Puerto Rican literature abroad raised questions about what is Puerto Rican and if there is a specific language for writing Puerto Rican literature. However, history and the diverse contributions of writers, as well as the global reality of migration, among other factors, have led to an understanding that the literature of a given country is not necessarily limited to a specific language. For example, there are nuyorican authors who have written numerous pieces of great literary value in English (in fact, Ramón Emeterio Betances, who wrote some of his texts in French, and Julia de Burgos, who wrote a poem in English, can be mentioned as pioneering examples) and there are many works that alternate between English and Spanish, such as the novel Yo-Yo Boing (1998) by Giannina Braschi. The post-modernand experimental narratives of Braschi are notable for proposing an alternative discourse about issues of nation, bilingualism and the culture. Other of her books are El imperio de los sueños (Empire of Dreams) and United States of Banana. The authors, regardless of the language in which they write, are linked to Puerto Rican literature because they identify as Puerto Ricans and, in some cases because their topics are linked to the complex reality of the Puerto Rican identity.

There have been migrations to other countries, such as Spain, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic; but it is obviously in the United States where the largest concentration of Puerto Rican exists. This has allowed for the development of a sensibility and a notion of the Puerto Rican identity, which has influenced the analysis of Puerto Rican history and literature. As a result of the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, a large part of the Puerto Rican literature generated abroad is produced in the United States. Pioneering texts (mostly by New York residents known as Nuyoricans) include Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas and Snaps by Víctor Hernández-Cruz. Other writers who live or formerly lived in the United States are Pedro Pietri, Sandra María Estévez, Nicholosa Mohr, Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero and José ángel Figueroa, among others. Others who came later are Tato Laviera, Aurora Levins-Morales, Rosario Morales, Judith Ortiz-Cofer, Ed Vega, and Edwin Torres. More recent additions to the list are Martín Espada, Louis Reyes-Rivera, Abraham Rodríguez, El Flaco Navaja, Mariposa, Willie Perdomo and Esmeralda Santiago.

Esmeralda Santiago is a very famous writer in the media. Her book, When I Was Puerto Rican, served as the basis for a discussion of the Puerto Rican diaspora. She lives in Connecticut and her works are in many of the school libraries in Puerto Rico.

One of the most important literary centers in New York is the Nuyorican Poets Café. This space and nightclub served as a platform for voices that are now well recognized in the world of poetry. Curiously, the site still functions as a literary space. It has a varying lineup of poets and an open microphone at the end (which allows poets who are not part of the program to stand up and read their poems). Most of the Nuyorican poetry denounces marginalization and violence in the streets and reaffirms Puerto Rican identity as a standard and a social value. The use of Spanglish and a certain cadence and musicality have been characteristics of Nuyorican poetry and have created what is known as slang poetry or spoken word on the island.

The Big Apple was and continues to be a site full of prominent Puerto Rican writers, such as Víctor Fragoso, Nicholasa Mohr, Luzmaría Umpierre, Urayoán Noel, Yarissa Colón, and others. Noel, specifically, dedicates his book of poetry, Los días porosos (The Porous Days)to this notion of the diaspora. Frances Negrón-Muntaner is known for her writing and work in cinema.

Another important city in the development of the literature of the Puerto Rican diaspora is Chicago. A variety of movements and organizations there worked for equality and the well-being of Latinos in the United States. Nosotros is an anthology that gathers a strong group of writers from the 1970s. David Hernández, Julio Noboa, Carmelo Romero and Emma Iris Rodríguez are part of this group. While the poets Chico Rivera and Shabazz Pérez wrote poetry exclusively for The Rican, another magazine of historical and literary value.

Rafael Franco Steeves lives and writes in Chicago and is part of the editorial team of the online magazine Contratiempo, an important forum for the Latino community in Chicago. His book of short stories, Alaska, received the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture prize and his novel, El peor de mis amigos (The Worse One of My Friends)tells of the travels between San Juan, Denver, Alaska, New York and Chicago of a Puerto Rican student who suffers from addiction.

Martín Espada is a poet and writer who is also widely recognized for his activism on behalf of the Latino cause in the United States. Although he was born in New York, he currently resides in Massachusetts. Nemir Matos-Cintrón lives in Florida, as well as Luz María Umpierre, both are outstanding poets of the Generation of the 1980s. Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes resides in Michigan and writes prose and literary criticism. His book of stories, Uñas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails is a bilingual edition.

As mentioned above, the diaspora is not limited to the United States. José Luis González lived in Mexico for many years and from there he published many of his books. Mara Pastor, after studying in the United States for several years, lived and published in Mexico. Pastor has gone to various festivals, both in Puerto Rico and elsewhere (Belgium, Cuba, Mexico, the United States and others), to represent Puerto Rican literature. And Pedro Cabiya published his works from the Dominican Republic. Cabiya is known as one of the great Puerto Rican short story writers of the 21sth century.

Another example of a writer abroad, though from an earlier generation, is Manuel Abreu Adorno, who lived in France. His novel, No todas las suecas son rubias (Not All Swedish Women Are Blonde),takes a European cosmopolitan angle on exile. Franco Steeves translated his book of stories, Llegaron los hippies y otros cuentos, in a bilingual edition published in the United States.

Certainly, this summary only mentions those authors that have been most often recognized and anthologized. The reality is that Puerto Rican literature abroad is becoming more visible because of information technology and its social influence, the impact of international bookstores, the inclusion of Puerto Rican literature in university courses around the world, and the awards Puerto Ricans have received in the Spanish Americas, Spain and the United States. At the same time, constant migration leads to literature written by authors who transcend the borders of the island and become part of a larger framework.


Author: Alexandra Pagán Vélez
Published: January 26, 2016.

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