Sunday, March 22, 2009

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters: The Nuyoricans

Commentary

By Manuel Hernández Carmona

New York Puerto Rican writer, Miguel Algarin (Puerto Rican Voices in English, p.39) came to Puerto Rico with colleague Miguel Piñero in the early 1970's. They were speaking in English, Spanish, Spanglish and a variety of sorts when they heard someone calling them Nuyoricans. Algarin thought they were using the term in a humiliating way. When my parents moved back to the island in 1974, I was immediately referred to as "el nuyorican" by classmates, relatives and friends. I was confused because I had never been called like that before. Nuyorican is a combination of the words New York and Puerto Rican. It was and still is used to identify Puerto Ricans born and raised in the United States and to differentiate them from island Puerto Ricans ("Adios Borinquen Querida", p.90).

Puerto Ricans born in other US cities resent the term because they were not born in New York City. For some New York Puerto Ricans, it is a label they prefer not to be associated with. Other New York Puerto Ricans view the term as connected to Puerto Ricans in New York before or after their time of birth and residence. Although it is true that the term carries significant negative connotations, for a strong minority being Nuyorican means pride, dignity and uniqueness. For me, it is like living on a bridge over troubled waters. It means moving back and forth, to and from, without the geographical, social, cultural and historical limitations.

Literary critics use the term to identify a group of pioneers, New York based Puerto Rican poets who grew up in the streets of New York City in the early 60's and 70's. The literary critic and scholar, Dr. Juan Flores defines the so-called Nuyorican modality: “Freely bilingual in style and conception, it was written by young Puerto Ricans who grew up in the streets of New York City. The poems are filled with that biting defiance and strident pride that erupted on the literary landscape in1973 with Puerto Rican Obituary in 1973 (Divided Borders, p.168).”


Most Nuyoricans live on a bridge over troubled waters. The 30,000 feet high point in between the island and New York seems like the safest place for them to exist. When they arrive on the island, they are often called "gringos". Adapting to the Puerto Rican mentality may become a nightmare for many. Language, attitudes and culture become barriers when they return to their homeland. Some are treated as foreigners and strangers in their own island neighborhoods, churches and backyards. Nuyoricans feel disappointed and disheartened when confronted with ignorance and prejudice in "La Isla". As a result, they decide to observe the PR culture from the outside.

When I was on the verge of creating a course on US based Puerto Rican literature at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, a ferocious debate occurred on the name of the course; they wanted me to call the course, Nuyorican literature. Some ex-colleagues fought gallantly to undermine the inclusion of the course amongst American and Britiish survey courses. In 2009, the course continues to stir interest amongst undergrad and grad students at UPR's finest institution.

The bridge has no geographical limitations. Mexicans born and raised in the states are treated the same or probably worse by their native Mexican brothers and sisters. All the social and cultural tossing and turning, forces the Nuyorican to be on the alert and on the defensive most of the time. Will Nuyoricans finally mix and blend in to the old melting pot? Will they give up their freedom of being bilingual and bicultural? These are only a couple of questions that will remain unanswered. It is no wonder that many of us feel relieved and at peace when the captain of a 747 finally says: "We have reached our highest altitude, 30,000 feet and will be cruising until we reach our final destiny."

Manuel Hernández Carmona, a Puerto Rico-based freelance writer and educator, is a contributing writer to Puerto Rico Sun. PRSUN welcomes Manny back. To contact Manny, mannyh32@puertoricans.com
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