by Women of El Barrio members Elsie Encarnación and Alyssa Ruíz
On Sunday January 25, 2009, MTV aired a new episode from its widely popular True Life series entitled True Life: I'm a Nuyorican. According to the network’s website, the show was aimed to demonstrate the difficulties young Nuyoricans face when growing up between two worlds. The show featured three young Nuyoricans and highlighted each of their "struggles" with being Nuyorican. Since the airing of this show, there has been quite the uproar within the Nuyorican community concerning whether MTV presented the "True Life" they proclaim to have depicted. Many self-identified Nuyoricans are offended and upset by the inaccurate representation of an entire community that has fought to proudly identify itself and have shown considerable backlash via internet blogs, petitions and even on MTV's own website.
One of the communities highlighted in the television program was East Harlem also known as El Barrio. The unfair and unjust portrayal of Nuyoricans deeply touch home and even offended us as members of Women of El Barrio/Mujeres de El Barrio (WOEB), a local advocacy group of proud Puerto Rican women that not only support the leadership of Puerto Rican women in East Harlem, but also fight and speak out against the injustices facing our community. We see the True Life: I'm a Nuyorican episode as a disgraceful representation of an entire body of people.
Our biggest gripe with the episode was the neglect to accurately define the term Nuyorican. The expression Nuyorican goes far beyond the geographical definition that MTV offers. The term was coined by the literary and cultural movement that birthed the famous Nuyorican Poets Café in the late seventies early eighties. Poets such as Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero, Pedro Pietri, and Sandra Maria Esteves used their poetry as a medium to express the new generation of Puerto Ricans in New York and as a way for them to speak out against the injustices and discrimination they faced. Through this movement came an awareness and a deep sense of pride of what it meant to be Nuyorican.
With the failure to properly define the term Nuyorican we were left with a television show that focused on the negative stereotypes that are constantly perpetuated in media outlets. For example, all three cast members had a burning desire to get out of their unstable and dangerous communities even though we do not all come from or live in threatening neighborhoods. The "only way out" consisted of three options: get out through sports, entertainment, or by joining the armed forces. There was no mention of working hard or educating oneself as other viable choices. We also must not forget that there are Nuyoricans that do not want or particularly need to get out; rather they want to stay and make a difference in their communities. There are even those Nuyoricans that are fighting to stay in their homes due to gentrification.
We as members of WOEB work hard to dispel these negative perceptions of our community and Puerto Ricans through our active involvement and presence in our neighborhood; and it is because of this that we ask for the following: MTV to acknowledge the reaction from the Nuyorican community and apologize for producing and airing a lopsided and erroneous interpretation of a large and proud population, MTV to pull the episode from the air, and MTV to recast and reproduce a more balanced view that would not only be more representative of the Nuyorican community but would also educate others about our history and way of life. We cannot continue to let MTV’s portrayal of the Nuyorican community, with its extremely large viewership, be the only version of our identity. It is up to us to fight back and let our voices be heard.
Editor's Note: To watch the video online that is causing all the uproar, go to
I thought I'd share the link as a FYI and to give people the opportunity to judge for themselves. You can watch the show titled "I'm A Nuyorican" online at MTV. It is too bad that the controversy is giving this particular show more audience than it deserves. Feel free to leave your comments.
To sign the online petition,
THE SHOW IS OFF THE AIR!!!!!!!
Katilia Vélez, on 4/1/09, in Facebook message writes:
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! YOU DID IT!!!!! WE HAVE RECEIVED CONFIRMATION FROM MTV THAT THE SHOW IS NOT SCHEDULED TO RE-AIR....!!!!!!!!WWWEEEEEEPPPPPPAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!
IN THE COMING WEEKS WE WILL KNOW WHAT THE STATUS IS AS FAR AS PRODUCING A NEW EPISODE WHICH IS HISTORICALLY AND CONTEXTUALLY ACCURATE FOR NUYORICANS.....
YOU MADE IT HAPPEN! FELICIDADES!!!!
MTV TAKES A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION....
BUT--- WE STILL HAVE A WAYS TO GO- WE WANT TO HAVE THEM PRODUCE A NEW EPISODE SO WE STILL NEED SIGNATURES!!!!!!