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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.

Teaching English as a Second Language in The Bronx: A Discovery

by Manuel Hernández

In 1988, the New York City Board of Education visited The Island of Puerto Rico looking for English as a Second Language and Bilingual teachers. I was impressed with the yearly salary and fringe benefits. My marriage was on the rocks, and I believed it could benefit from a new setting. Maria was unhappy because she had not had a child, and I prayed to God and asked Him for a signal. If my wife got pregnant, it meant we had to stay in Puerto Rico. If she did not get pregnant in a period of six months, it meant we had the green light to move to The Big Apple. A month later, my wife gave me the good news, but I kept quiet about His orders and decided to move to New York City anyway.

We packed our bags and headed to New York. Deep in my heart, I knew it would be difficult for us in New York, but I was twenty-three years old, and I was inspired by the so-called American dream. I had mixed emotions while reflecting on the bumpy plane ride to Kennedy Airport. Maria was nineteen years old and had never been to New York before. I knew that I was moving in disobedience, but I wanted to defy my Creator.

When we arrived at Kennedy, our friends forgot to pick us up. Two hours had gone by, and no one showed face. I called my buddies, and they were sleeping. Finally, Freddie came by in his 1987 Chevy Blazer blasting a hit song by Terence Trent Darby: sign your name across my heart, I want you to be my baby, sign your name across my heart, I want you to be my baby. He said he was sorry, but I did not hear sincerity in his voice. We stayed with Freddie for a month and later searched for an apartment in Brooklyn. We had lots of relatives, and I wanted my pregnant wife to have them around while I was gone studying and working. We were told to dress up and look neat when searching for a place to live. My cousins lived in Los Sures, but I wanted to live a couple of blocks away from them.

I found a Polish neighborhood very close to where I had lived ten years before. The neighborhood looked quiet and calm, so I decided to hunt for an apartment there. It was a gloomy and cloudy day when my wife and I got ready to look for a dwelling. I wore designer polyester pants and shirt, and my wife had a cute dress, which highlighted her growing belly. Apartments that were for rent looked empty, had the curtains up and had the for rent sign hanging on the outside of the window. We found a nice apartment in a two-floor private house. I knocked on the door and heard a voice from the inside asking for my name. I responded:

My name is Manuel Hernandez.

Wait a second, mister, answered the fluttering voice.

Whats your name again?

Manuel Hernandez.

Hi, Mr. Hernandez, what can I do for you? Answered the man, after hastily opening the door.

My wife and I are looking for an apartment.

What? He answered observing every detail of our humanly body.

There is a sign up there that says that you have an apartment available. I replied.

What sign? Not here! he quickly replied.

Sir, but you have a sign.

You Dominican? the man asked in a bickering manner.



No sir, were Puerto Rican.

Same to me, and he politely threw the door in our face.

As a consequence, we looked for an apartment closer to the Latino neighborhood because getting one outside of it would be virtually impossible. It was on the second floor of an old two-story house. Every time I walked up the stairs, the house shivered. The landlords complained about my snoring. The floor trembled with my steps, but it was the best we could afford for $500.00 a month. The landlords were a retired couple from Puerto Rico who had made their living in New York and were months away from moving to Florida.

After two months of adjusting, moving and getting acquainted with the New York City way of life, it was time to work. The New York City Board of Education hired me to work at West Bronx High School. The school was right in the middle of the largest Latino communities in the Bronx, and I was looking forward to the experience. When I knocked on the front door on the first day of class, I was confused for the new custodian. With that in mind, I was introduced to Mr. Quezada, the Assistant Principal. In many public schools, assistant principals had absolute control of all administrative affairs. This was the case at West Bronx High School. Mr. Quezada was as thin as a needle. He wore a Puerto Rican guayabera, which initially made me feel at ease and was very careful with his words.

Mr. Hernandez there seems to be a problem here.

Whats the problem?

We dont have a position for you here?

I dont understand. I have a contract.

We dont have a copy or original for that matter.

