The Spanish Quarter in New Haven, Connecticut is a distinct neighborhood in the eastern part of the city. It is surrounded by old houses. Although it looks nothing like Old San Juan, it does remind you of Puerto Rico. You can hear the Salsa sounds coming from everywhere -- the houses, the businesses, and the cars. The Puerto Rican flags wave freely on the porches. The flags display a sense of belonging to the “Enchanted Island”
and are a symbol of wisdom and national pride. You do not have to speak Spanish if you lived there, but if you do, you will fit right in. For those who feel close to the Island, it is considered a “safe haven” away from the mainstream culture; a semi-secluded area that serves as home to many Puerto Ricans who have moved there in the last twenty years. To some, it might be a low-income neighborhood with a high poverty index, but to others, it is a place where being Latino feels comfortable. Perhaps, it is because the neighborhood is overwhelmingly populated by Puerto Ricans, and it is quite segregated from the rest of the city.
The unit focuses on the identity struggle that continues to haunt “los puertorriqueños”
even a century after their inclusion in the United States’ territory. The quest for self-identity in the mainland U.S., almost two thousand miles away from the motherland, is mirrored in the islanders’ uneasiness to integrate in a world defined by linguistic hegemony
and an inclusive culture.
The personal struggle parallels the national one. Since the nationalist upheaval in the fifties,
there have been significant efforts in the quest for self-identity in the Island, including the referendum of the 1998. However, these efforts did not bring about change in the legislation or constitution. More importantly, people question whether these changes will strengthen national pride, or break the deadlock of the voting rights in the United States’ territories. The problem of the “nationality” of the people of Puerto Rico has been one of the main reasons why the Island never became a state. But how does the “cultural nationalism” define the people of Puerto Rico?
The poetess Aurora Levins Morales writes.
I am not African, Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.
I am new. History made me. My first Language was Spanglish.
I was born at a crossroad.
And I am whole.
Nothing better than these verses captures my “Boricua”
students, as they like to call themselves. Aware of their roots, their past, the fact that they have descended from three races, they see themselves as the product of many histories. I sometimes see in my students and their families a sense of reluctance about integrating in the U.S. My Puerto Rican students see themselves living between two very distinct worlds. Their families sometimes move back and forth for better job opportunities, something that affects their economic stability. They worry about assimilation and identity loss. Moreover, the nationalist awakening on the island itself has revealed a strong desire for self-determination.
As a teacher of Spanish and Latin American culture, I find it very appealing that my students are aware of their roots and proud of their role in the mainstream society. Their sense of belonging to the island never seems to fade. Many of them live between the island and the mainland United States. They do so for multiple reasons, including upward social mobility. It is a pervasive way of leaving their hearts behind in Puerto Rico, and practicing their rights as U.S. citizens, along with a dignified social status. My hope is to use this unit to examine both the personal and the national quest for inclusion as Puerto Ricans work out their country’s place in the world and their own place in the United States.