Though these lively, often plainly affecting vignettes are presumably autobiographical, the narrator is not Edward Rivera but ""Santos Malanguez""--who first fills in Puerto Rican family history: his grandmother Josefa, a grimly colorful loca; his father's scrappy 1930s years as a field-hand to patron Gigante; Papi's outrageous wooing--and winning--of Gigante's daughter . . . Mami. And the book's most involving episode comes when Papi--after business failures--desperately, hopefully goes off to N.Y., leaving Mami and kids behind . . . along with Chuito, a slightly older cousin who becomes a beloved substitute-Papi (dispensing some raunchy sex education); but When Papi sends for the family to join him, Chuito is cruelly left behind. Once the family is together in Spanish Harlem, however, Rivera/Santos' memories become a little less distinctly flavorful. There are comic problems for nervous little Santos at parochial school, dominated by the Irish-American clergy: first communion (""Remember . . . our church is not a luncheonette and the Host is not a hot dog""); a truly abysmal teaching staff of ex-sailor Christian Brothers; struggles with English, especially Shakespeare (some overdone farce here); strained--but eventually harmonious--relations with the black kids who share the turf; and, most conventionally, romantic teenage frustrations for Santos and his brother. But the book's final sequences again take on some deeper resonances--as Santos faces the 9-to-5 world, even while reaching for genuine learning (not the Christian Brothers variety), and watches Papi's losing battle against M.S., his return to Puerto Rico. Richly detailed, bodega-real material, then--and if Rivera never quite shapes it into a dramatic whole, most of the individual set-pieces are quietly amusing, gently evocative, and slyly informative on the problems of growing up bilingual.