In his youth, Manzano was not allowed to play with other black children from the plantations. He was treated like a criollo or european child and had a comfortable life in comparison to other slaves in the important sugar region. However, the life of a house slave was isolating and left him ill-prepared for his next mistress. In , at the age of 40, Manzano escaped and became a free man.
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Resumen breve Juan is born to a family whose female owner raises certain slaves at her side and teaches them skills before marrying them off. Our protagonist is one of those chosen, and so until that boss dies, he is always at her side. As a young boy, he composes poems from memory but he cannot write. As he passes from one city to another some time is spent in Havana , he works in the fields at times and works in homes at others.
Most of his time is spent away from his family, although at different times he is able to reconnect with them. He has various siblings and his father stays with his mother. At one point as a young boy, he is given two coins one night and one the following day that equals the worth of the two. Supposed to give the one to a beggar, he gives the two instead. When it is discovered that he still has the one coin, people assume that he was stealing it and, because of his anger and frustration, Juan is unable to explain what has happened and he gets punished.
He learns some skills, like sewing and how to attend to people who are working on things like that. He eventually teaches himself how to read and write, in spite of prohibitions against it. When his mother dies, he is cheated out of an inheritance that she left him and is very bitter about it. He eventually is able to run away from his masters.
Juan Francisco Manzano