When she leaves Puerto Rico to move to New York with her father, Maria can't be an island girl any longer. Now she has to figure out how to be a barrio girl.

When I was in Puerto Rico, I was Maria Alegre, Happy Maria. I danced with Mami, practiced my English lessons, laughed in the sun, and went to school. But my Mami and Papi were not happy. Papi wanted to go back to the barrio in New York where he grew up. Mami wanted to stay in Puerto Rico where she was born, and be a teacher. Papi tried to forget about his barrio, but he couldn't, and got more and more sad until he couldn't work because he was so unhappy. Finally, Mami gave him a plane ticket to New York, and told me I had to decide whether I would stay or go. I decided to go with Papi because I wanted an American college education, and because Papi would need help getting settled. Mami would come later, perhaps.

So now I am Maria Trieste, Sad Maria, living in a basement far from my sunny home. Papi is the building super, and I run our small household, help him with the tenants, and go to school. My island is gone, my mother is gone, and even my language is gone. I have spent so much time learning English, but the language in the barrio is Spanglish, with English and Spanish all mixed up together.

But gradually, a little at a time, I am learning to be Maria Alegre again. When I talk to the tenants in our building and take messages for Papi, when I go to the mall with my new friend Whoopee, and we speak the Spanglish that I am learning to like, with its beat that I almost want to dance to, when I study and think about my plans to be in college in just a few years, and when I write my songs and my poetry and my letters to Mami, I am happy again.

Life is not what it was and not what it will be, but it is life, and so it is good. Read my poems and songs and letters, and I'll share that life with you!