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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Address: : 2012 Ernest St. Kissimmee, Florida 34741

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and finished a Master�s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx in 1994. He has coordinated symposiums, produced and coordinated television interviews on the literature written by Puerto Rican and Latino/a writers from the Diaspora. He has done numerous presentations, workshops and seminars on how to integrate latino/a literature in the English classroom. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, , Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (Imprenta Sifre, 2013). He is a Language Arts teacher at Osceola School District in Florida.

Puerto Rican Heroes
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright

For the first time since Puerto Rico’s own, Zuleyka Rivera, won the Miss Universe pageant of 2006, Puerto Ricans zealously celebrated the home coming of a heroe. With a bit less than six feet, Jose Juan Barea, became a giant in the land of the “Goliaths” of the NBA. Even Boricuas who cheered for the trio of superstars from South Beach welcomed the Mayaguez native as he made his entrance into the Isla Verde airport. No one can deny Barea’s place in history, but there is a dichotomy about who is and who is not a heroe in Puerto Rico.

As a Puerto Rican born in the legendary town of Sleepy Hollow, New York during the heroic years of the 1960’s, I woke up every day to the tales and stories of American heroes. As turbulent as they were, the 1960’s were a time of heroes from all walks of life in America. The civil rights movement was headed by a Southern Baptist preacher who took the United States by storm with a message of peace and non-violence. Although I was a merely a child, there was no way you could live a day without hearing about the assassinated President. In sports, the amazing Mets had suprisingly won the World Series in 1969. These are just a few of the individual and collective heroes that I heard about while growing up in America.

All that changed when my parents moved to their homeland, Puerto Rico, when I was eleven years old in 1974. There was hardly any stories or lessons about a Puerto Rican heroe in school. They did mention a few by the names of Jose de Diego, Ramon Emeterio Betances, Luis Muñoz Marin and a few others, but their accomplishments were carefully carved without adding the heroic connotations of a national heroe. It was only when I became a freshman in Puerto Rico’s first academic institution that I took it into my own hands to learn more about the people that shaped, influenced and marked Puerto Rican history. Because of Puerto Rico’s unique political relationship with the United States, the Puerto Rican governments of the 20th and 21st century have been very low key, pun intended, when it comes to including a curriculum in the public school system about Puerto Rican heroes.

It is only when a Puerto Rican in entertainment and sports reaches a climatic national and even international point that they celebrate and claim a place for him/her in Puerto Rican history. The Puerto Rican Diaspora has more than a few “Davids” in Hollywood, education and U.S. Congress, but Island counterparts quietly question their heritage and silently deny them a place in Puerto Rican history.The world famous Puerto Rican receiving the President on June 14th was Marc Anthony, but there were Islanders that were appalled by his presence at the burning runway.

Heroes awaken pride and define national identity. Because there is very little, if any, celebration concerning Puerto Rican heroes; pride and identity are only experienced publicly when a basketball player, boxer and/or a beautiful Puerto Rican woman is chosen as a Ms. Universe. There are so many heroes in the backyard of our towns and barrios in Puerto Rico. When will the media take a minute or two to examine and explore the impact of the paintings of Jose Campeche? Europeans probably know more about him than we do.

Why do we have to wait until a Puerto Rican wins a sports championship to display the Puerto Rican flag? How about building a monument to honor the only person in history that has won the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy? Her name is Rita Moreno. It is ironic that she is honored more outside of The Island than her beloved Puerto Rico. Let’s enjoy the moment, and cheer Jose Juan Barea. Let’s bury our petty political indifference and dare to teach about Puerto Rican heroes in schools. Puerto Rican politics has perpetuated a baffling attitude in relation to heroes, but it may take people like you and me to remind our politicians that we are willing to think differently about who is and who is not a Puerto Rican heroe.