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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.

Alien Ricans
By Manuel Hernández

A couple of years ago, I was having lunch in a Spanish restaurant in the capital of Puerto Rico with a scholar and Director of a student exchange program from the tri-state area. Right after we finished our delicious paella, he asked if Puerto Ricans used a green card to identify themselves as illegal aliens in the United States. Left baffled and speechless, I gathered my stray of emotions when all of a sudden our beautiful green-eyed Puerto Rican waitress approached our table and served us coffee. All of a sudden, Dr. Skywalker changed the topic of the conversation. Although Puerto Ricans by birth or by heritage of parents and grandparents, United States Puerto Ricans go through the same social, emotional and cultural process that illegal aliens encounter in the United States of America and Puerto Rico.
According to the Random House School Dictionary, an alien is "a person who is not a citizen of the country in which he is living". Puerto Ricans have been migrating to New York as early as 1870 when political exiles fled to New York seeking political refuge from the Spanish government on the Island. Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since the Jones Act of 1917. The 2000 United States Census states that there are approximately 3.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States mainland. The number is greater than those of other Caribbean islands as a result of Puerto Rico's political relationship with the United States of America. A Puerto Rican writer, Jack Agueros says that an immigrant is "state of mind", but the Nuyoricans are often treated differently than other US citizens on the Mainland and the Island.
When I served as Director of the Student Exchange Program at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus in 1999, an exchange student that attended a university in the Western United States for a year came into my office and confessed of being stopped by a policeman who asked him for immigration documents. In broken English, he explained that he had left his license in his apartment. The policeman called for back up, arrested him and called INS. Thanks to the one call he was allowed to make, his roommate ran into the police headquarters with the life-saving Puerto Rican driver's license. Situations like these are not uncommon throughout the United States. When my father worked for one of the largest automotive companies in the United States, he was genuinely satisfied with the career, salary and fringe benefits that the company had to offer, but when year after year, he was passed over for promotion he got tired of irregular shifts as an on-line handy-man, quit and headed back home. The legendary Puerto Rican poet, Pedro Pietri depicts the working-class Puerto Rican pioneer in "Puerto Rican Obituary":
They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
That were not on the calendar
They never went on strike
Without permission
They worked
Ten days a week
And were paid only five
They worked
They worked
They worked
…………….. (Boricuas, p.117)

The identity of many Puerto Ricans who live and reside on the Mainland has been shattered by the many obstacles and questions faced along the way. I have a beautiful friend who with her hazel eyes, cat-like body and blonde hair chooses to change her first name and adds a letter to her last name to become mainstream, but even that has not helped to erase "la mancha de platano" from her soul and body.
Upon arrival, United States Puerto Ricans are immediately stereotyped on the Island. When Miguel Piñero and Miguel Algarín, two New York based Puerto Rican writers arrived at the airport in Puerto Rico in the early seventies, they over heard a Puerto Rican woman referring to them as, "new-yo-ricans". In Puerto Rican schools, there are programs very well intended to integrate the so-called nuyoricans but end up isolating them. It is a constant to be or not to be. Whether it is on the Mainland or on the Island, US Ricans find themselves struggling for survival and on a twenty-four hour defensive attitude. The great majority stays away from the Island's every day politics and cultural affairs because they are apprehensive about being rejected. They have had enough of that abroad and when back on the Island decide to live quietly without getting in the way of local Islanders.
Thanks to superstars, Ricky Martin, Denise Quiñones, Jennifer López and Marc Anthony, there has been a slight change of tune in the rhetoric. It is important that Puerto Ricans continue to make their presence felt in a positive way. Education is the key that opens the closed doors of bigotry and hatred. My mother quietly inspired me to make a difference by going back to school, getting her GED and a college degree. Let us be one in a million not just part of the million. If we do so, our future generations will make the necessary connections and become assertive, productive and pro-active citizens of the universe.