Spotlight Author: “Silver Purse” a Memoir
Title: The Silk Purse – a Memoir by Raquel Ortiz Castaño (Pen Name)
The Silk Purse is about Raquel’s early childhood growing up in the South Bronx, New York of the l950’s with her Puerto Rican extended family. It begins, when she is three years old, and ends with a major transition in her life at age eighteen.
The Silk Purse focuses on Raquel’s ingenuity courage and inner strength as she struggles to keep her dreams alive while living in this overcrowded loving yet strict household. The nine-room apartment is filled with her mother, Enedina, her stepfather, Pedro Manuel Castaño, whom she calls “Papito,” her maternal grandparents Doña Adela and Don Domingo Santiago, her great aunt Titi Maria, her younger half-sister Astrid and their majestic collie, Sabu. And if that weren’t enough, there are the various tenants that occupy the back room, beginning with the outspoken Cuban woman, Sylvia Villacosta, plus most of the residents in their apartment building such as La Comadre, Mr. Eisen the local soda shop owner, and Doña Provi the building’s matriarch. In spite of the cramped quarters located in the heart of the South Bronx ghetto, in the midst of a neighborhood that is beginning to show the signs of devastation and decay, the apartment, and the building, are a sanctuary for the family.
Raquel has three passions, reading, listening and singing along with her records and making plans. Her dream is to be a singer and help her family move out of the ghetto to the suburbs of Long Island or Connecticut. As the oldest child she has many household chores, cooking, cleaning, ironing, laundry and watching after her younger sister. She is also studious and does her homework daily, after which she retreats alone to her room and sits on the bed in the dark, rocking and singing to some of her favorite singers. She has many, among them Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hartman, Barbra Streisand, The Platters, Virginia Lopez and Xiomara Alfaro.
Some episodes in the book are touching examples of growing up; others are painful and poignant passages in the life of this young girl and her family. The story themes revolve around friendship, loyalty, the trauma of moving, childhood pranks, her first job, first cigarette, first love and the return of a beloved family member to Puerto Rico.
It is Write From Wrong’s honor to spotlight Raquel Ortiz because her work captures the hardships of growing up in an urban city. She truly represents what it means to chase one’s dreams and make them a reality.