There must be a mistake

Mr. Hernandez, its simple; we dont have a job in this

school for you . Can you teach Math or Science? We

may be able to dig up a program for you.

But Im not a Science teacher, and I hate Math.

Im sorry Mr. Hernandez, take it or leave it. Ill be back

in a little while.

The teachers lounge was terribly damp and dark. I sat down in a corner sofa, put my head down in between my legs and cried. I dont remember ever crying, but I could not hold back the tears this time. After a short period of frustration, I remembered having the telephone number of my recruiter in a piece of paper tucked in my wallet. I called his office and told him of my troubles at West Bronx High. He told me to call back in a half an hour. The half an hour seemed like an eternity. I was finally placed at Henry James High School.

This time I was received with a nice warm smile by the assistant principal, Ms. Laura Gonzalez. It was very difficult not to notice Ms. Gonzalez. She was forty-something, weighed about one hundred and thirty five pounds, light-brown hair and shining green eyes. She walked with an air of confidence that kept all of us in awe. She was a versatile woman, doubling as an ESL teacher and Assistant Principal. My teaching skills were polished at James. Ms. Gonzalez made every effort to make me feel comfortable as a professional. She made unannounced visits that kept you on your toes. I got involved in extra-curricular activities and organized an ESL journalism club. I enjoyed my teaching experience there and felt at home.

One day, the ESL Program at James invited a Nuyorican poet, Lalo Latorre. I observed him while he got ready. Latorre was medium height, had black curly hair and deep brown eyes. He dressed completely in white and looked like a Santera priest. He came in the library with drums and a guitar. Latorre was gregarious and flamboyant. I was anxious to hear the poet do his thing. When he started reciting his poetry, he read verses in English and Spanish. He combined music and verses and went from prose to poetry. He followed no rules. He closed his eyes as if evoking some unknown spirit.

Oye tu, como vas?

I dont know si me quedo, o me fui ya.

I speak ingls, espaol and Spanglish.

Soy de aqui y de alla, you know!

The students loved it. They laughed, cheered and yelled whenever the poet instructed them to do so. I was amazed at their reaction. I identified with the message, and I was curious to know who he was and wanted to know more about his poetry. Mr. Latorre and I became good friends, and he gave me a list of Latino/a writers who were writing and performing in the United States and abroad. Next day, I ran to the bookstore and bought a few of the books recommended by Latorre.

Latorres experience opened my eyes to a whole new world. As a teacher, I had always been looking for alternatives. I wanted the best for them, and I knew that the study of literature was the only situation in which students had to explore issues that were relevant to their interests. Latino/a literature combined the language, history and the cultural expression of the Latino/a experience that allowed students to examine themes and made language their own by making personal connections with their lives and background information.

As a result of my discovery experience, I found that some of the themes portrayed were self-esteem, education, family, values, domestic violence, identity, varied approaches to race, cultural confusion, growing up in a bicultural/bilingual setting, peer-pressure, the challenges of learning a new language, father-son; mother-daughter relationships, standing up for what one believes in, the celebration of culture and music and other issues which provoked students to become critical thinkers in the process.

I started to use Latino/a Literature to help students improve educational outcomes and provided the preparation and encouragement needed for them to be successful in the English classroom. I designed specific strategies to prepare students to read and write and prepared them for further literary analysis. Much to my surprise, my ESL students, especially those at the higher levels started developing a greater interest in literature. I strongly emphasized Latino/a literature as a bridge to the teaching of American and British Classics, and it was starting to make a difference in the city, state and national exams.

There was a way to measure success but my personal experience with my family superseded my teaching experience, and in the summer of 1991, my family made the move back to The Island. Although I had not entirely tested my theory, I knew that time would be the great equalizer. There was an alternative. I had not created it, but I had the plan to help Latino/a teens improve academic performance on city, national and state standardized testing. It was much more that extra-curricular activities and coop programs. There needed to be a mirror, then a bridge and the final outcome which would be reflected in a five year plan. It was necessary, not only for Latino/a teens but for the millions of American high school teens as well.