The second largest Latino population, after Mexican Americans, is the Puerto Rican population. One fact that distinguishes them from other Latino groups is that they are U.S. citizens and therefore not immigrants as far as the law is concerned. Nearly as many Puerto Ricans live in the U.S. as on the island of Puerto Rico. Although a cultural imperialism has affected Puerto Ricans through a colonial relationship to their island and culture whether they are first or third generation inhabitants of the mainland, cultural pride is reflected in their bilingualism. Puerto Rican writers born or raised on the mainland often write about what it means to be Puerto Rican in the U.S.
Esmeralda Santiago is one such writer. She was born in Puerto Rico and later moved to New York, and maintains pride in being Puerto Rican though her culture was often tried and challenged as a result of fitting into an ideal mold of an American. Like most Puerto Ricans, her assimilation did incur changes but she also held to certain traditions of being Puerto Rican. Her book When I was Puerto Rican will be explored with the students. The entire book will not be read but it is written so that parts of it can be read and analyzed like essays. She provides rich details of country life in Puerto Rico as well as visual images of the New York she encountered as a child.
Aurora Levins Morales is another writer we will explore. She has an essay titled “Puertoricanness”. The essay captures her realization that no matter where she lives she will always be Puerto Rican. Levins Morales was a child born from a biracial marriage. Her father is Jewish and her mom is Puerto Rican. Though she claims allegiance to both cultures it is interesting that she considers herself Puerto Rican.
Judith Oriz Coffer was born in Puerto Rico but moved as a child to New Jersey. She says, “I lived in a bubble created by my Puerto Rican parents in a home where two cultures and languages became one.”5 Her essay titled “The Myth Of The Latin Woman: I Just Met A Girl Named Maria”, explores her constant struggle with perceived notions, and the stereotypes others openly apply to her because she is Latina despite her success as a writer and teaching position at the University of Georgia. In the essay, she tells of embarrassing moments when ignorant people have openly insulted her by singing the refrain from “Maria” or insisting that she must be the waitress or maid.
This essay will help the students at West Hills deal with an action that was taken a year ago at the school. Many students were offended and upset because the decision to produce the play, West side story, was overruled when a parent wrote in that it [the play] offended Puerto Ricans. Open discussion was encouraged but it left a sore spot with students who could not understand what was supposed to be offensive about the play.