Manuel Alonso is considered the first exponent of Puerto Rican costumbrismo and Creole literature. In his work El gíbaro, he expresses a profound Puerto Rican cultural feeling, which gathers the customs and traditions of the island’s country people and transcribes their way of talking. His work is characterized by the search and affirmation of the Puerto Rican identity, quality that has marked a great amount of the island’s literature since then.
Alonso was born in 1822 in San Juan. His parents were Juan Francisco Alonso, a military-man of Galician origin, and Spaniard María de Africa Pacheco. After studying at the Seminario Conciliar in San Juan, he transferred to Barcelona, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. In 1848, he became a doctor in medicine and surgery. Alonso returned to the island in 1849 and settled down in Caguas, where he practiced his profession. He lived in Spain on two other occasions, between 1858 and 1861 and then between 1866 and 1871, where he practiced medicine.
The political matters of the metropolis and their reflection on Puerto Rico’s colonial situation influenced the newspaper articles of political and literary nature he wrote during this time. In 1871, he returned to Puerto Rico, where he worked as director of the Casa de Beneficencia in San Juan and as doctor in the municipalities of Dorado, Toa Alta, and Toa Baja. Additionally, he was the director of the liberal and reformist newspaper El Agente.
His first literary creations of costumbrista nature consisted of eleven compositions in verse that were published in Album puertorriqueño (1844) and ten in El cancionero de Borinquén (1846). These anthological works in prose and verse were created by a group of Puerto Rican students living in Barcelona which Alonso belonged to. In these works, elements of Puerto Rican identity are presented through descriptions of island customs and traditions.
Alonso would compile many of the compositions that appeared in the quoted literary collections, along with new ones, in his work El gíbaro, published in Madrid in 1849. This prose and verse work presents the customs of the island’s country people including their clothing, music, and daily life. By using the country man as model, Alonso tries to describe those characteristics that define the Puerto Rican identity. In these accounts, Alonso also recreates the island’s country people’s language: vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, etc.
Between 1882 and 1883, he published a revised and expanded edition of El gíbaro in two volumes, in which he continued the description and critique of Puerto Rican culture, and in which, different from the first edition, includes a short story. Some of the costumbrista art works which are included in the work are: “Un casamiento jíbaro”, “La fiesta de Utuao”, “El baile de garabato”, “Perico y Petrona”, and “Perico Paciencia”.
Manuel Alonso died in 1889 in the Casa de Beneficencia, Old San Juan.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña, su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Panteón, 1983.
Díaz, Luis Felipe.” Historia abreviada de la literatura puertorriqueña”. Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico en Línea.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Vélez, Rigoberto. Puertorriqueños Ilustres de todos los tiempos. Ponce: Editorial Centro Pedagógico, 1986.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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