horse tranquilizer, and Elena? Re-read part 7 until you think you've figured it out." (Note to secondary teachers: the answer to this question involves an anatomical reference in this part of the story.)  
  • Consider the use of original Spanish in Lawrence Schimel's translation: "Why do you think the translator decided to leave some words in the original Spanish? How does choice affect our reading of the story?" 
  • Analyze the meaning of the story's title. "Who suffers 'bruises' in this story? Are some bruises invisible?" (Advanced students might also discuss: "Why is the story called  'Bruises' and not 'Bruise'? What does the use of the plural suggest?") 
 Gloria Anzaldúa, author of Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Potential assignments

  1. Write your own story that begins with a character thinking about a particular color. 
  2. Why do you think Elena's story takes place at the same time as the first moon landing?  
  3. (For advanced students) In her essay "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," the Chicana author Gloria Anzaldúa writes:
Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate.

How might you connect Anzaldúa's perspective with the choices Lawrence Schimel made as he translated this story from Spanish into English? 

Related Reading  

It might be interesting to compare Elena of "Bruises" to Holden Caulfield, another complicated teen narrator with a unique voice. 

Or, read "Bruises" alongside other contemporary global fiction like: 

  • The Korean teen sci-fi "Genesis," which also portrays a teen girl's attraction to a female classmate
  • "Tree of Kisses," also from Korea, a story of familial love, queer-bashing, and revenge 
  • The Japanese story "Cavities and Kindness," about a trans woman's resilience.   
Further Exploration 

Listen to translator Lawrence Schimel on translating blackness in an Asymptote magazine podcast.  

Then, watch Yolanda's speech about her "lioness" ancestors at the U.N.:

Finally, learn more about Puerto Rico's economic situation, which lies in the background of Elena's story, on The Puerto Rico Syllabus website. 


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