Puerto Rican Voices

The experience of emigration to the United States is unique to each individual, and is a fundamental part of what it means to be American.  Part of the nation’s mythology is the story of the immigrant seeking the American Dream, as the Statue of Liberty asks the world to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  For any wave of immigrants, there is a scramble to preserve culture of their homeland, assimilate into American life, while accommodating for personal identity, religious beliefs, generational difference, and barriers of race and language and economic status. Here is a small sampling of poetry written by Puerto Rican Immigrants to the United States.

The Other

Judith Ortiz Cofer

A sloe-eyed dark woman shadows me.
In the morning she sings
Spanish love songs in a high
falsetto, filling my shower stall
with echoes.
She is by my side
in front of the mirror as I slip
into my tailored skirt and she
into her red cotton dress.
she shakes out her black mane as I
run a comb through my closely cropped cap.
Her mouth is like a red bull’s eye
daring me.
Everywhere I go I must
make room for her; she crowds me
in elevators where others wonder
at all the space I need.
At night her weight tips my bed, and
it is her wild dreams that run rampant
through my head exhausting me. Her heartbeats,
like dozens of spiders carrying the poison
of her restlessness,
drag their countless legs
over my bare flesh.

From Here is My Kingdom, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.


Public School 190, Brooklyn 1963

Martin Espada

The inkwells had no ink.
The flag had 48 stars, four years
after Alaska and Hawaii.
There were vandalized blackboards
and chairs with three legs,
taped windows, retarded boys penned
in the basement.
Some of us stared in Spanish.
We windmilled punches
or hid in the closet to steal from coats
as the teacher drowsed, head bobbing.
We had the Dick and Jane books,
but someone filled in their faces
with a brown crayon.

 From Imagine the Angels of Bread. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.  (Only part of the poem is reprinted here)


 We Live by What We See At Night

Martin Espada

When the mountains of Puerto Rico
flickered in your sleep
with a moist green light
when you saw green bamboo hillsides
before waking to East Harlem rooftops
or Texas barracks
when you crossed the bridge
built by your grandfather
over a river glimpsed
only in interrupted dreaming,
your craving for the island birthplace
burrowed, deep
as thirty years’ exile,
constant as your pulse

From Here is My Kingdom, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.


Not Neither

Sandra Maria Esteves

Being Puertorriqueña Dominicana
Born in the Bronx, not really jibara
Not really hablando bien
But yet, not Gringa either
Pero ni portorra, pero si portorra too
Pero ni que what am I?
Y que soy, pero con what voice do my lips move?
Rhythms of Rosa wood feet dancing Bomba
Not even here, but here, y Conga
Yet not being, pero soy, and not really
Y somos, y cómo somos?
Bueno, eso si es algo lindo
Algo muy lindo

We defy translation
Ni tengo nombre
nameless, we are a whole culture once removed
Lolita alive for twenty-five years
Ni soy, pero soy Puertorriquñea commo ella
Giving blood to the independent star
Daily transfusions into the river of La Sangre Viva.

From Stone on Stone/Piedra Sobre Piedra, edited by Zoe Anglesey. Seattle: Open Hand, 1994. 



As one can see, the puerto rican poetry explores issues of personal and cultural identity, the effects of poverty, language barriers, and geography.  These poems tell a personal story, but speak to social justice and activism for a whole group of American people.  I shared these poems (there were many to chose from) because I felt that their words should be heard, and their messages not lost.



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