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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.

To Be or not To Be Puerto Rican: By Manuel Hernandez

To be or not to be, that is the Puerto Rican question. The recent
victory by Fernando Ferrer as a political candidate to one of the most
important mayoral positions in the United States has refueled the on-going
local debate. Shakespearean Puerto Ricans have once again brought up
the dilemma of who is and who is not Puerto Rican. With the United
States 2000 Census revealing parallel numbers between Puerto Ricans born
on the Island and Boricuas born, raised or living on the Mainland, the
debate continues in all means of communication on The Island. Even with
recent demonstrations of brotherhood and camaraderie in public
demonstrations by Marc Anthony and Chayanne, the issue takes center-stage
in daily discussions on the Island.
In his record-breaking concert in Madison Square Garden, Marc Anthony
stated that he was a Puerto Rican and an American at the same time. One
of the founders of the Nuyorican poetry movement, Sandra Maria Esteves,
states in her poem “Here” that she is “two parts a person, boricua/spic,
past and present, alive and oppressed”. Jennifer Lopez has broken all
paradigms and proudly displays the colors of the Puerto Rican flag in
her never-ending videos on MTV and on interviews in international
television. United States Ricans have a way of intertwining their dual
identities and are not apprehensive about being bilingual and bicultural,
but on the Island academics and scholars have perpetuated the
discussions on who and who is not and have made it part of their
everyday rice and beans.
With tens of thousands of United States Ricans coming back to their
homeland to retire and settle down, the situation will only develop into
heights yet unknown to Boricuas-kind. The best-selling Puerto Rican
author, Esmeralda Santiago, came back to Puerto Rico after thirteen
years and was disappointed when her Puerto Rican heritage was constantly
questioned:“How can puertorriqueños who have never left the Island
accuse us when they allow the American contamination I was seeing all
around? There were McDonald’s, Pizza Huts, and so on. I used to think
that this was not our culture (Puerto Rican Voices in English, p.163).”
Questions about Santiago’s identity came back to haunt her again
after she titled her best-selling 1993 memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.
Literary discourse specialists in colleges on the Island were disturbed
by the past tense of the verb to be in the title. Twelve years later and
with widespread national acclaim, her local critics have eased the
critical tone and now proudly invite her to speak at conferences today
in the same arenas where she was questioned in the past.
In Francois Grosjean’s Life with Two Languages, he defines code
switching as “the alternate use of two or more languages in the same
utterance or conversation”(145). If the use of two languages has been
recognized by linguists and academics as a practice with a high degree
of competence, how about dual identities? For once and for all, Island
Puerto Ricans should understand that it is possible to be born elsewhere
and still be a Puerto Rican. An American born on the Island or in any
other parts of the world would definitely consider him/herself an
American. Jews will always be Jews no matter where they were born,
raised or presently reside. Mariposa, a young New York-Puerto Rican poet
sums it up in the second and third stanzas in “Ode to the DiaspoRican”:

Some people say that I’m not the real thing
Boricua, that is
cause I wasn’t born on the enchanted island
cause I was born on the mainland
north of Spanish Harlem
cause I was born in the Bronx…
some people think that I’m not bonafide
cause my playground was a concrete jungle
cause my Río Grande de Loiza was the Bronx River
cause my Fajardo was City Island
my Luquillo Orchard Beach
and summer nights were filled with city noises
instead of coquis
and Puerto Rico
was just some paradise
that we only saw in pictures.

What does it mean to live in between
What does it take to realize
that being Boricua
is a state of mind
a state of heart
a state of soul…