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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Email: josejosue24@gmail.com
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.
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"A Mirror of Many Faces: The Literature of the
Puerto Rican Experience in the USA"
by Manuel Hernandez


Puerto Rico has one of the highest rates of emigration in the world.
According to the 2000 United States Census, approximately 3.5 million people
of Puerto Rican origin live on the United States Mainland. Although Puerto
Ricans have been migrating to the US since the middle of the 19th century,
it is not until the publication of Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
in 1967 that their presence with a literary awakening became evident.
People from all the Caribbean came to the United States inspired by "job
opportunities, low air fares and the expectations of those that had already
pioneered the way".(The Nuyorican Experience, Mohr p.25)", but Puerto Ricans
migrated on a larger scale than any other group because of their political
relationship with the United States which granted them citizenship and the
right to enter the US without having to present a passport.
The Commonwealth Government of 1952 proposed economic reform through a
combination of industrialization, migration and popoulation control which
proved to be essential factors in the massive immigration movements in the
two decades following World War II. During the first four decades of the
20th century, Puerto Rican's economy was centered in the production of sugar
cane. This industry left workers unemployed during periods between the harvests
("tiempo muerto"). Political leaders believed that economic struggles on
the Island resulted from overpopulation. These two factors were used to explain
the increased rate of unemployment on the Island. American farmers announced
their packages for the "unskilled and inarticulate" (Mohr P.25) Puerto Rican.
The working-class Puerto Ricans of the era are vividly portrayed by one
of the pioneers of New York Puerto Rican poetry, Pedro Pietri:

Puerto Rican Obituary

They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
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 for five
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died broke
They died owing (112)


The literature written by Puerto Ricans who were born or raised in the
US focuses on issues surrounding the survival of the Puerto Rican community.
In Juan Flores' foreword written for Jesus Colon's, A Puerto Rican in New
York and Other Sketches, he states:

It was in the 1950's too and largely in response to these rapidly
changing conditions, that there emerged an actual literature of
fictional representation to the migration and resettlement
experience. (xiv)

The literature of United States based Puerto Ricans centers on issues scuh
as education, language and culture, injustice, unemployment and immigration.
It also speaks out on social concerns such as AIDS, abortion, child abuse,
domestic violence and poverty.
In spite of the experiences confronted by Puerto Ricans in the United
States, many of these have expressed their attachment and sense of belonging
to US metropolitan neighborhoods. New York playwright and actor, Miguel Pinero
prefers his final resting place to be the Lower East Side of Manhattan instead
of Puerto Rico:

I don't wanna be buried in Puerto Rico
I don't wanna rest in a long island cemetery
I wanna be near the stabbing shooting
gambling fighting and unnatural dying
& new birth crying
so please when I die
don't take me far away
keep me nearby
take my ashes and scatter them thru out
the Lower East Side (99)

Puerto Ricans baptized Manhattan's Lower East Side as "Loisaida".The neighborhood
became the heart and soul of the New York Puerto Rican's way of life. During
the late 1960's and 1970's, it became a safe haven for US based Puerto Rican
writers. Victor Hernandez-Cruz honors "Loisaida" in a poem precisely titled
that way:

"Loisaida"

By the East River
of Manhattan Island
Where once the Iroquois
Canoed in style
Now the jumping
Stretch of Avenue D
housing projects
Where
Rican/Blacks
Johnny Pacheco/Wilson Pickett
Transistor
the radio night
Across the Domino sugar
sign
Red Neon on stage
It's the edge of Brooklyn


From reflections of identity to lines of creativity, Tato Laviera takes
a language dilemma and uses code-switching and Spanglish to depict its relevance
to the United States Rican's every day speech.

My Graduation Speech

i think in spanish
i write in english

i want to go back to Puerto Rico
but i wonder if my kink could live
in ponce, mayaguez and carolina

tengo las venas aculturadas
escribo en spanglish
abraham in espanol
abraham in english
tato in spanish
"taro" in english
tonto in both languages...(7)

In a 1988 study, Frances Aparicio sheds new light on Laviera's contributions
to bilingualism in the United States:

Sus textos interlingues reflejan el habla de la comunidad a
la vez que le otorgan valor. Proponen nuevos modos de percepcion
estetica, nuevas imagenes y experiencias fonicas en la poesia.
(93)

Using creative language to do poetry is Laviera's way of moving beyond the
negative stereotypes of the Puerto Rican in the United States.
Moving beyond and away negative stereotypes is what Esmeralda Santiago
expresses in her 1993 semi-autobiographical work, When I Was Puerto Rican.
Assimilation is promoted constantly by educational institutions in the United
States. Esmeralda recognizes the importance of belonging when she finishes
her story with a visit to her alma mater, The High School of Performing Arts
and says:

I walked the halls of the school, looking for the room
where my life had changed. It was across the science lab, a few
doors from the big bulletin board when someone with neat
handwriting still wrote "P.A." followed by the graduating
year along the edges of newspaper clippings featuring
famous alumni. "One of these days." (270)

Assimilation comes in different forms and different colors. In Piri Thomas'
short story "The Konk", a young boy straightens his hair to be accepted by
friends and family, but once he meets their standards, he is faced with hostility
and rejection. In the process of assimilation and belonging, Puerto Ricans
are faced with situations of race, identity and culture. American Jewish
Puerto Rican poet Aurora Levins-Morales explores multiple identities in "Child
of the Americas":

I am a child of the Americas
a light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean
a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads

I am a US Puerto Rican Jew
a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known
An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants
...(50)

The experiences of the revolving door, returned migrant and the stranger
in a foreign land have all been depicted in US based Puerto Rican literature.
Themes include the reallities if immigration, dual language, woman's role
and the influences of the American culture. From Piri Thomas' best-seller,
Down These Mean Streets in 1967 to Miguel Pinero's best American play in
1973, Short Eyes, to Nicholosa Mohr's 1973 Nilda to the most recent success
of Esmeralda's Santiago's When I was Puerto Rican in 1993, US based Puerto
Rican writing is making a dent in schools, colleges and universities all
over the world.
US based PR literature should be used to supplement and complement traditional
classical literature in English curriculum in the USA and PR. It is time
that this new literature (1967-to the present) be studied at a higher level
of understanding and analysis.