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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.

What is a Puerto Rican?
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright 2007

I was born in Tarrytown, New York of Puerto Rican parents, forty-four years ago. Inexplicably, as a child, I was nostalgic for Puerto Rico. I grew up with the colors, stories and sounds from La Isla (island of Puerto Rico). My mother did a lot of singing in Spanish while she sewed socks and made dresses for my sisters. Among her favorites were En Mi Viejo San Juan by Noel Estrada and Lamento Borincano by Rafael Hernández (Puerto Rican classical songs). Every time she sang these songs, tears would roll down her rosy cheek. I'd often ask her why she was crying, but I never got an answer. My parents spoke about going back to their homeland. My mother showed me pictures of my young uncles, Diego and Eli. She called her mother at least once a month, and I sometimes spoke with her too. My grandmother always spoke about her garden. The flowers were bright yellow and roses came in red, purple and wine. Every time my mother spoke about the garden, I imagined a beautiful rainbow of colors. There was also a lot of talk about the "coquí", a small Puerto Rican frog which could not be found anywhere in the world. I could sometimes hear the coquí, coquí sound on the telephone receiver. The coquí is named after the sound it makes. Whenever I thought of my parent's homeland, I heard that repetitious, happy and musical sound, 'coquí', 'coquí', 'coquí'. I had never been to Puerto Rico, but it lived in me.
I spoke English at school, but Spanish was the primary language in my house and at church. I lived in a household where two cultures and languages became one. There was no fuss or discussion about when to use English or Spanish. It was natural for me to speak English with my friends and Spanish with my family. I was just another Puerto Rican American boy who spoke in two languages. Our apartment came alive with family visits from Puerto Rico and New York City. My cousins, aunts and uncles coming home for the holidays were truly wonderful moments. We sang songs and ate food from the Island. Puerto Rico was alive everywhere.
I began a puppy love relationship with a girl from school. Karen was as tall as I was and had dark hair right up to her shoulders and dark brown eyes. She wore a brown coat with a white furry collar in winter. Her lips were round and lively. She had the cutest smile which accentuated her beautiful face. I walked her home and carried her books from school. Karen's family lived in a big house on the other side town. We played outside, but I was never invited inside the house. Her father, Mr. Robert Levy, was one of the richest men in Tarrytown. He also was an honorable member of the Tarrytown City Council.
Karen liked sports; so we played football together. We sat down at the lunchroom together. I felt good around her. Our friendship grew stronger through the fifth grade. It was during the summer of 1974 that Karen and I reached puberty.
At the beginning of the sixth grade, something happened that has influenced my way of thinking forever. I was excited when I saw Karen, but I immediately noticed her indifference. I approached her, but she seemed cold and nervous. The sparkling eyes were gone. Her eternal smile had faded into the sunset. I tried talking to her, but she was not listening to me.
'Karen, can I talk to you? She stayed quiet, and moments later she replied.
The problem is that you and I can't be friends anymore, she said looking the other way.
What are you talking about?, I asked.
Well, Jews and Puerto Rico are people of different races.
Hey, what do you mean?
I'm a Jew and you're a Puerto Rican.
So what? We're Americans.
You and I can never marry!
Marry? What do you mean?
Leave me alone, okay!
No further explanations were made. I did not understand her. I knew that my parents were Puerto Rican, but I never thought that was important. I couldn't sleep for days. For the first time in my life, I realized there were differences between people that went beyond my boyhood imagination. Karen never spoke to me again. It took me years to understand her. My parents had brought me up aware of my heritage, but I never thought it meant anything really important in terms of having friends from different nationalities. I was wrong. She made me aware that I was different. I was a Puerto Rican. How? Why? The years and experiences would shed light on my confusion.
In 1974, the year of the Watergate scandal, my parents moved back to their homeland, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico for me was all in letters, pictures and postcards. I had been to Puerto Rico several times on vacation, but this was a permanent move. I knew mother wasn't happy, but father stressed a marriage meant personal sacrifices from time to time. I confronted her a few days before we took off to Puerto Rico.
Ma, do we have to move? my mother took a few seconds to answer the question.
Well, tu papa thinks it's the best thing for us.
I don't wanna go to Puerto Rico.
Who are you going to stay with?
I can stay with Titi.
Titi lives in the city.
Come on, mami, I wanna stay.
Nonsense. Your father will not allow it!
Having just finished her statement, she stood up and locked herself up in the bedroom. My mother had had a fourth child, Cindy, and she had constant mood swings. Father and Elbita went first to the so-called Island of Enchantment. We waited for about a month until he found a job and an apartment.
Home. I was going home. Home to the sugar cane and banana fruit. Home to the tall skyscraper trees and the mirror blue green sea. These were the images that I had from the pictures sent back with father and Elba eating a long piece of wood called sugar cane. There were other pictures of father and sister on the beach. They looked happy.
Mother registered me in the local public school. It was a five room building in a rural barrio called Juan Martin. There was no gym. Students had to wear uniforms, and teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment. Even the name of the school sounded weird to me, Carolina G. De Veve. On the first day of school, my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Tapia, asked me, Cual es tu segundo apellido? I was dumbfounded. You see, in the United States, my mother's last name was never needed, mentioned or asked for in school. In Puerto Rico, a second last name was a must. But Mrs. Tapia asked who my mother was and immediately knew that it was Carmona. I hated it. I have nothing against my mother's last name, but it was new for me, and I didn't like the sound of it. For me, Carmona was half a car and half " mona" (female monkey).
To add to insult and from that moment on, she always called me Carmona and so did the rest of the teachers in that school. It just so happened that all my eight aunts and four uncles had studied in Carolina G. De Veve elementary school, and I as the oldest grandson was the new Carmona in town. My compañeros de clase (classmates) called me Gringo and Nuyorican. I didn't have a clue what those words meant, but they laughed and giggled when they called me like that. Someone told me that Gringo was because I had moved from the United States, and Nuyorican was supposed to mean that I was half Puerto Rican and half New York Rican or something like that. I hated those names too, but there were too many Boricuas to fight.
Who was I? What was I? Where was I? My confusion grew worst with the further development of puberty. I was five feet eight inches tall and twelve years old, and my body was developing fast. My father was too busy working, so I learned about the facts of life through my new found boricua friends. They helped me open my eyes to the world.
My years in high school were relatively quiet. I didn't get involved in school clubs, and I wasn't distracted too much by girls and sports. I graduated with honors and was accepted at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. The University of Puerto Rico is the oldest and most prestigious academic institution on the Island. Only five percent of the high school students that applied were accepted, so it was an opportunity that I looked forward to ever since I had entered high school.
I completed my BA in 1986, and every summer during my undergraduate studies, I escaped to New York. There was and there is no doubt that I am a Puerto Rican, but the call of the City of New York is ingrained in my blood. I live a happy life, and I will continue to live here unless.I married a puertorriqueña, and my newborn baby was born in Humacao. What is a Puerto Rican? I don't know. You tell me.