By Manuel Hernández
When I taught English as a Second Language at James Monroe
in the Bronx, New York in 1988, the ESL/FL Bilingual Program
Nuyorican poet, Tato Laviera for a reading presentation. He
began by reciting
the classic, "My Graduation Speech" : "How
are you? ?Como estas? I don't
know if I'm coming, o' si me fui ya, ....si me dicen caviar
I digo a new
pair of converse sneakers." Laviera used English, Spanish,
a variety of sorts to creatively express contemporary issues
and ideas such
as racism, language, education, self-acceptance and identity.
It was the
first time I had a close encounter with myself through poetry.
explained that he spoke in seven languages; he came from two
and two expressions, and his poetry was a result of multiple
Laviera and hundreds of thousands of United States Puerto
identities and shift cultural gears in a natural and spontaneuos
Divided identities that are not easily understood by Island
Ricans, Americans and people of other ethnic backgrounds and
US based Puerto Rican writer, Aurora Levins-Morales, begins
the second stanza
of "Child of the Americas" by declaring that the
speaker is a "US, Puerto
Rican Jew." Instead of two shifts, the speaker moves
within three whole-grain
identities. According to psychology, human beings have defined
their identities with all the basic essentials by the age
of seven. But
external influences such as friends, society and experiences
begin to mold
character once one becomes a pre-adolescent. It is at this
that hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans were lead to the
Mainland by parents and relatives. Hundreds of thousands of
born in the United States and were reminded by relatives and
they were Puerto Ricans and different.
Being different yet extremely successful is what has marked
of Marc Anthony. In a concert at Madison Square Garden and
by HBO, he said he was proud of being a Puerto Rican and an
the Island, Anthony is a singer "de origen Boricua".
For the world, he is
one of the greatest talents of the 21st century. On the Island,
is shattered when Puerto Ricans themselves start identifying
as "Mayaguezanos" or "Poncenos". When
I worked as a professor of English
at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez in 1997-1998,
often reminded me that I was not from Mayaguez and that I
with the Mayaguez culture.
It is when you move out of the Island and come to the states
begin to comprehend that you are a Puerto Rican and that there
is a national
identity. A national identity that has nothing to do with
political tug of war that occurs on the Island with the leaders
of the red,
blue and green. In an interview in Carmen Dolores Hernandez'
Voices in English, the strong and vibrant voice of the South
Abraham Rodriguez, puts his identity in perspective:
"Of course, I am Puerto Rican. I am also American. I'm
It's really stupid for anybody to say that they're completely
Puerto Rican. There isn't a Puerto Rican alive that hasn't
been affected by American culture,... My big deal was
coming to grips with it because I had an identity crisis
for so long." (p.141)
In Sandra Maria Estevez' "Here", the speaker parallels
I am two parts a person
past and present
alive and oppressed
given a cultural beauty
robbed of a cultural identity
Having divided identities has stationed Jennifer Lopez on
and small screens all over the world. Her music is the every
on MTV. Lopez has literally overwhelmed the world media with
talents. Lopez has taken the Island's you are not enough Puerto
turned it into how much is too much in her favor. History
has proved Lopez
and hundreds of thousands of Mainland Puerto Ricans right.
I am sure that
many would identify with the last three stanzas of Levins-Morales'
of the Americas":
I am Caribena, island grown. Spanish is in my flesh,
ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing in my poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent:
I speak from that body.
I am not african. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not taina. Taino is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not eurpoean. Europe lives in me, but I have no home
I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole.